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Beyond Chicagoland

A Car-Free Road Trip on Amtrak’s Blue Water Line Hits a Speed Bump

12:34 PM CDT on August 29, 2017

Bringing a bike on board a Blue Water train. Image: MDOT


My partner and I were interested in trying out Amtrak’s new bike service on the Blue Water route from Chicago to Port Huron, Michigan, so we bought tickets to New Buffalo, in southwest Michigan’s Harbor Country region. We reserved a room a six-mile bike ride north along the coast from the station in Lakeside, MI.

The day before the trip, I got a call from Amtrak notifying me that, for some reason, bike service had been cancelled on our outbound run. It’s possible that the railroad decided to run fewer cars on that trip, so the bike car was scheduled to be removed. I was offered the chance to reschedule the train trip, but that wasn’t a practical option for us. So we kept our train reservations, and the cost of the bike tickets ($10 per bike each way, $40 total) was refunded.

Ironically, during the speedy and comfortable ride from Chicago’s Union Station to New Buffalo (sure beat fighting afternoon car traffic on I-94), I noticed that there actually were bike racks in the train’s café car. So we could have brought our own bikes along after all, but nobody notified us that bike service had been reinstated on our run.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 12.20.52 PM
Bike racks in a Blue Water train car. Image: MDOT

One we got to New Buffalo, we wound up using Lyft and a local van service to get to and from our lodgings, which went smoothly. (There's exactly one Lyft driver in the area, a guy who lives in Michigan City, IN, and happens to have a day job with the Chicago Transit Authority.)

A local bicycle rental service delivered cruiser bikes to our lodgings. We had a great time cycling on quiet country roads to beaches, a brewery, a winery, and Warren Dunes State Park. Still, these extras more than doubled our transportation costs for the trip.

The view from atop a huge mountain of sand in Warren Dunes State Park. Photo: John Greenfield
The view from atop a huge mountain of sand in Warren Dunes State Park. Photo: John Greenfield

When I got home, I called Amtrak and asked if it was possible to get compensation for the additional travel expenses. The customer service rep told me it wasn’t an option for the railroad to pay us back for the full cost of ground transportation and bike rental, which cost more than the train tickets. However, she good-naturedly and immediately refunded the full cost of the tickets.

While our net travel expenses still wound up being more than 50 percent higher than they would have been if we’d been able to bring our own bikes, I think Amtrak customer service handled the situation in a reasonably fair way.

Still, it would be great if Amtrak could do what it can to avoid this kind of situation in the future. It’s hard for me to recommend that Chicagoans take car-free road trips via the Blue Water route if there’s a danger that their plans will be disrupted by last-minute cancelation of the bikes-on-board service.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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