Cyclist in Yorkshire, Merseyside and the South benefit most from efforts to promote cycle-rail provision

Cyclists in the South of England, Yorkshire and Merseyside appear to be benefiting most from efforts by rail operators and others to make it easier for people to combine bike and train journeys. That’s the message from yesterday’s National Cycle Rail Awards 2011, held in the august surroundings of the Members’ Dining Room of the House of Commons, where those regions dominated the prizes.

Hosted by the All-Parliamentary Cycling Group and sponsored by infrastructure provider Broxap, the awards are organised by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and date back to 1997, taking their present form in 2004.

The awards were introduced by Department for Transport Minister of State Theresa Villiers, herself a cyclist, who said that besides cycling's role in areas such as tackling congestion and climate change as well as providing health benefits, it was more than anything else “a great way to get around.”

Moreover, she continued, it was one that opened up a wider catchment area to rail and underground stations – although like any cyclist who lives uphill from their local station, she lamented the contrast between coasting down to the station at the start of the day with the post-work slog back home, describing it as her own “personal problem with cycle-rail integration.”

Talking of the schemes nominated for the awards, she said: “The kind of projects we are paying tribute to today play an important role in persuading more people to cycle and persuading more people to take the train, both very worthy goals.”

Nominations for this year’s awards were described by the organisers as “the best yet.” Many of the award winners and highly commended schemes have previously been featured here on road.cc, and were held up yesterday evening as examples of best practice that others can seek to emulate.

One initiative we covered when it was launched last year scooped the prize for Innovation, sponsored by First Group. That was the Leeds Cycle Point, opened in September 2010, which combines secure cycle storage with a shop operated by Evans Cycles complete with hire and repair facilities.

Highly commended in the category was Virgin Trains for its Cycle Hub at Stoke-on-Trent station, with a special mention for its Brompton bike hire initiative enabling passengers to complete their journey by bike. The same operator was also highly commended in the Best Customer Service category.

The judging panel, comprising transport writer Christian Wolmar, who acted as compere, Martyn Brunt, National Cycle Network Development Manager at Sustrans, and Conrad Haigh, Integrated Transport Manager at ATOC, said that Leeds Cycle Point merited the Innovatin award because “it spearheaded a new approach to first-class provision for cyclists.”

It’s no coincidence that Northern Rail, which operates Leeds Station, is owned by a Dutch company, Abellio, with the Leeds Cycle Point following the FietsPoint model that has proved successful in the Netherlands.

Northern Rail itself won the award sponsored by its parent company, for Partnership Working, with particular praise reserved for its Northern Rail Cycle Forum which meets three times a year, with 35 regular attendees, which judges said had been “an effective tool to both the train company and cyclists in achieving their goals.”

They also highlighted the fact that the company’s nomination listed 57 partners, saying that “partnership working is key to the strategic delivery of all cycle-rail activities at Northern.”

First Capital Connect and Hertfordshire County Council were highly commended in this category due to their work including increased cycle parking provision at 14 stations, “encouraging cycling to station in an area of the country that has traditionally been heavily car dependent.”

South West Trains won the award for Operator of the Year, sponsored by Cyclepods, with judges citing its delivery of “more cycling facilities than any other train company” and its “innovation with new concepts such as Brompton Dock, a vending machine for hiring folding cycles at Guildford Station.”

Those and other measures had led to “a transformation of cycle facilities and cycle usage to the stations,” with a 9 per cent modal shift to cycling building on “what were already high usage figures.”

Mersey Rail’s shift of focus from on-train provision for bicycles to increasing station facilities represented a “step change in cycling provision” over the past 12 months, leading to it being Highly Commended in the Operator of the Year category, and it won the Best Customer Service award, sponsored by Brompton Dock.

In that category, the judges said they were “not just impressed with the scale of the changes implemented, but the evidence of success and personal testimonials of both stakeholders and customers,” with particular emphasis placed on Southport station’s Go Cycle scheme.

It was East Coast Trains and York Station, however, that emerged victorious in the Station of the Year category, the operator partnering with York City Council to improve access to the station for cyclists to encourage more cycle-rail use and also tying in with the council’s sustainable travel plan. The station is also home now to a branch of York LBS, Cycle Heaven.

Purley Station, operated by Southern Trains, was highly commended in this category for recent works to improve facilities for cyclists both within the station and on the forecourt as part of a recent regeneration.

That station also won the Best Station Travel Plan for Cycling award, with the judging panel stating that “it was felt that they had given a lot of thought to the end-to-end journey and done all they could to assist the cyclist at every stage.”

Leighton Buzzard was highly commended in that category, with cycling to the station identified as a key part of getting more people in general cycling in the Bedfordshire town. There has been a 68 per cent increase recorded in the average number of bicycles parked at the station.

Eastleigh Borough Council took the prize for Best Local Government Scheme due to a range of initiatives undertaken at a variety of stations in the area including Southampton Airport Parkway, Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh, which the judges said reflected in part its “strategic approach to transport interchange across the borough.”

Highly commended in that category was the London Borough of Richmond, where increased cycle parking provision has been made at a number of stations with a cycle hire scheme also introduced at Richmond Station itself, in partnership with South West Trains.

One category, Cycling Champion, was open to individuals rather than organisations, and the judges found it impossible to split two nominees, resulting in both of them receiving an award.

Those were Ian Hall, of Northern Rail, for his work chairing the Northern Rail Cycling Forum, and Phil Dominey, stakeholder manager at South West Trains, for his efforts in promoting cycle provision within the franchise’s network, despite cycling not being the main part of his role with the operator.

By their nature, of course, the awards celebrate the positive aspects of the efforts by operators and others to adopt an inclusive approach towards cyclists, but it can’t be denied that elsewhere, bike riders still regularly encounter problems on the railways; indeed, one road.cc user has contacted us regarding his less than ideal experience of taking his bike on a train operated by a company not mentioned here, so look out for that story here very soon.

2011 National Cycle Rail Awards winners

  • Best Customer Service (sponsored by Brompton Dock) – Winner: Merseyrail
  • Best Local Government Scheme – Winner: Eastleigh Borough Council
  • Innovation (sponsored by First Group) – Winner: Leeds Cycle Point
  • Cycling Champion – Winners: Ian Hall, Northern Rail & Phil Dominey, South West Trains
  • Station of the Year – Winner: York Station, East Coast
  • Operator of the Year (sponsored by Cycle Pods) – Winner: South West Trains
  • Best Station Travel Plan Measure for Cycling – Winner: Purley Station Travel Plan
  • Partnership Working (sponsored by Abellio) – Winner: Northern Rail

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


pjay [251 posts] 5 years ago

I had a terrible experience taking my bike on Virgin Trains - unhelpful, rude staff and useless racks which damage your bike. I wrote to complain and got a couple of obviously copied and pasted responses before I got a reply that in any way addressed the points I made.

In contrast, First Great Western to Cornwall are excellent.

I think most rail companies would rather we all used Bromptons or left our bikes at the station. Not much use when you are going on a cycling holiday.

Paul M [363 posts] 5 years ago

South West Trains, "Operator of the Year"? Jeez! Hate to think what the worst must be like!

The Brompton Dock may be eye-catching, and they also hire Bromptons long-term, but it hardly makes for a real facilitator for cycling. Otherwise they are not very friendly to non-folding bikes, with the storage space being grossly inadequate and almost designed for conflicts with other passengers - the same area has fold-down seats which passengers will use even when other seats are still free, and then you don't really know what your rights are.

Their cycle volume is almost entirely down to carriage of folders, which are classified as luggage when folded, and which are restricted in the same way as luggage, ie fine as long as they don't obstruct emergency access. But of course, all those commuters into central London are most likely to be able to afford the £700 plus which a Brompton costs.

I have also had arguments with guards about an unfolded Brompton, he saying that you are obliged to fold them, me asking where the conditions of carriage actually say that, he replying er, um, me pointing out that when unfolded a Brompton is a bike subject to the bike carriage rules (time restrictions etc) and when folded is luggage, that is all, period.

viveLaPants [94 posts] 5 years ago

ha ha what theyre not saying is that most of the merseyrail execs live in southport/formby. They have improved the biking facilities at the major stations but most commuters live at the smaller stations. Ah well

vorsprung [282 posts] 5 years ago

I've travelled with a bike on a train in Holland, France and the UK

In Holland you have to buy a bike ticket. I think it's pretty much the same amount regardless of the distance. There are special areas on trains for bikes. Travelling at peak hours with a bike is discouraged however.

Only used Eurostar in France and it was expensive and bureaucratic but excellent.

In the UK there are some hurdles to overcome. First, the tickets for trains are really expensive. So buying 6 weeks ahead, using an Internet site is a good idea. But none of the train operators I've used allow bike booking with the Internet ticket system. So I go to a local station and do this in person.

Then, on the day you wait on the platform. In the unlikely event of a member of staff being around you can ask them which end of the platform the bike carriage will be. Otherwise you can either guess and run the whole length of the train or stand at the middle and run half the length of the train.

Train travel seems (to me) to be slightly improved in less canceled trains and slightly less filthy carriages than compared with 10 years ago. The prices are a lot higher however.

Mixk40 [19 posts] 5 years ago

I travel on Southwest trains (From Southampton Parkway ) and must say that the station facilitys have improved a lot over the last 12 months !

two issues

1) no cycle path to get to the station (gets very busy at night with cars backed up for a mile or so)
2) and try taking a "proper bike" on the train at 7:00 in the morning !

Myriadgreen [96 posts] 5 years ago

East Coast Rail/Trains (not sure what they are called!) allow people to book bikes on to trains when booking online. It's worth checking their web site - they charge the same as others, as far as I can tell (I'm not employed by them or paid to endorse them, by the way!) I do agree that a lot of trains need a lot more room for a lot more bikes and also to be clear about where the bike storage will be on the train. It should be easy...cycle to the station, hop on a train, leave train at destination, grab bike, off you go.

JohnS [198 posts] 5 years ago

Don't get me started on South West xxxing Trains...

OK then: I organise train-assisted touring rides in the countryside for central Londoners. So we get a train out early on a Sunday morning and another back in the evening, with a ride in real countryside (as opposed to suburbs) in between.

Up to 15 people, rides of 60-120km with pub lunch

Most rail operators - few problems, helpful, reasonable staff.

South West trains:
The stopping trains (the blue ones) allegedly only have room for two bikes in every four cars. For a start, the two-bike space is big enough for four or five if you park them neatly. Plus there is loadsaroom in the vestibules. But Mr South West Jobsworth will only let two bikes on, even when the train is empty. And I mean empty - no other passengers at all.

The fast trains (the white ones) have bike spaces that could each take four-five bikes, with two of these spaces in every five cars (there are usually 10 cars, even on a Sunday). Trouble is, they have wheelbender racks to hold the bikes which waste space and... er... bend wheels.

A rider (not one of my lot) once objected to using these racks to store a road bike with decent racing wheels, was told he had to use the racks by Mr Jobsworth, used it and his wheel was bent. He tried to claim the cost of replacement from SWT, and they told him it wasn't their problem.

No, South West Trains deserves no awards.

thereverent [430 posts] 5 years ago

South West Trains seem to work ok for Bromptons, although they could do with some better luggage space for them.

The main problem I have with them is at the weekends when they run much shorter trains making them very busy on days your are more likely to be taking a bike.

Also some passangers really like the seats in the bike area (more leg room maybe) even on an empty train, and aren't always keen to move.

JohnS [198 posts] 5 years ago

"Also some passangers really like the seats in the bike area (more leg room maybe) even on an empty train, and aren't always keen to move."

I'm often amazed by the way passengers will fight to the death to sit on the most uncomfortable seats on the train so that you can't fold the seats up and put your bike in the space intended.

robbieC [62 posts] 5 years ago

I agree with comment above - East Coast trains are excellent. Been up to Edinburgh in them with the cycle. There are even staff to help load and unload gear from the car. I normally use Southeastern with my folder in the peak. The HS1 trains can look like a bike park at times in the peak, they are so expensive, they have forced people to cycle.

a.jumper [846 posts] 5 years ago

I believe southern and red spotted hanky also sell bike tickets online. Probably the same web app.

First Great Western also have the daft 2-bike rule AND don't sell bike tickets for all-stations stopping trains. So you can't start a return journey with your bike unless you're very relaxed about which train you'll get home - or if you'll get home at all.

a.jumper [846 posts] 5 years ago

 2 duplicate removed

Henz [52 posts] 5 years ago

This sounds like ATOC patting itself on the back.

JohnS [198 posts] 5 years ago

"This sounds like ATOC patting itself on the back."

+1. I'll believe they're serious about relating to cyclists when they have a whole rail vehicle's-worth of bike space on rush-hour trains, as in Belgium.

Their vision of cycling customers seems to be:

1. Commuters with folders
2. People who cycle to the station and then get the train
3. Occasional lone cyclists off-peak.
4. Leisure cyclists prepared to ride a hire BSO when they get to their destination.

Usually there's no option for cycle-train-cycle journeys unless you keep a bike permanently at your destination, where it could be stolen and repairs and maintenance would be difficult.

On most trains, you couldn't even take a family of four with their bikes.

hairyairey [301 posts] 5 years ago

Ironic that the award is sponsored by First Group First Capital Connect have the most draconian peak time restrictions. No bicycles on trains leaving Kings Cross between 16:00 and 19:00, mean that officially you can't leave Hatfield with a bike till 19:44. The thing is that stopping trains at Hatfield from 17:44 onwards disgourge the majority of their passengers there.

One member of staff said to me recently, "it doesn't matter" when I said to him that the trains aren't busy.

It's come to the point where I'll be staying away from home during the week so they've lost my custom. At one point I was considering calling BTP because they wouldn't even let me through with a folding bike.