The train operating company Abellio Greater Anglia (AGA), which runs trains to Ely and manages Ely station, has recently established a cycle forum, which is intended to be a means of communication and discussion between the company and those interested in the intersection between train travel and cycling in the AGA franchise area.
The first meeting of the forum was held in London on 31 July 2014, and was attended by members of AGA senior management, and representatives of interested groups and organisations, including local government, tourism organisations, and local cycling campaigns. Neil Jones attended on behalf of Ely Cycling Campaign.
The following (in summary form) are some of the key points to emerge in discussion at the meeting:
The current AGA franchise is short-term, expiring in October 2016. The process of bidding for the next franchise will begin fairly soon. AGA (with its Dutch link through Abellio) wants to be seen as cycle-friendly, and to do ‘all it reasonably can’ to provide for cycling.
The terms of the current AGA franchise mean that no more capacity (i.e. rolling stock) can be provided before the end of the current franchise, and in practice not for another two or three years after that (and any provision after October 2016 would depend upon the terms of the new franchise, which are yet to be determined). Over the same timescale, because of limits to the available rolling stock there will be almost no additional train frequency in the franchise area (and none in the Ely area).
AGA view their challenges in relation to cycling as including: carriage of bikes on trains; cycle parking capacity; promoting their Bike & Go bike hire scheme; and management of restrictions on carrying bikes on trains.
Having consulted on the draft cycle strategy circulated in September 2013 (to which Ely Cycling Campaign responded), AGA propose to redraft parts of it in light of the consultation and of discussion at the forum meeting, and to issue a final version later this year (which will then be subject to periodic review).
AGA have no intention at present of increasing current restrictions on carrying full-size bikes on trains, and have no plans to impose any restrictions on carrying folding bicycles (though AGA found that responses to the consultation document contained more negative comments about the carriage of folding bikes on trains than they had expected). AGA accept that parts of the guidance in the draft strategy on using folding bicycles need revision (e.g. the instruction to pack away helmet and lights outside the station), but seem likely to continue to require folding bicycles to be folded before passing through the gate line (on the basis that this is last point at which staff can ensure that bikes are not taken onto trains unfolded).
AGA intend eventually to be more strict about enforcing restrictions on carrying non-folding bikes, in particular in the Ely/Cambridge area, though they do not intend to do this until planned improvement of cycle provision at Cambridge and Ely is completed.
AGA regard the Cambridge-Ely/Ely-Cambridge route as the key area in their franchise which raises questions about the carriage of bikes on trains, and regard this as needing separate consideration because it involves not only AGA but also two other train operating companies (First Capital Connect and CrossCountry).
AGA have plans for the construction of a ‘cycle point’ at Ely station, to open in 2015, which will involve turning space in the station buildings currently used for retail into a facility for cyclists, which will include cycle maintenance, cycle hire, and secure parking which will be paid for. There will also be free parking outside the station (the cycle parking currently on the platform will be removed).
It is intended that the forum should meet three times a year (not necessarily always in London), and that it should include representatives of front-line staff from Abellio Greater Anglia. It is hoped that over time a secretariat might be developed which was staffed (on a volunteer basis) by interested user representatives, rather than by AGA staff.