Great Wester Rail have introduced a new booking policy for bikes on their Intercity trains that is phenomenally bad:
Reserve your space when you book online, call 0345 7000 125; or visit a station ticket office; generally you should do this by 18:00 the day before, although some services have availability up to 2 hours before departure
What does this mean for you if you are travelling with bike?
If the train you are catching in Bath started in Penzance then you need to book your slot 2 hours before it leaves Penzance.
Should you get an open return and have no idea when you are coming back, then you are in real trouble. If you are returning from London, then you are probably ok, you only have a 2 hour wait at the station. If you’ve had a day trip out to say Swindon, you could be hanging around for upwards of 3 hours unless you catch a local service.
There is also the huge bike carrying capacity drop that this delivers to the network. Each slot can only be booked for the whole end to end journey of the train. Having commuted to Oxford using train+bike. People were constantly getting on and off. Bristol people were getting off freeing slots at Bath, I was getting off at Didcot with people getting on heading to Reading/London.
This policy massively reduces bike carrying capacity.
There is a petition against this policy. Please sign it.
It’s crazy in this day and age, where technology permeates every aspect of our lives, that train/station staff do not have the ability to reserve a spot on-demand on the train pulling into the station specifying when on the journey it will become free again.
Train operators should be making it easier to travel by train with bike not harder.
My hunch is that this policy originates from the introduction of the new class 800 trains that distribute bike storage throughout the train.
This creates a huge loading problem that is not present on the class 125. Rather than “Go to front of train and load”, you now need to “Go to the rear OR front of specific carriage”.
The storage is abysmal as well.
I can remember raising this with FirstGW (2007??) when the designs for the Hitachi Class 800 were initially proposed. Distribution of bike storage throughout the train is a bad thing and has resulted in an extremely poorly thought out change in booking policy to try and rectify it. This has significantly reduced the bike load capacity across the length of the line.
For regular commuters, the answer is simply to buy a fold-up or store a bike at both ends.
For somebody touring or travelling for leisure you are well and truly stuffed.