Family friendly travel: how does each Train Operating Company fare?

This is the first scorecard to assess and compare train operating companies across the UK for their provision of family-friendly services and facilities.

The research finds that, overall, train operating companies across the UK are failing dismally to support families with young children to travel by train.

  • Only five companies – TfL, c2c, LNER, Merseyrail and GTR – scored above 2 out of a possible total of 8 points.
  • Overall the scores were disappointingly low. The highest scoring company – TfL – achieved a mere 3.5 points. 
  • The location of the two highest scoring companies – TfL and c2c – show that across the UK network, family friendly facilities/services are more available within Greater London and a small area of the South East. Journeys on these lines are relatively short.
  • 10 companies failed to respond suggesting they have little concern for the issues affecting families of young children using their services. These were: Chiltern Railway, East Midlands Railway, Eurostar, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, London Northwestern Railway, Northern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Railway.
  • Seven companies scored half a point for having some spaces available in train carriages to put an unfolded buggy. No company scored full points for this question, as none of the spaces available are dedicated solely for pushchair use.
  • For three-quarters of the companies that responded, step-free access to the platform is possible at all, or the vast majority of stations along the routes, but only five companies said level boarding was available in some places. For most train services, level boarding was not available.
  • Best examples of passenger assist service to help customers with young children board the train were given by Merseyrail, Southeastern and TfL. Yet all three companies could do more to publicise the service.

It was clear from responses (or lack of) that the majority of train operating companies are not taking the issue of family-friendly travel seriously. However, a small handful of companies – particularly TfL, Transport for Wales, Merseyrail, and LNER – indicated they are currently discussing the needs of families travelling with young children and aiming to find solutions in the design of newer trains and through additional services.

Avanti West Coast train refurbishment: Campaign groups condemn failure to provide facilities for young families

The Campaign for Family Friendly Trains and campaign group Pregnant then Screwed join together to express disappointment that recent upgrades to Avanti West Coast fleet makes no provision for unfolded prams.

Avanti West Coast have recently upgraded their Pendolino fleet, describing it as an inclusive design. Despite being billed as the UK’s biggest ever train upgrade, the refurbishment failed to add any much-needed space for unfolded prams.

Abby Taylor, from the Campaign for Family Friendly Trains said:

‘We are disappointed that Avanti West Coast have not taken advantage of the opportunity to improve train travel for families with young children as part of their Pendolino refurbishment. We have met with Avanti West Coast several times over the last year and stressed that space for unfolded pushchairs and prams is necessary to avoid parents juggling children as they board, waking up sleeping babies or frantically trying to unfold a pram as they reach their destination. As much of the railway industry recognises that changes are required to train interiors to attract and retain leisure passengers, the refurbished design from Avanti West Coast appears stuck in a pre-pandemic mindset that neglects the needs of families with young children.’

“I have travelled on Avanti West Coast trains with my own son and have spent many hours sitting on train vestibule floors, breastfeeding there, changing him there, singing him to sleep there, because there was nowhere to put ourselves or his pushchair that wasn’t in the way. This design condemns future generations of parents to the same uncomfortable and unwelcoming experience.”

Joeli Brearley from the Campaign Group, Pregnant then Screwed added:

 ‘We wholeheartedly support the Campaign for Family Friendly trains. Many of our members have shared their experience of being forced to sit in train vestibules while their children sleep. We find it astonishing that it is possible to reserve space for a bike on a train but not a pram. We struggle to see how this is a leading example of inclusive design, being unable to travel as a mother could contribute to the motherhood penalty. We consider this a missed opportunity and hope that other train operating companies do not make this same mistake’. 

Notes for Editors

About the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains

https://familyfriendlytrains.com @trains_for_kids

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains was set up by frustrated parents who had had disappointing experiences travelling on Britain’s railway with young children. They have met with the Department for Transport, Train Operating Companies, the Rail Delivery Group as well as Rolling Stock Operating Companies and Train Manufacturers. The campaign’s main requests are:

  • dedicated space for unfolded prams on trains
  • extension of the seat reservation system to include the space for unfolded prams
  • family-friendly toilets that can be used with and by children
  • step free access and level boarding

About Pregnant then Screwed

Pregnant Then Screwed (www.pregnantthenscrewed.com).

Pregnant Then Screwed is a charity that seeks to protect, support and promote the rights of pregnant women and mothers. We carry out extensive research into the effects of systemic cultural and institutional discrimination during pregnancy and motherhood. Our support services include: a free employment rights helpline, pro bono legal advice and a tribunal mentor scheme that supports women who are considering legal action against their employer.

We campaign for changes that will end the motherhood penalty and we support working mums to rebuild their confidence and find work that works for them.

For information and interview requests, please contact: contact@familyfriendlytrains.com 

The reality of travelling by train with a baby

Photo by JJ Jordan

Picture the scene: You’re standing on the platform of your local train station, off to visit your parents. You’ve opted to take the train, it feels like the greener option. It is the greener option just 27% of the emissions of a car journey.[1] With you is your 8 month old baby, she’s not long started crawling so you opted to travel over nap time rather than risk her wanting to crawl up and down the train carriage. If she does wake up it’ll be easier to entertain her on the train than it would be in the car – you’ve loaded up the buggy with some favourite toys and books, as well as the usual gubbins that everyone carries round with their child, nappies, wipes and changes of clothes plus your own overnight stuff.

You’ve navigated your way through the ticket barriers – it was one of the ones where the gates wouldn’t open if there was anything in front of the QR code reader so you turned the buggy round, scanned your ticket, reversed, whipped the buggy round fast and pegged it through the gate before it had time to close. The lifts were working, hurrah. So here you are on the platform.

The train pulls in. You look at the platform, you look at the train, it’s a fair old step up. You call to a passing member of platform staff and ask where on the train there will be space for the buggy, and how you get the buggy onto the train. “The bike area is probably your best bet” they say, “and you’ll have to lift it up”. They help you find the bike storage area and give you a hand up getting the buggy on board. You have to climb on the train first, then lift up the buggy from the front while they handle the back. The scar from the C-section you had 8 months ago twinges as you take the load of baby, buggy and luggage. There’s a bit of an awkward fumble as you try to get back on the right end of the buggy in the narrow vestibule space. Before the doors close you ask the platform staff member how you might arrange to use the ramp next time. “That’s through booking Passenger Assistance” they tell you “but I’m afraid that’s only available to people with mobility issues, not buggies”.

As the doors close behind you, you look around. The bike area is full of bikes and their owners are nowhere to be seen. Right. You see through the door that the next carriage has a wheelchair space, so you wheel over there, park up the buggy, fold down one of the seats and settle in. Ten minutes later you pull in at the next stop. Someone is getting on in a wheelchair so you get up and wheel out to the vestibule area. You were, after all, in the wheelchair space – it’s theirs by right. “Where can we go?” you ask the conductor as they pass by, having set the train in motion. They inform you that you can’t stay in the vestibule area and block the exits, you’ve got to fold up the pram and go to a carriage – you should really have done that before you boarded, they add. “But she’s sleeping!” you protest. They apologise – but it’s company policy, a standard one across the industry, it’s not up to them.

Against your better judgment you acquiesce. Maybe you can lift her out of the pram without waking. You lift, and you succeed! But what about the pram? You need to take all the stuff out from underneath and over the handles, then collapse the thing, but you can’t do that and hold your child at the same time. You call the conductor back and ask this complete stranger to hold your child. It’s that or put her on the floor. As you hand her over she begins to wake. Working as quickly as you can, you take off the bags and collapse the pram. Leaving baby behind with the conductor and bags on the floor at their feet, you head into the carriage to find somewhere to put the buggy. The only option seems to be the overhead storage. You go back to check with the conductor. Nope, that really is your only option. You look up. You’re a little over the average height for a woman in the UK, at 5’5”. There is absolutely no way on earth you can reach up there, move enough bags out the way to create space for your buggy, lift it above your head and down into the rack. That would require a bit more height and a lot more upper body strength with something so bulky. There you are, standing in the carriage, buggy in hand, stuck. The conductor has followed you in with your baby, who is thoroughly awake, not particularly happy about it, and has just realised they have no idea who this person is. She begins to scream. “You and me both, kiddo”, you think.

All of this might sound like a ridiculous drama – and it is. But it’s also the reality of travelling by train in the UK, on your own with a baby. Imagine what happens when you need to change baby and use the loo yourself, but the changing table folds over the toilet seat and the narrow aisles prevent you from bringing the buggy with you to the nearest accessible toilet. Just imagine doing all of the above with a toddler in tow too.

This is a system where you can reserve a space for a bike but not a baby. It’s a system where people with wheelchairs, bikes and prams often compete for the same limited space. It’s a system where a policy has been created with no consideration to the difficulties of actually implementing it. It simply doesn’t work – and that is why we’re campaigning for it to change. Write to your MP, join the campaign team, amplify us on Twitter. Help us make our trains family-friendly.


[1] ‘How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’, Mike Berners-Lee, 2020, pp114-116

Designers show potential of family-friendly train interiors in the UK 

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains has welcomed a new train interior concept from transport design consultancy PriestmanGoode that includes space for unfolded prams and pushchairs. The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains met with PriestmanGoode during the design process to offer feedback and influence the design. The design is being demonstrated in Marylebone Station until Sunday 3rd April to allow members of the public to test the new seats and see the pushchair area.

Alice Delemare Tangpouri from the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains said:

‘The Proteus concept design from PriestmanGoode has shown that family-friendly rail travel in the UK is entirely possible. To make this vision a reality, train operating companies need to show they can adapt to changing customer needs and put families and other leisure travellers at the centre of their plans.’

Nick Flynn from the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains said:

‘Parents have often complained that it appears as though no-one involved in the design or specification of trains has ever travelled with young children by train. We were therefore pleased to learn that members of the design team had taken their own children on board a train to discover first hand some of the barriers to train travel for parents with prams and pushchairs’

‘When meeting with PriestmanGoode we emphasised that space for unfolded pushchairs and prams was necessary to avoid parents juggling children as they board, waking up sleeping babies or frantically trying to unfold a pram as they reach their destination, so we are pleased to see that the Proteus concept includes areas for unfolded prams and pushchairs.’

‘Family-friendly train design in the UK is lagging behind European neighbours such as Switzerland, Finland and Germany that offer play areas or dedicated compartments for families on train. This concept shows how Great British Railways can begin to catch up and adapt as leisure travel becomes increasingly important to the railways.’

Notes for editors:

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains was set up by frustrated parents who had had disappointing experiences travelling on Britain’s railway with young children. They have met with Train Operating Companies, the Rail Delivery Group as well as Rolling Stock Operating Companies and Train Manufacturers. The campaign’s main requests are:

  • dedicated space for unfolded prams on trains
  • extension of the seat reservation system to include the space for unfolded prams
  • family-friendly toilets that can be used with and by children
  • step free access and level boarding

www.familyfriendlytrains.com

For media please contact: contact@familyfriendlytrains.com

Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains launches national scorecard

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains has reached out to all Train Operating Companies asking them to self-evaluate against a series of family-friendly metrics such as the availability of space for unfolded prams on trains and whether assisted boarding has been extended to those travelling with young children.

Nick Flynn from the Campaign commented: ‘Train travel has many advantages over alternatives such as driving for families. On a train it is possible to bottle feed or breastfeed a baby, have a meal, visit the toilet or change a nappy without having to pause a journey. Since parents don’t have to concentrate on driving, families can enjoy the time together and make the journey part of the adventure. In addition, an environmentally conscious generation of parents knows that train travel is the better choice for the environment. However, parents are often left feeling frustrated by train travel since they are expected to fold prams, toilet facilities can be inadequate, and boarding can be stressful with parents relying on the kindness of strangers.’

‘Based on our experience and the views of parents and carers, the clear priority is dedicated space for unfolded prams. Our first question to all Train Operating Companies is therefore whether they have allocated space for unfolded prams on their trains.’

‘We’ve been impressed at how Train Operating Companies have engaged with our campaign so far, and were delighted to see Great Western Railways introduce trial measures such as priority boarding for families at Paddington station and a family-friendly waiting room at Reading station. We hope the scorecard (which we’ll publish on our website) will encourage all Train Operating Companies to continue to think about the needs of parents and children as well as provide vital information for travelling families. As leisure and discretionary travel becomes more important for the railways, creating family-friendly trains is a great way to attract more passengers and induce demand.’

Notes for editors:

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains was set up by frustrated parents who had had disappointing experiences travelling on Britain’s railway with young children. They have met with Train Operating Companies, the Rail Delivery Group as well as Rolling Stock Operating Companies and Train Manufacturers. The campaign’s main requests are:

  1. dedicated space for unfolded prams on trains
  2. extension of the seat reservation system to include the space for unfolded prams
  3. clean, reliable and spacious toilets with toddler toilet seats
  4. an extension of passenger assist to families travelling with young children
  5. level access between the train, platform and station entrance.

The scorecard will be published on the campaign’s website: www.familyfriendlytrains.com

For media please contact: contact@familyfriendlytrains.com

London for Dummies

Travel and lifestyle journalist and author Helen Ochyra writes about travelling in London with children.

Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

I’ve lived in London my entire adult life and thought I knew the tube network extremely well. Certainly well enough to be very comfortable on every journey. That is, until I had children.

Travelling with a pushchair makes me feel like a novice all over again. On a recent journey to Covent Garden to take my toddler to the theatre I completely forgot that there’s a small flight of stairs between the platform and the lifts, and when I decided to take her to the zoo to meet a friend I was wracking my brains to try and remember whether Camden Town has lifts (good) or escalators (awkward, if not terrifying).

I tried to find this information online, of course. But I couldn’t. Completely step free stations are marked clearly on the maps, but I couldn’t easily find information to tell me whether there was a lift or not at one specific station.

When I arrived at Camden Town I got off the train just behind another parent. She had a double buggy, which was even harder for her to manoeuvre around the barriers at the platform and through the tunnel to reach the bottom of the escalator. When we arrived there we both stopped, I imagine with the same stricken look on our faces. Was there a lift? And if so, where? She asked me if I knew – which of course I didn’t – and we went to the information point together to press the button to speak to staff. We were told there is no lift but no assistance was offered. So we both gamely clambered onto the escalators holding buggies with white knuckles.

I thought about how I would have managed this when I was pregnant. I wondered how a parent with multiple children, or accessibility requirements of their own, or a more unwieldy buggy, would cope. I wondered if there were going to be any steps to deal with at the exit, and I wondered why this was all so difficult.

I understand that the tube network is old, that it wasn’t designed for our modern lives. But I cannot understand why information – specific, clear, easy to access information – is so hard to get hold of.

We were able to go to the zoo that day, but when we returned to the station – my daughter asleep in the pushchair – I discovered a short flight of steps at the entrance. Fortunately, somebody offered to help me (in my experience, they pretty much always do) but I thought about what would have happened if I’d had to wake my daughter and carry her and the pushchair up those stairs. I thought about my fellow passenger with the double buggy and how for her that would maybe not even be possible. And I thought about not doing this again in a hurry.

November campaign update

The last few months have seen a lot of activity for our ever-growing campaign team. In September we met with Network Rail, who told us all about their Whole Industry Strategic Review (WISR) which follows on from the government’s white paper ‘The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail’, in which the idea of Great British Rail was launched. The WISR is intended to give the Department for Transport a 30 year network-wide rail strategy.

It was a great opportunity to feed in recommendations for family-friendly travel covering not just the issues parents face on trains such as lack of pram space and poor baby changing facilities, but also struggles boarding trains, reaching platforms, getting in and out of the station, even getting to and from the station. While we may not see immediate impact from our input, given the long-term nature of the project, it was a really valuable meeting – our thanks to Helen and Daisy from Network Rail for their time.

We also learned in that meeting that passenger assistance should apply to anyone who needs help, not just people with disabilities. So, if you need help getting on or off a train with a pram or buggy, you should be allowed to request use of a ramp, either through an app like Transreport or via the help point at a station.

In September we met with Avanti again and Transport for Wales for the first time. Both were receptive to our ideas and Transport for Wales have invited us to check out their mock-ups for new rolling stock and give feedback early next year.

We’ve also made friends with the wonderful Gareth Dennis who is, among many other things, co-founder of the Campaign for Level Boarding, a campaign that resonates with our own given the problems lack of step-free access to trains and platforms poses for people travelling with prams. Thanks to Gareth for his insights and advice into the rail industry. If you’re on Twitter, please do follow and support @LevelBoarding.

Thank you also to Cait Sim at Visible Platform for some really useful recommendations for groups we should speak to in the coming months, and how to develop our campaign further. Visible Platform is closing the data gap around sexual harassment on public transport. If you have been harassed at any point you can report it anonymously through their website.

More recently we’ve started meeting with ROSCOs (rolling stock companies – the people who actually own the trains) and have upcoming meetings with a few manufacturers too. Watch this space!

Our team is growing which means we can get more done, but we have lots of ideas and would still welcome more help. If you are able to help our campaign in any way, please get in touch!

Campaign meets with Rail Delivery Group CEO

We were delighted to meet with Jacqueline Starr, CEO of the Rail Delivery Group, earlier this month to share our experiences of travelling by train with young children, and examples of family friendly trains from across Europe. We plan to meet again in the near future and we look forward to hearing about the progress that is being made in the UK to help catch up.

Shortly after our meeting the rail industry launched a major campaign to get leisure customers back to rail. The campaign features two excited young children on board a train, as well as a family with a baby who are visiting grandparents.

It is clear from these images that the rail industry sees attracting families as an important part of a post-pandemic recovery. We will be making the case that family friendly measures such as space for pushchairs on board trains will be required to achieve this. If you want to help us, please get in touch!

Meetings with TOCs, Key Train Requirements and East West Rail

Meetings with train operating companies

We were pleased that Great Western Railway agreed to meet with us in February. GWR and their new IET trains have caused many complaints amongst new parents as no space for pushchairs is provided on board. Instead parents are left sitting in vestibule areas or babies and toddlers sleeping in the bicycle storage cupboards. We discussed our (often poor) experiences of travelling on GWR services with children, and our hopes for more space for pushchairs.

We were delighted that they had come prepared with some of their own suggestions on how to make train travel better for families with young children. We hope to see some of them become a reality in the near future.

One thing that GWR have already changed is their website. Previously children had been considered together with “small animals” but now they have their own dedicated page. A small victory, but we’re hopeful it indicates a change in mindset and perhaps the start of something bigger.

The old version of GWR’s website lumped children together with small animals, but they have very different needs and expectations!
The new page on GWR’s website for travelling with children

We followed up the meeting with GWR with a series of meetings with other train operating companies including Avanti, LNER and East Midlands Railway. We are pleased that these companies are engaging with us. It’s fair to say they all understand there is a problem, although not all of them thought that the train operating companies had the power to make the changes we would like to see.

Consultation responses

With that in mind, as well as meeting with train operating companies, we have also responded to various consultations.

In February we wrote to the Rail Delivery Group asking for changes to the Key Train Requirements document which specifies what should be included on new trains. We proposed a change to a current clause describing “buggy storage” to make it suitable for unfolded buggies and an essential (rather than desirable) criteria. We also argued that the seat reservation system should be extended to storage for pushchairs. The consultation responses are currently being reviewed and we hope to be invited to an upcoming meeting of the drafting group to argue our case.

In May we responded to the East West rail consultation to make sure that the railway meets the needs of young children, mainly by ensuring the trains that will use the new line include space for pushchairs.

A new website

Finally, we have recently launched our website: www.familyfriendlytrains.com. We hope to add more material in the coming months.

Would you like to get involved in this (or anything else)? If so, please get in touch!