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Cyclists love trains – An analysis of the bicycle friendliness of European railway operators

ECF has released a new report, “Cyclists love trains: An analysis of the bicycle friendliness of European railway operators,” which aims to guide industry and policymakers in identifying ways to improve the combination of two of the most sustainable modes of transport: bikes and trains.

This timely new report analyses and ranks 69 European train companies and services according to six key indicators for combined bike-and-train travel, such as bicycle spaces in trains and the quality of bike ticket or reservation channels.

Erratum – the report’s ranking has been revised and updated for: TransPennine Express, VR Group, Westbahn. (19 July 2021)

Read the report here.

Executive summary

At the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), the world’s largest and best-known cyclists’ advocacy organisation, we know that cyclists all over Europe increasingly want to be able to take their bicycles with them on trains.

ECF’s 2020 Cyclists Love Trains campaign, which aimed at influencing the EU Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations regulation in favour of provisions for bicycle carriage on trains, had tremendous popular appeal. No doubt such strong public support for combined bicycle-train mobility helped achieve the requirement for new and refurbished rolling stock to include a minimum of four dedicated bicycle spaces per train.

The European Commission has announced 2021 to be the European Year of Rail, an initiative that seeks to promote rail as one of the most sustainable, innovative and safe transport modes.

With this “Cyclists love trains” report, ECF in turn seeks to shine a light on the bicycle friendliness of train operators across Europe today. This extensive piece of research can be used by policymakers and industry leaders alike to benchmark their performance, study examples of shortcomings and best practices, and understand where there is clear potential for continued improvement.

Following extensive research, data processing and analysis, ECF has produced a ranking of 69 railway companies and services from across the European Union (EU) and beyond. Of these 69 undertakings, 15 of them – fully 22% – do not currently accept non-foldable and un-dismantled bicycles. 12 of these 15 railway companies are long-distance, cross-border and high-speed operators. This reality shows that taking a bicycle across Europe on a long-distance journey is often not a convenient or enjoyable experience, but rather an arduous one punctuated by many connections on slow regional and local services.

In 2021, against the backdrop of the European Green Deal, the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 recovery, this is not acceptable. It should be much easier for people to combine two of the most sustainable forms of mobility, not to mention to choose green alternatives to driving cars or taking aeroplanes.

There is some hope, however. The NS-DB joint venture, Intercity Berlin1 (IC Berlin), has topped this report’s scoring. It is the only undertaking to have scored in the excellent category, an achievement which was in part helped by the number of bicycles which can be carried on their train sets and the possibility to connect to both NS and DB’s bicycle hire schemes. The report’s runners up, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), the National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB/NMBS), Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Hungarian State Railways (MÁV-START) also scored well across the board. Yet, there is much room for further improvement across Europe.

The core premise underlying this report is “flexibility for the user.” NS-DB (IC Berlin) and other top-ranking undertakings have scored well because their bicycle carriage policies and physical infrastructure allow for more flexibility for the user than most of their peers.

However, companies which are doing well now are not predestined to do so in the future, and, as such, every company which is highlighted in this report should bear in mind the following things when it comes to offering good quality conditions for bicycle carriage:

  • Acceptance of non-foldable and un-dismantled bicycles on all train services.
  • A commitment to go above and beyond the recently mandated (recast EU Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations legislation) four dedicated bicycle spaces per train.
  • Dedicated bicycle spaces which are accessible and easy to use for all types of passengers. Outside the scope of this report, but also very important, are the accessibility of platforms for passengers with bicycles.
  • A commitment to investigate, and potentially invest in bicycle sharing schemes. Cost-effective bicycle tickets and reservations that can be acquired via multiple different booking and sales channels.
  • The provision of clear and concise information on bicycle services, which is available in more than one language and provides information about the carriage of non-standard bicycles.
  • A website that offers a bicycle connection search tool in its journey planner.
  • A pan-European journey planner and coordination of bicycle carriage rules in the face of the marketisation of European railways.
  • Commitment to providing flexible reservation periods, which provide the maximum flexibility and ease of use for passengers.
  • Ample, covered bicycle parking at stations, with provisions for non-standard bicycles, in addition to the provision of e-bike charging points.

Cyclists love trains, but their love is not unconditional. We at ECF urge European, national and regional governments and rail operators to take these recommendations on board. If they do, combining bikes and trains will be a more viable option, and a much more pleasant experience, for many more cyclists in Europe.

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