Tandems on Trains

General Information and advice on taking your tandem on the train.

With nearly 30 different train operating companies (TOCs) in the UK, each with their own cycling policy, and over a hundred different train types with widely varying space for cycles, the carriage of tandems on UK trains is a minefield.
The situation is not helped by the fact that many Train Operating Companies (TOCs) have different policies on tandems compared with solo cycles. Others don't mention tandems at all, which could mean that the policy for tandems is exactly the same as that for solo cycles. However the 'Cycling and Cyclists' page on the National Rail website states that "Tandems, tricycles and bicycle trailers are not carried unless otherwise stated", and until this year the National Rail's leaflet 'Cycling by Train' also had the same statement. It does now, however, advise potential users to contact the Tandem Club (which presumably means that the Tandem Club knows more about a TOCs policy on tandems than the TOCs know themselves!). Having said that, National Rail is the body which oversees the individual Train Operating Companies and is therefore regarded as the point of reference on aspects not stated specifically by individual TOCs.
The 'Cycling by Train' leaflet mentioned earlier, attempts to fit into one A4 sheet the cycling policy of all 28 TOCs. Inevitably this information is somewhat abbreviated and in some cases tandems are not mentioned where they should be. This leaves us all with the question "Will I be able to take my tandem on the train or not?"
In general most of the long distance trains (with the notable exception of Cross Country and Scotrail) will take tandems on at least some of their trains.
Many TOCs leave it to the 'discretion of the guard' as to whether to allow a tandem onto a particular train. This might mean that you may be able to travel on a train where the published literature suggests would not be permitted. On the other hand it could mean that a particularly officious guard could prevent you from travelling on his train when there is no logical reason for it. Thankfully, there are very few of these 'jobs-worth' guards. I think David and I have met them all!
This page is an attempt to lead you through this minefield, and hopefully to encourage you to take your tandem on the train.
There are a number of factors which make it difficult to know exactly what the situation actually is when it comes to taking your tandem on the train. These include conflicting information given in TOCs literature; conflict between printed literature and website; conflict between literature/website and actual policy; changes in franchise holders; ignorance of booking and station staff of policy; uncertainty of train type used on a particular route etc. etc. etc. On this page I hope to sort out some of these conflicts by giving you information I have been given by TOC managers, by sharing personal experiences with photographs of what to expect.
Although David and I have travelled quite extensively on the UK rail network there are many areas of the country we know very little (or nothing) about. So, please, if you have any recent first-hand experiences of taking your tandem on the train (positive or negative) email me at . Photographs will be especially welcomed. Please give as much detail as possible. If you can identify the train type so much the better. This is the first two or three digits of the number painted on the ends of each unit. Often the class is also given a name such as 'Pendolino', 'Voyager' etc.

Tips on taking your tandem on the train

  • If possible try to identify the type of train in operation on the particular route. This can be done from the operators website, from this website, or by going to the station and looking at the trains. However, having said that, operational problems might mean that the train you get is not the one you expect, and because of this station staff seem very reluctant to tell you what type of train to expect. Wikipedia is a useful source of information about the various train classes, though sadly lacking in information about cycle carriage. Go to Wikipedia - List of British Rail Classes and select the appropriate link. Train types can sometimes be deduced from the timetable. For instance, if the timetable indicates that seats are reserveable, or there is a buffet on board then it is likely that that train will be a loco-hauled train and would potentially have more cycle space than the usual Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) and Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) which typically have no buffet (though they may have a trolley service) but rarely have reserveable seats.
  • Book your tickets in advance. Many TOCs require cycle reservations. With some TOCs cycle reservations are not compulsory but recommended. On-line booking doesnt usually allow you to reserve cycle space. However, the East Coast website does!
  • If you have a cycle reservation a guard is more likely to let yo onto the train than if you don't!
  • Reserve 'two cycle spaces'. Don't ask to reserve space for a tandem. The chances are (particularly bookings over the phone) that either the operator doesn't know what a tandem is, or makes the assumption that tandems are not permitted on any train
  • Allow plenty of time. Get on to the platform before the train arrives. Find out what position on the train the cycle area will be, and position yourself appropriately.
  • Get onto the train as quickly as possible and get your tandem in position in the cycle area.
  • If possible fit quick-release wheels on your tandem and make sure you can remove them quickly (especially the front one) as you may need to remove one (or in extreme cases both) wheels for the tandem to fit in the allotted space
  • Be ready to remove the front wheel and bags if required. It is often quicker (if space permits) to remove these once you are on the train as a tandem is much easier to manoeuvre with both wheels in place, and removing panniers on the platform could mean getting on and off the train several times to get all your luggage
  • When planning your journey allow sufficient time and be prepared to catch the next train just in case you are unable for one reason or another to catch your first choice train

Jargon Buster

Rolling Stock - the actual trains itself, including engine and carriages.

Loco-Hauled - The train consists of a locomotive which houses the driving power (diesel engine or electric motors). The locomotive tows any number of carriages which have no motive power of their own. Loco-hauled trains are usually found on long distance inter-city routes where (theoretically) the number of carriages can be adjusted to suit demand.

DMU - Diesel Multiple Unit A diesel- powered train of a fixed length where the driving engine is distributed throughout the train. Consequently the driver's cab is situated at the front of the first carriage, with the seating area immediately behind. This type of train is usually used on local services which involve frequent stops. One exception is the Virgin/CrossCountry Voyager train which, although it is a DMU it has a much larger engine and consequently is used over longer distant routes.

EMU Electric Multiple Unit - similar to the DMUs but powered by electricity (either overhead wire or third rail). again, these usually operate on local routes which involve frequent stops. One exception being the Virgin Pendolino which operates over long distance intercity routes.

Class - describes the basic design of a train, defined by a two- or three-digit number. Some Classes also have names, such as Voyager, Pendolino, HST etc. Every train has a unique number (as all train-spotters know!) This is typically 5 or 6 digits, the first two or three of which define the class. Some classes (such as class 170) exist as both EMU and DMU. There are often variants on a particular class, and different Train Operating Companies may fit them out differently resulting in possible variation in the cycle accommodation between two apparently identical trains.

TOC - Train Operating Company. Since the Privatisation of British Rail in 1997 the railway track (infrastructure) has been operated by a single entity - Network Rail. The trains and most of the stations are operated by approximately thirty Train operating Companies (TOCs) who typically have a seven-year franchise to operate train services on a specified set of routes. The Train operating companies independently decide (within limitations) the timetables, routes, rolling stock, on-board facilities and policies.