This has been the 4th Amtrak Zephyr round trip with my Montague Navigator folding bike, and I have to say that in terms of traveling with a folding bike, it has probably been the easiest.
The trip train destination points are Ottumwa, Iowa, and Sacramento, California, although I add an hour Amtrak Thru Bus shuttle ride up the Central Valley on the western end. It's always a bit awkward carrying the bike because it's somewhat cumbersome, but it's also just a tiny, tiny bit of that 4,000- mile, 4-day, round trip experience.
This time the trip began with the conductor at Ottumwa telling me, "If the luggage space is full, just put your bike in the lower coach area, all the way back behind the last seat." Sure enough, there was an 18-inch space behind the last seat, so I stored the bike upright the entire trip, guarded most of the way by a nice Amish mother while I traveled in the upper coach section. On my return trip, I was able to place the bike on the coach car's upper baggage shelf after tipping one passenger's bag on its side. The bike filled the space well enough so that no one placed a bag on top of the bike.
The Amtrak Thru Bus experience was quite easy, too. Evidently, the standing order for drivers is to have the bike owners place the bikes in the bus's lower storage area, so I was able to safely store it with the derailleur up.
I think the Amtrak system is getting used to folding bikes. All four round trips with my Montague Navigator folding bike have been easy for me. Once on one of the trips cross country, I found some bags on top of the bike but arranged the luggage so that my bike was on top. Once I was told there was no room in the baggage area for the bike, which was true. I just stood still with my bike and let the crew figure out a solution. They moved me one car up the train, which had more luggage capacity. Once I'm on the train, I don't think anyone's going to pick me up and carry me off. The crew just needs a little problem-solving space with no passenger freaking or getting belligerent.
I always carry along with my ticket a print-copy of Amtrak's folding bike policy, though. It doesn't hurt to be informed. Also, as a traveling precaution, I use the plastic safety devices that were used when the bike was shipped to me: fork divider and plastic protectors for the front quick release locking nut and derailleur. Finally, I use the White Lightning Chain Johnny to keep the travel bag more grease-free.
All in all, traveling with a full-size folding bike on Amtrak is pretty easy. I think it's easier than traveling with a boxed bike--and cheaper, of course. Any travel can (and probably does) have its hassles. I've found my folding bike and Amtrak to be a pretty good match, though. I get to travel to visit my mom and brother, and I get to get in some great day rides. I'm happy!
Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved