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On, [to] Wisconsin! Amtrak confirms you can once again bring a bike on the Hiawatha Line between Milwaukee and Chicago

Amtrak is now taking reservations for up to six bikes per train, and in some cases the bikes are stored on vertical racks on new "Venture" cars.

3:45 PM CST on December 14, 2023

The Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago. Image: Google Maps

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

In August, folks like me who enjoy taking bikes on trains between Chicago and Wisconsin, learned bike service on Amtrak's Hiawatha Line to Milwaukee was, in the words of Cream City band The Violent Femmes, "Gone Daddy Gone." Without public notice from the railroad, customers found they were no longer allowed to roll a bike to the luggage car for storage on hooks, and the Hiawatha wouldn't even accept boxed bikes.

Bike racks in one of the old Hiawatha luggage cars in 2016. Photo: John Greenfield

"Unfortunately, the [luggage cars] we have used to increase bicycle capacity on the Hiawatha Service have not been reliable," Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari told Streetsblog at the time. "Therefore we’ve made the difficult decision to reduce capacity to what we believe we can carry in the body of the trains, unless or until we have a higher confidence level in these 40-year-old vehicles."

Fortunately, Magliari said it was not a permanent change. "The Hiawatha Service trains will also be getting the Amtrak Midwest “Venture” cars you have been seeing on downstate Illinois, Michigan and Missouri trains, with bike racks in every coach. That is truly the way forward."

The High Speed Rail Alliance posted that each Venture car has a luggage rack that can hold three bikes vertically.

Each of the new Venture cars can accommodate three bikes. Photo via High Speed Rail Alliance.

"The reliability issue... has also cost us checked baggage on the Hiawatha trains, which affects all potential passengers, cyclists and otherwise," Magliari said at the time.

After Streetsblog's article came out, a reader asked Magliari on Twitter about the schedule for getting bike racks on the Hiawatha again. "We are many months away from the complete re-fleeting of the Hiawatha trains," the spokesperson replied.

But fortunately another Chicago bike advocate offered some great news this morning: Bike Service on the Hiawatha is back!

"Yes, in response to our state partners and our shared customers, we are taking reservations for up to six bikes per train," Magliari confirmed to Streetsblog today. "Bike racks are not always available, based on rail vehicle availability, so we are handling bikes as safely as possible."

Magliari declined to specify exactly what other non-rack options there are for bike storage on the Hiawatha. "We have different options on different legacy trains." In the past, conductors have often told passengers with bike tickets to lean their cycles against the wall of a passenger railcar in an unused wheelchair-friendly space at the front of the car.

It's good to know that next time you ride Amtrak to Milwaukee for the Summerfest music festival, you won't have to leave your bicycle locked outside Chicago's Union Station for the weekend. That way your tires won't, as The Violent Femmes song goes, "Blister in the Sun."

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