Bikes On Board!

Grant-funded Project Will Make Loading/Unloading Bikes at Anniston’s Amtrak Station Possible

Originally published DECEMBER 18, 2016

Anniston is one of only three cities in Alabama with rail service via Amtrak—an economic edge that cannot be overstated. Anniston is also a cycling mecca with professional road races such as the Alabama Cycling Classic and the Cheaha Challenge drawing international professional, junior and amateur cycling teams. Anniston is also a destination for tourists seeking a bicycling vacation. Cycling trails such as Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail, within cycling distance of the downtown historic district, and Chief Ladiga Trail, as well as cycling festivals such as the Noble Street Festival and the Fat Tire Festival, offer vacationing cyclists and their families entertainment options. Local businesses are also up to speed on the activity offering everything from cycling-inspired decor and menu items to artist-designed bike racks.

Add this to the City’s ongoing efforts to buoy transportation infrastructure with bike share lanes, paths, loops and connectors, and you can understand the cycling mecca expression. And yet, due to the Anniston Amtrak station’s platform length, on to which passengers from New York to New Orleans arrive via Amtrak’s Crescent Line, cyclists have not been able to load and unload their most precious cargo, their bikes. That’s about to change thanks to a grant awarded from the Southern Rail Commission.

The $139,500 matching grant, awarded through Federal Railway Administration (FRA) monies, will provide for a platform extension at the decades-old train station with a storied past. Anniston was one of eleven local governments in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana that will receive a portion of 2.4 million in FRA grants to improve passenger rail station upgrades or construction. Although cities have two years to complete their projects, City of Anniston City Planner Toby Bennington anticipates the platform extension at Anniston’s Southern Railways Station will be completed by November 2017.

Bennington has long been aware of the need for the platform extension, and his extensive work on the City’s multi-modal plan, which will eventually connect the city’s bicycling infrastructure with all modes of transportation, places him in the perfect position to pursue funding sources such as the FRA grant. He’s also witnessed the spectacle that happens every year in April when the City fills with a colorful multi-cultural exchange as members of cycling teams from across the nation and the world descend on Anniston for the annual Alabama Cycling Classic.

Bennington explained that, after 14 years, Anniston is getting quite a bit of interest from cyclists who are considering one of its qualifying cycling events; “We concluded we obviously needed to go after that grant, to keep up with the demand for eco-tourism and biking.”

Elena hands an Amtrak employee her cycle.

﷯Cyclists aren’t the only ones expressing interest. This past summer, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) sent college student Elena Studier and her bicycle—nicknamed “Stevie”—10,000 miles across the country via Amtrak. Elena kept an online blog and posted her experiences on social media sites. Although Anniston was not originally considered as a stop, Amtrak officials recognized the city’s importance in cycling circles and decided Elena should make a make a detour. When Elena arrived, city officials as well as locals and representatives from Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association (NEABA) were on hand to greet her–and unload her bicycle. Check out her blog here.

Elena represents a generation of young Americans seeking transportation options and the communities that provide them. Anniston, with its mild climate, architectural charms, emerging Arts scene, and proximity to Atlanta and Birmingham may very well become the cycling spot for many of these millennials. And those breathtaking views of Mt. Cheaha, Alabama’s highest peak? They’re part of the package!


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