After three years of design and debate, Metro-North will conduct another pilot program this autumn to give bike racks their widest tryout yet on dozens of M8 railcars.

As part of the pilot, Metro-North Railroad will install two racks each on 50 cars by November, costing the state Department of Transportation $66,000, according to DOT spokesman Judd Everhart. Each rack can secure two bicycles.

If the racks see significant use and get favorable reviews from employees, bicyclists and commuters, the state will outfit the rest of the M8 fleet with the equipment, Everhart said. Everhart said there was no timetable for a final decision if the racks warrant wider installation.

"It's still considered a pilot program," Everhart said. "We want to see how well they are received and how much they're utilized. Depending on that, we will make a decision about outfitting the entire fleet and identifying a source of funding to do so."

A ban on bicycles on trains during rush hour between 6 and 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. will remain in effect because of capacity concerns.

Cycling advocates who have enjoyed loosened Metro-North restrictions on bikes in recent years will view the program as an incremental step toward fuller access, but also be disappointed at still having to push for officials to allow bicycles on all trains, Paul Hammer, a cycling advocate from New Haven, said.

Cyclists had expected that Metro-North and the DOT might be ready to act to install the racks on a greater number of cars after the chosen rack design received positive feedback during an earlier pilot in late 2011 that involved only a few cars, said Hammer, a former president of the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition.

"It will be a noticeable improvement, but more is needed," Hammer said. "Ultimately this infrastructure lays the groundwork for more multimodal access on the trains at all times. But there is a question about why they don't install them more widely."

The hanging racks will be placed in seating areas immediately adjacent to the entry to train cars in an area also reserved for wheelchairs and baby strollers, which will continue to take precedence over bicycle storage for the space, Everhart said.

The manufacturer of the rack, Sportswork Northwest, was hired to produce 110 of the rack units under a $330,000 contract finalized this year, which included an additional option of up to $285,000 to outfit the rest of the M8 fleet with the equipment.

Terri Cronin, chairwoman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said she supports full access for bicycles on off-peak and weekend trains, but believes the weekday rush-hour ban remains justified because of crowding issues on the New Haven Line.

The new racks should be accompanied by signs explaining the rules to bicyclists, including the need to move their bikes for handicapped passengers and baby strollers, Cronin said.

"I would never want to sacrifice a seat for a paying passenger for the bikes," Cronin said. "The reason they shouldn't go on peak trains is there is never enough room for people, let alone people with bikes."

martin.cassidy@scni.com, twitter.com/martincassidyst