Travelling with small children: What improvements could be made?

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Hi,

We're hopefully going to meet with some important people at GWR and LNER to discuss our experiences of travelling on trains with children.

Some of the suggestions we've had to improve the experience include the following:

1) Assisted boarding for those travelling with very young children.
2) Being able to book the exact seat (i.e. table/near toilet etc).
3) Dedicated pram space (that can be booked in advance)
4) Dedicated seats for mums breastfeeding
5) Level boarding

When you compare it to the European perspective, train travel with kids in the UK seems a bit lacking (see the picture below).

With best wishes,

JTTF
 

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Purple Orange

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In my experience of travelling with a wheelchair and on occasions several years ago with a pushchair & young child, I have generally found rail staff to be very good in this respect. What I have struggled with more so is a minority of other passengers (either blocking aisles or wheelchair spaces and on one occasion a lady refusing to move from a booked seat because she was on the train before hand) and general overcrowding.
 

LSWR Cavalier

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Often travelling on the train is so quiet and boring. Then a couple of kiddies come scampering along the gangway, they accost total strangers and ask their name, where they are going etc

Really livens up my day, I am very friendly to them, they realise that strangers can be kindly. One senses that the parents are relieved that I am not annoyed by unsolicited attention from the little angels

A great place for children to develop their social skills under a bit of supervision
 

Robertj21a

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I'd ask how they could ensure that any rules can definitely be applied given that many rules are already ignored, staff aren't visible - and many trains across the UK are DOO.
 

Scotrail314209

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I definitely think more trains, long distance in particular could do with offering more for children.

For example a McDonalds-esque meal deal including a sandwich, drink and sweet with some colouring in to keep the kids occupied for a while. Virgin's kids magazine came in handy on the journey to Preston with my little sister who was 4 at the time, it kept her occupied for a good hour and a bit.

Maybe some games too which can be given out for a fee and returned at the end of the journey. It's surprising how well some silly games can keep a child occupied. It saves them running up and down the aisles anyway.
 

Cherry_Picker

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Making it more clear and more obvious where the buggy spaces are. A lot of these initiatives tend to involve catering to the people who do book ahead, and maybe that's a more common practice on long distance operators like LNER and GWR but people who just want to turn up and go are probably a much larger group and they tend to be ignored because it's harder to predict when, where and how many will turn up on a given day. I've genuinely lost count of how many times I've walked someone with a pushchair to the coach with accessible facilities and I'm only ever doing that with people I've chanced upon. I dread to think how many people never get any assistance. Much like load balancing on trains (some coaches are busy and others are empty) is hard to do because people tend to get on at the door which is closest to where they entered the platform, or the disproportionately fill the front coach if heading towards a big terminal or the back coaches if heading away I'd like to see more information made available as to where facilities are on trains. Having an easily identifiable door that you can actually see when the train is coming down the platform would be lovely, often the little pushchair/wheelchair stickers are so small you can't see them until you are staring at them. Maybe just having a different colour for that door would be really useful.
 

Bletchleyite

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I definitely think more trains, long distance in particular could do with offering more for children.

For example a McDonalds-esque meal deal including a sandwich, drink and sweet with some colouring in to keep the kids occupied for a while. Virgin's kids magazine came in handy on the journey to Preston with my little sister who was 4 at the time, it kept her occupied for a good hour and a bit.

Maybe some games too which can be given out for a fee and returned at the end of the journey. It's surprising how well some silly games can keep a child occupied. It saves them running up and down the aisles anyway.

The best one I saw was the old XC "game train" - an early aircon Mk2 set that had board games printed on the tables, just bring your own dice and counters.

But anyway...

First thing I'd ask is how much of a priority this should be. A fully-occupied modern family car is an efficient use of road space and environmentally efficient too, and if electric better still. So do we actually need to go after that business, should we instead prioritise getting people out of single-occupancy cars?

But moving on from there, several European railways have dedicated family coaches with things like play areas, all-tables, toilet with baby change etc all in the one vehicle. That only really works on long-train operations - but the main long-distance operations do use long trains, so that isn't entirely out of the realms of sense. It should perhaps be compulsory reservation and allow a family to purchase and ensure a whole table bay, even if that does have to be by paying an extra fare. There could also be a more flexible layout, so not just 2+2, but also some airline seats and some areas of 3+1, with the bays of 6 being good for larger families and groups with children (these are quite popular on LNR when families are out and about) and the bays of 2 being good for one parent travelling with one child.

Obviously power at all tables, and no quiet rule, though perhaps some partitions so if people are playing stuff out loud it won't be as annoying to others. I'd counter this being explicitly allowed in family coaches with it being made very clear that it isn't allowed in other coaches.

Interior colour scheme bright and family friendly. Probably e-leather seating for ease of cleaning, as kids are always messy when eating even if they aren't ill. Maybe even a sponsorship deal for a given set of cartoon characters to feature, or commission their own.
 

Ashley Hill

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GWT (and early FGW) had a family coach on HSTs and gave away colouring books and pencils.
Passengers also need educating. The disabled space is just that and not a pram/luggage space. I agree that there should be space for a pram in each coach and luggage spaces made bigger for folding prams,but would companies sacrifice that seat? Plus it would soon fill with luggage if empty.
Space is often a problem on local journeys where large families or groups travel with multiple prams and block gangways and doors. "We're only going a few stops" or "I'm not folding the pram as the child's just gone sleep" are the standard replies when you try and tidy them up.
 

SeanG

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I would advocate a family coach on long distance services.
As someone without children, I would rather avoid them, but also appreciate that those with children may wish to avoid adult groups drinking (eg stags, football etc).
Such a coach could have spaces for pushchairs etc, and an accessible coach for baby change. Perhaps a booster seat style set up may let children see out of the window, and an eye spy type booklet to allow parents to help them spot landmarks on the way.
 

Ianno87

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Definitely a 'kids carriage' and/or toddler compartment so you can make a bit of noise/ wander around and not worry about other passengers too much.

(Although if it were up to me, I'd normalise a bit of background noise/chatter on trains - I shouldn't have to feel guilty for my children being children)

And properly designated spaces for prams that doesn't involve blocking the vestibule or knicking the cycle/wheelchair space.


Often travelling on the train is so quiet and boring. Then a couple of kiddies come scampering along the gangway, they accost total strangers and ask their name, where they are going etc

Really livens up my day, I am very friendly to them, they realise that strangers can be kindly. One senses that the parents are relieved that I am not annoyed by unsolicited attention from the little angels

A great place for children to develop their social skills under a bit of supervision

Thank you for that post. As a parent of young kids, I worry about them excessively bothering other passengers, but when I see comments like that it makes it worth it. We should definitely normalise passengers talking to each other, which benefits everybody's enjoyment of rail travel.

If I'm travelling alone and somebody sits nearby with young kid, I make a point of telling them not to worry about any noise they make as I empathise with them!

First thing I'd ask is how much of a priority this should be. A fully-occupied modern family car is an efficient use of road space and environmentally efficient too, and if electric better still. So do we actually need to go after that business, should we instead prioritise getting people out of single-occupancy cars?

1) You can't interact with your kids when driving and their in the back of the car. Long distance car travel with kids is so joyless - mine get fussy very quickly. I love sitting at a train table with mine and doing drawing/activities with them on a long journey.

2) How do you think we normalise rail travel to kids so that they become the rail users of the future? They need to grow up not thinking that the car is the default choice.
 
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CreamNCookies

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I remember some Grand Central Trains having a Monopoly table printed on the table a few years back.

I now wonder if they had little monopoly sets to sell on board. I was travelling by myself, but had I have been with my family, I would like to think i'd have questioned the staff more on this.

It was different and looked cool.
 

RPI

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There was an internal survey recently on the GWR staff "Yammer" site, if you're not familiar its basically like Facebook but for individual organisations, plenty of ideas were suggested from what I saw of the comments and from what I remember it was from a manager looking for ideas on how to improve this side of things
 

Darandio

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I remember some Grand Central Trains having a Monopoly table printed on the table a few years back.

I now wonder if they had little monopoly sets to sell on board. I was travelling by myself, but had I have been with my family, I would like to think i'd have questioned the staff more on this.

It was different and looked cool.

They did sell them.
 

CreamNCookies

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The inner child in me feels like he missed out. :frown:

But a great idea, I wonder if it was profitable.
 

peters

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1) Assisted boarding for those travelling with very young children.

Do you mean bookable so that there is someone waiting to assist you the moment you arrive at the station, like wheelchair passengers can request?

You can approach station staff or guards if you think assistance would be useful, if they don't approach you first.

2) Being able to book the exact seat (i.e. table/near toilet etc).

You should be able to request a preference for a toilet or table seat when booking a seat on Intercity services. Remember not all seats are reservable as there needs to be unreservable priority seats on trains so that the elderly and those with disabilities can turn up for any train, I think that's required by law.

3) Dedicated pram space (that can be booked in advance)

Not really workable on local 2 carriage trains alongside the requirement for 2 wheelchair spaces, as there's too few seats as it is. Note also the bikers are campaigning for additional bike space on trains, so it'll be impossible to please everyone. Ideally new longer trains would be procured but in the real world that would cost too much.

I think even if train operators agreed they would impose limits to the size of one which can be left unfolded, which might prevent the larger posher prams from being conveyed except as luggage.

4) Dedicated seats for mums breastfeeding

I think it would be better for train operators to tell passengers existing priority seats should be forfeited for that purpose, rather than having priority seats and designated breastfeeding seats and in reality that would just confuse some mums. I've seen disabled people park in mother's and toddlers spaces in supermarket car parks and vice versa.

5) Level boarding

Long term we should move to one height and width of train for local and regional routes and then most platforms can be adjusted to meet those requirements. I think at stations like Manchester Piccadilly where you might have a tilting high speed train and a local train departing from the same platform that it might not be possible for the platform to be 100% level for both types of trains but at larger stations there are more staff available to assist.
 

Deafdoggie

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We found the VT kids packs were really good. I'm fairly sure we had a GWR one once too. And a promotional TPE cardboard train to cut out and make once!
But grumpy passengers who expect everyone to travel in silence should be barred! Personally, I'd only let groups of three or four book table seats. Only once did we find a woman in a seat at our reserved table of four, who wouldn't move. I left the three children at the table and I sat elsewhere... she soon moved!
The biggest barrier to family travel is other passengers rather than the railway. But, that said, railways still put leisure travellers at the bottom of the pile.
 

yorkie

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I'd ask how they could ensure that any rules can definitely be applied given that many rules are already ignored, staff aren't visible ....
It very much depends on the service.

and many trains across the UK are DOO.
I don't think the operation of the train has anything to do with it; the driver only operated electric trains in Glasgow have much higher staff visibility than many other services I can think of that have Guards!

I do agree that any proposals that rely on appropriate levels of staffing being in place would not work on all trains. But then again not all these suggestions are going to be viable or applicable for all trains.

As for point two in the original post, "Being able to book the exact seat" already exists for all operators whose seats are reserveable: with LNER and XC it is possible if booking directly with them, and for all other relevant operators it is possible using Trainsplit.
 

quantinghome

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Eurostar had a coach with a section set up for young families which was really good - next to the larger loo with baby changing, fold-up seats, all tables, different table design for better access. It was partitioned with a door to the main part of the carriage, which was helpful all-round.

The biggest issue we found with small kids was getting prams on to the trains. Level access asap please, not by 2070!

Also if it's the big players like LNER and GWR they should be speaking to the main charitable organisations in this area - e.g. NCT.
 

JBuchananGB

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In the spring of 1980 I travelled with my wife and 3 children aged 3yr, 2yr and 4 months with a double buggy and a carry-cot. Due to a promotion by Persil, we travelled on one paid-for 1st class return from Witham to Cheltenham, and one complimentary equivalent. (children under 5 travel free.) No particular facilities provided on any train for the children. The most memorable point of the journey was on the return part when there was quite a short time available to change at Swindon, so we boarded the HST near the back and had to walk through the train to the 1st class area. Fortunately, although we did not have a reservation we found a table for 4, and my wife settled in to breast feed the baby, while the other two ran up and down the length of the coach.
Businessmen were working and reading their papers (no mobile phones, no laptops in those days). Ticket inspector entered the far end of the carriage. You could almost hear the businessmen thinking... Of course our tickets were in order.
Still a memorable journey even 41 years later!
 

Egg Centric

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2) How do you think we normalise rail travel to kids so that they become the rail users of the future? They need to grow up not thinking that the car is the default choice.

Does this follow? I make a special effort to use trains because I love them and while it could be generic non-neurotypicalness I am fairly sure part of the reason I love them is because I rarely used them as a child (due to geography more than anything) so they seemed 'magical'. It may be that depriving them of a good thing actually makes them appreciate it more.

There is some behavioural psychology behind this as well. Sales techniques often work by artificial scarcity.

I'm not so much advancing a thesis here as saying "it's not as simple as that".
 

Ianno87

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Does this follow? I make a special effort to use trains because I love them and while it could be generic non-neurotypicalness I am fairly sure part of the reason I love them is because I rarely used them as a child (due to geography more than anything) so they seemed 'magical'. It may be that depriving them of a good thing actually makes them appreciate it more.

There is some behavioural psychology behind this as well. Sales techniques often work by artificial scarcity.

I'm not so much advancing a thesis here as saying "it's not as simple as that".

"Oh, not another train, Dad!"

In fairness, my brother (who got dragged on train trips with me) turned into a bit of a petrol head, though he started turning to trains again pre-Covid for work travel.
 

Bill57p9

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Personally I believe a kids menu would go a long way. Last year we traveled with a First Class AWC Family ticket however there were no menu options that appealed to our son (granted a bit older, rather than a toddler).

A Family Carriage sounds like a good idea too, both for the families and those that want to avoid the chaos.

For long distance routes, how about something like a treasure hunt based on what you can see through the window?
 

BluePenguin

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A dedicated carriage for families, children and anyone who likes to talk on the phone is desperately needed. These passengers could be given “priority boarding” to get themselves settled to avoid delaying the train.

The dedicated carriages could be kitted out with pram parks instead of luggage racks and baby changing facilities in the toilets. Lots of bins would be good too
 

Metal_gee_man

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The challenge before us around family carriages seems to be:

Will a family carriage discourage single travellers or commuters from using the carriage when pre-covid many services were at breaking point?
If this was to happen would it be policed on Football away days with bad language and alcohol?
And will it result in similar or more revenue coming in due to either more families using the train or a decline because regulars aren't able to get a seat, in a reasonably quiet carriage because their perceived judgement suggests they shouldn't sit at a table for 4 with a snakes and ladders board game on it taking up a space for a large group or family.

And by putting in more buggy/pram/pushchair spaces:

Again it'll result in less seating capacity, with more fold up seats that could only be considered acceptable for short hops not for 3hr Intercity journeys?
But the pluses are wheelchair accessible spaces become less liable to be filled by a buggy or luggage as the fold down seats help but will the travelling public accept that?
 

NorthOxonian

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Does this follow? I make a special effort to use trains because I love them and while it could be generic non-neurotypicalness I am fairly sure part of the reason I love them is because I rarely used them as a child (due to geography more than anything) so they seemed 'magical'. It may be that depriving them of a good thing actually makes them appreciate it more.

There is some behavioural psychology behind this as well. Sales techniques often work by artificial scarcity.

I'm not so much advancing a thesis here as saying "it's not as simple as that".
This may be veering slightly off topic (sorry!), but I see the logic in that statement because of my own experience. When I was a kid, trains were very much for special occasions - my parents didn't drive but generally just used buses because we rarely went very far from home. Like you geography was also a factor (Newcastle doesn't have many train services which aren't intercity, and the few local trains tend to have parallel bus or metro routes).

I didn't start using trains regularly until I was about 19 precisely because I saw them as being a bit of a hassle, for example needing to be booked ages in advance. If I wasn't the sort of person who enjoyed travelling, I might never have started using trains regularly.

I'll try and link this back to the thread topic. I think part of the problem is one of perception - many families with children may not even consider the railway when planning a trip. Promoting the Family and Friends Railcard would help, as would potentially offering tie-ins with local family friendly attractions which make it simpler to get from the train to where families actually want to be. Perhaps even discounts could be a part of that - I know Beamish near me give 25% off if you come by bus - could there be similar deals for family attractions near train stations? After all, if families become a greater proportion of passengers, their experience should improve simply because staff will become more used to their particular needs.
 
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peters

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A secluded area for breastfeeding, well away from the toilet (smells) would be ideal and probably would be well used if advised and signed properly. Expressed cold breast milk is not the same...

But will it ever happen?

How are you defining well used? I'm sure some trains don't have any babies on board and not all mums breast feed. There's also an increasing number of couples using shared parental leave which means the chance of baby being with dad rather than mum is now much higher, especially when mum is a qualified professional.

Perhaps you're thinking more mums would travel by train with young babies if there was a designated space? If that's the case perhaps it's something to consider in COVID response to getting passengers back on trains.

A dedicated carriage for families, children and anyone who likes to talk on the phone is desperately needed. These passengers could be given “priority boarding” to get themselves settled to avoid delaying the train.

The dedicated carriages could be kitted out with pram parks instead of luggage racks and baby changing facilities in the toilets. Lots of bins would be good too

There's obviously some sarcasm in that post, so I'll ask where would the babies store their suitcases if you replace the luggage space with pram space?
 

SynthD

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I’m curious how much of this would be ticked off by completing other goals, like a decent sized area for bikes and large luggage that still prioritises wheelchairs, like a decent sized loo that a wheelchair can fit in that also has a fold down changing table. Wider seats, more bins, a clear area for noisier passengers have all been asked for before. Help with boarding is the main one from the experience I’ve heard of directly, either in advance of a train leaving a terminus or a staff setting up the wheelchair ramp and letting the driver know they’ve sat down before leaving.
 

Bletchleyite

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I’m curious how much of this would be ticked off by completing other goals, like a decent sized area for bikes and large luggage that still prioritises wheelchairs, like a decent sized loo that a wheelchair can fit in that also has a fold down changing table. Wider seats, more bins, a clear area for noisier passengers have all been asked for before. Help with boarding is the main one from the experience I’ve heard of directly, either in advance of a train leaving a terminus or a staff setting up the wheelchair ramp and letting the driver know they’ve sat down before leaving.

With regard to assistance of all kinds I would look to develop an app-based handoff system which would mandate a physical handoff of a person requiring assistance between the people responsible for them (by requiring them to scan a QR code on the other person's phone to prove they had both been there in person at the same time).

Most assistance failures are due to incorrect assumptions, and it's just not good enough and could well form a valid discrimination lawsuit.
 
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