What would the perfect family friendly trip be like? Imagine travelling alone with three children (a baby, a toddler and a taciturn adolescent) from a busy London station and back again.
Oh dear, the train I wanted to catch can’t meet our reservation requirements. Since the time of our departure is not the important thing, we are able to click flexible departure time but insist on a table.
I enter all my details and I am able to pre-book a table. I have the option of ensuring that I am not placed in the quiet coach, the ankle biters do not quite understand the sacred importance of silence in the quiet coach. I am able to click a button asking for assisted boarding. Most importantly of all I am able to reserve a space for our pram.
Arriving at the station
We arrive at the station and immediately head to a family waiting room where there are slides and tables. A representative of the railway approaches us and asks us if we’ve booked priority boarding and allows us onto the train a few minutes early. They also see another family needing assistance so let them on early too. The station is completely step free. Thankfully, when the station was designed they chose two small lifts rather than one big one so that when one lift was down we could still access the platform.
Our tickets are scanned on our phone by the assistant. They’re very patient as they can see the ankle biters are getting restless but all the tickets are on the same ‘phone and they all need to be swiped. The assistant lets us through the gate in one go. I would hate to be holding the hand of a toddler, pushing a pram and carrying a rucksack and trying to scan tickets with a queue of increasingly grumpy commuters behind me.
On the train
Our table seats are immediately adjacent to the entrance so that we do not have to carry all the bags down a thin corridor. Our dedicated pram space is immediately adjacent to us. I can see the pram the whole time. I don’t have to worry about moving or folding the pram if a wheelchair user or a cyclist boards. So relaxing.
Time for the loo. Thankfully, we’re next to the large accessible toilet. I take the baby and the middle one and leave the vaguely sensible elder one behind. The toilet is large enough to wheel the pram in so I can rest the baby. The middle one is attracted to everything bright and flashing. The train has a toddler restraint seat so I can keep them secure whilst using the facilities confident that no button will be pressed opening the world to my use of the throne.
Once the first order of business is complete, I encourage the middle one to use the facilities and they are delighted by the inbuilt toddler seat meaning they are not overwhelmed by a gaping chasm of a grown up seat.
Business complete, we return to our seats.
The kids have thoroughly enjoyed their activity packs the railway company supplied and have ticked off all the eye spy, word searches, rail safety quizzes etc… Oh look there’s a printed snakes and ladders on the table and the conductor lends us the pieces. How thoughtful.
It’s my holiday too so time for a short break. It’s time for the screens! Oh no what’s this, I didn’t charge them or download any programs—more fool me.
Oh no wait, help is at hand. The plug sockets on the train are upside down so that charging can occur despite the unnecessarily large plugs for the devices. What’s this? Why it’s reliable free wi-fi from the train with no login so the kids can get on their devices with no bother. Thank goodness.
Hang on… because the windows line up with the table, the eldest is staring out of the window rather than their screen. Wonders will never cease.
Right, time for the snacks. Very pleased to see that the trolley had small juice cartons and fruit for the kids. Oh dear, there’s a little bit of rubbish here. Not to worry as there is a large bin in this corridor. The train company must have been aware that little people generate a disproportionate amount of rubbish (including nappies) compared to their size.
Time to feed the baby (although he is quite big for a baby—I blame his Swedish father). His legs are so long they take up most of the seat. Thankfully, I’m able to raise the armrests so that he can lie on his lap as I feed him.
Code brown! code brown! The baby’s unleashed a poonami. The accessible toilet is being used. Ha ha! Every toilet has a baby change. A quick dash to another toilet. We pull down the baby change and it covers the flush button… no attractive buttons for babies here. That’s some good thinking.
Baby and toddler are getting tired; the dedicated pram space means the baby can sleep in their pram. Oh look I can close the curtains around them. That’s nice. The toddler rests their head on my lap. Good thing all the armrests can be raised.
What is this? A very clear and short tannoy announcement for our stop in good time. No crackling or long messages here. Unfortunately, the old Victorian station we’re arriving at isn’t step free but the conductor is aware of our priority booking and helps get the pram off the train.
The journey back
We’re not starting at terminus station this time so no advanced boarding. However, the Passenger Information System (the dot matrix) tells us the order of the train carriages and there are zoning markings on the floor. We stand right in front of the door closest to where we need to board. We wouldn’t want to have to lug this pram and all these bags down a narrow corridor whacking other passengers on their heads.
I can see that there are short platforms at this old station. Thankfully our booking isn’t in the inaccessible part of the train.
Golly gosh, that was a nice journey. So much nicer than having the kids stuck in the back of a car staring at screens whilst stuck in a traffic jam. It felt like the holiday started early.
Imagine what it could be like if no one had thought about travelling with kids… nowhere to fold a pram, negotiating ticket barriers as everyone tries to board, dirty small toilets, constantly worrying if a cyclist or a wheelchair user needs the space for the pram more, no wi-fi, incomprehensible tannoy announcements, no assistance getting off, breastfeeding on the floor in a crowded vestibule as everyone tries to walk over you… thankfully, no one with kids has rail trips like that because the needs of families and young children alongside all passengers have been thought through from the outset. Happy Days!