Key Train Requirements document sets the standard for family-friendly travel

Photo by Nik on Unsplash

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains has welcomed changes to the key rail industry document used during the procurement and design of new and refurbished trains. The updated Key Train Requirements document (version 7), released in July 2023 by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), includes new clauses covering family-friendly travel.

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains met with the drafting group and recounted their experiences of having nowhere to store a pram on trains, having to sit on vestibule floors to feed newborn babies, and being asked to collapse prams with sleeping toddlers on moving trains. The updated document highlights the need for space for unfolded pushchairs or prams separate from areas for wheelchairs and cycles and recommends extending the seat reservation system to pram spaces.

The updated best practice guidance is a key milestone for the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains, who have been campaigning to improve the lack of facilities for young children on trains since 2020.

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

“When traveling by train with my young son in a pushchair, I was shocked at how the needs of babies, young children and their parents appeared to have been completely ignored during the design of new trains that had been purchased at significant expense. We hope that the updated Key Train Requirements will prompt those specifying and designing trains to consider the needs of babies, young children and their carers, and to ensure that those needs are met.”

Joe Thomas from the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains added:

“The update to the Key Train Requirements document is a key milestone for our campaign. We are grateful to the Key Train Requirements drafting group for giving us the opportunity to propose these changes, and for the widespread support we have received across the rail industry to include our campaign asks like reservable space for unfolded prams in the new document. Our campaign will continue to hold the rail industry to account to ensure that these best practice guidelines are implemented during the refurbishment of existing trains and procurement of new rolling stock. As train carriages can have a lifespan of 30 years and are very expensive to retrofit, it is critically important that they are designed for young families from the outset. This will ensure that new parents and children aren’t excluded from the railways and that trains do not contribute to the parenthood penalty.”

Notes for editors

The Key Train Requirements document assists rolling stock procurers, specifiers, manufacturers and system suppliers to compile procurement specifications for new and refurbished trains.

The Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains is a group of parents and carers working for better facilities for children and their families on the UK rail network. The campaign’s main asks are:

  • Reservable space for unfolded prams and pushchairs
  • Family-friendly toilets and baby changing
  • Step-free access and level boarding
  • Playful waiting rooms, including simple play equipment such as a wall toy or play table.

For media please contact:

A campaign for family-friendly trains in 1858

The calling for improvements in facilities for families on British trains has a long history, stretching right into the nineteenth century. Whenever the campaign comes across previous advocates for improved family travel, they are unified in what they are facing up to. Transport organisations shape what facilities should be available to families, what fares to charge, how they should be treated and how to sell services to them, and their capacity to act is regulated, reinforced and influenced by external factors, such as government regulation and social norms. A common thread from the past to now is that campaigners have sought to influence and change these systems, structures, and the nature of the decisions around family travel, as one case from 1858 demonstrates.

On 6 July 1858 Johnson Atkinson Busfield (a wealthy solicitor), Mary Elizabeth Busfield and their family decided to take a trip to the coast from their home in Bingley, near Bradford in Yorkshire.[1] Their route would take them via the Midland Railway to Leeds, where they would proceed onwards to the ‘sea’ via the North Eastern Railway. They presumably had a young child with them and so, as many parents do today, they took their perambulator (a pram to you and I). They received a shock when they arrived at the station; the clerk charged them 2 shillings 6 pence extra for its carriage, where previously no charge had been levied.[2]

To modern eyes, it may seem illogical to charge independently for an item of everyday use, especially one for which there is no charge now. But in the 1850s prams weren’t considered a common feature of bringing up children. They only started to become popular amongst the elites when Queen Victoria – that trendsetter of the age – bought a number for her children in 1846,[3] and most babies were carried at this time. This was reflected in railway charges, many early railways only conveying babies free if they were ‘in arms’.

Royal endorsement also did not prevent hostility towards perambulators from emerging that possibly discouraged their use. Some considered they might harm children; the 1860 edition of Chavasse’s Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Offspring warned that they were ‘…very apt to make a child stoop, and to make him both crooked and round-shouldered. He is cramped by being so long in one position. It is painful to notice a babe of a few months old in one of these newfangled carriages.’[4] Others considered them an annoyance to other pedestrians. A letter writer to the Norwich Mercury argued in 1859 that where babies used to be carried, perambulators were now used ‘to the great annoyance and inconvenience to the public’.[5]

Despite such opinions, their increasing use amongst elite families, such as the Busfields, and presumably growing numbers of them being carried by train, compelled the railway industry to address how to handle them and if charges should be made. In 1857 the goods managers’ committee of the Railway Clearing House (RCH), where many intercompany arrangements were made, agreed on a national charge for when perambulators were sent as merchandise by freight train.[6] The next year, the RCH addressed their conveyance with passengers, which led to a small campaign and a court case that centred on how to define a perambulator in such circumstances. Were they or were they not luggage?

The railway companies’ right to charge for the transit of anything was underpinned by legislation. Their authorising acts of parliament specified the maximum charge for carrying passengers and that they could take with them free an amount of ‘ordinary luggage’ that did not exceed certain weight and size limitations. ‘Ordinary’ was nonetheless a vague term, although in 1855 a court case laid down that it was defined as ‘clothing and such articles as a traveller usually carries with him for his personal convenience’.[7] 

Until 1858, the status of perambulators within this framework had not been codified and extra charges were not applied when they were carried by train. Then, in early-1858, someone senior at the Midland Railway decided that the railway should begin charging for them, as they could not be thought of as ‘ordinary’, not being used frequently by families. On 17 June the company’s Superintendent of the Line, Mr Needham, went further. He raised the issue of rates for carrying perambulators at the Coaching Superintendents Committee of the RCH and eight companies then agreed to a scale of charges.[8] The notice of these, revising on the Midland its earlier scale, was sent to all stations on 7 July (the day after Busfield’s journey).[9]

Given the perambulator the Busfields took with them to the seaside was within the weight and height limitations for ‘luggage’, Busfield wrote the Midland’s General Manager, Newcombe, asking under what circumstances the railway was allowed to charge extra for their carriage. The Manager’s rather caustic response was that if one person claimed to carry a perambulator, another ‘might claim to carry a bath chair, and another by a very easy gradation might claim to have a small basket pony carriage conveyed as luggage’.[10]

Not accepting this outcome, and possibly aware of the broader rollout of charges and hoping to set a precedent, Busfield went to court in August to claim back the 2s 6d. He argued, again, that given perambulators were common when going to the seaside, they were ‘ordinary luggage’ when within restrictions. The judge, James John Lonsdale, disagreed. He ruled that whilst the Busfield’s perambulator did not fall foul of the regulations for the weight and size of ordinary luggage, it did not fall into this category because ‘cases to take them [by train are]…the exception, and not the rule’. He reinforced his position by stating that unlike other luggage, perambulators in luggage vans could not have items stored on top of them without them incurring damage, thus they took up more space than, say, a suitcase.[11]

The right of the railway to charge had been upheld, corporate power had won the day reinforced by a judicial ruling, and as far as is known no one further contested the extra charges for the carriage of perambulators (which remained until the late-20th century). Busfield, despite his short fight failing, nonetheless became the first known individual to campaign for changes in the systems and structures shaping the travel of families by rail.

[1] The National Archives [TNA], HO 107/2286, 1851 Census, Registration District: 494: Keighley. Registration Sub-District: 1 Bingley, Folio 250, 23.TNA, RG 9/331, 1861 Census, Registration District 494: Keighley. Registration Sub-District: 1 Bingley, Folio 111, 5.

[2] “Can Perambulators be considered as Passenger Luggage”, editorial, Bradford Observer, Aug 19, 1858, 5. “Busfield v. Midland Railway Company”, editorial, County Courts Chronicle, Oct 1, 1858, 228.

[3] Abigail Hammond, “The Perambulator: A technological advance or social evil?” History of Childhood and Youth, Nov 16, 2016, accessed Feb 13, 2023,

[4] Pye Henry Chavasse, Advice to a mother on the management of her offspring (London: John Churchill, 1860), 100.

[5] Civis, “To the editor of the Norwich Mercury – Children’s Perambulators”, Norwich Mercury May 21, 1859, 5.

[6] TNA, RAIL 1080/164, Goods Managers’ Committee, 25 Jun 1857, p.247, minute no. 1108

[7] “Busfield v. Midland Railway Company”, editorial, County Courts Chronicle, Oct 1, 1858, 228.

[8] TNA, RAIL 1080/101, Coaching Superintendents Committee, 20 May 1858, p.2, minute no.440.

[9] TNA, RAIL 491/838, Midland Railway, Orders and circulars (from No.1), circular 132, 7 July 1858.

[10] “Can Perambulators be considered as Passenger Luggage”, Bradford Observer, Aug 19, 1858, 5.

[11] “Busfield v. Midland Railway Company”, editorial, County Courts Chronicle, Oct 1, 1858, 228.

A Perfect Family-Friendly Rail Trip

Image by Luda Kot from Pixabay

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.

Food time

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.

Back Home

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!

2022 – The year in review

2022 has been our biggest year yet. We’ve had some big successes, while also laying the groundwork for some bigger wins next year and in the future. Here are some highlights:

Family-friendly scorecard

In January we launched a family-friendly scorecard to assess train operating companies against a series of family-friendly metrics such as the availability of space for unfolded prams on trains. The report led to our widespread media coverage, including in national media such as Sky News and the Independent. We were also delighted to be receive a four-page feature in Rail magazine. We plan to repeat the scorecard again early next year.

Space for pushchairs on train concept design

In March we welcomed a new train interior concept from transport design consultancy PriestmanGoode that included space for unfolded prams and pushchairs. We met with PriestmanGoode during the design process to offer feedback and influence the design, and some of the members of the team visited a demonstration of the new design at Marylebone station.

Proteus concept design showing pushchair on train
Concept design showing pushchair on train

Kings Cross Family Lounge

In October we welcomed the country’s first Family Lounge, which was opened by LNER at King’s Cross Station. It a soft play area, “beach hut” style pods with table top games that work well as areas for families to each lunch (one has been designed to have more privacy for breastfeeding), and a giant Hornby train set (as seen in the video below from Tim Dunn).

The Family Lounge is a major success for our campaign, as we first proposed the idea of family-friendly waiting areas when meeting with LNER in June 2021, and we’re delighted with the significant effort and investment LNER made in creating this space. We were consulted on the plans for its design, and CFFT campaigners and their children have visited and given it the thumbs up.

Social media milestones

Our Twitter account passed 1000 followers during 2022. Our new Instagram account, led by new campaigner Amy, stormed passed the same landmark following an endorsement by poet (and long-time campaign supporter) Hollie McNish that showed how trains could look if it they are designed with families in mind.

New faces

We’ve welcomed Amy, David and Rae to the team this year, and we’re always grateful for anyone willing to offer a helping hand; no experience is necessary. We would particularly welcome campaigners in Wales and Scotland, since our team mostly live and travel in England, but there are unique opportunities for change in Wales and Scotland due to the devolution of rail. If you would like to help, please get in touch!

Looking ahead to 2023

It’s not all been good news, and we’ve been disappointed that new trains or refurbishments this year have not taken the opportunity to include space for pushchairs in new train designs. We’re informed that these processes take several years, and so our campaign may have started too late to influence trains manufactured this year. However, we’ve been working on a couple of initiatives to make sure these same mistakes don’t happen again.

First, we’ve written to all train operating companies asking them to sign-up to five commitments including ensuring that all new and refurbished trains include space for unfolded prams. This has generated lots of discussion between us and train operating companies, and has increased awareness of our campaign.

Secondly, we’ve continued lobbying for changes to the Key Train Requirements document, to include changes we originally suggested back in 2021. This document is used as best practice guidance for train design, and we’re hopeful that the new version (which is due to be released in March 2023) will include new sections on family-friendly spaces.

So, lots to look forward to in 2023 – get in touch if you want to join us for the journey!

Family-friendly pledge, Family lounge and CFFT on the airwaves!

Family-Friendly Pledge

During our campaign we’ve found that mistakes made in the past have a long legacy – it’s why existing rolling stock used by most train operators doesn’t have space for unfolded buggies.  It may not be feasible for all train operators to immediately change their train layouts, but they can avoid making the same mistakes again. That’s why we’re asking operators to sign up to five commitments:

  1. Unfolded Buggy Spaces and Reservations – To never order a new train or undertake a refurbishment without providing dedicated space for unfolded prams. These spaces must be separate and distinct from dedicated space for wheelchair users.
  2. Child Friendly Toilets – To consider the needs of young children and parents when designing toilets on trains and at stations.
  3. Communication and Engagement – To include a dedicated family friendly travel page on their website and provide live information on where best to stand on the platform.
  4. Assistance and Staff Training – To extend Passenger Assist to parents travelling alone with small children (under 5) and to include the needs of families in their staff training by the end of 2023. 
  5. Breastfeeding – To sign up to the BfN Breastfeeding Friendly Scheme.

The responses have been coming in thick and fast, and we’ve also been busy meeting with operators to clarify our asks and how we can support them. Watch this space!

King’s Cross Family Lounge

London King’s Cross station opened a “family lounge” earlier last month, next to the Travel Centre on the main concourse. It has a soft play area, “beach hut” style pods with table top games that work well as areas for families to each lunch (one has been designed to have more privacy for breastfeeding), and a giant Hornby train set, which from our experience appeals as much to adults as to children. You don’t need to be travelling on an LNER service to use the Family Lounge.

Junior CFFT campaigner Finlay and his dad were hypnotised by the model Azuma

The Family Lounge is a major success for our campaign, as we first mentioned the idea of family-friendly waiting areas when first meeting with LNER in June 2021, and we’re delighted with the significant effort and investment LNER have made in creating this space. We were consulted on the plans for its design, and some of the smallest CFFT campaigners have already tried it out and given it the thumbs up.

There is still much for LNER and other train operators to do to improve the travel experience on the train, but it does make the time stuck waiting for your train more enjoyable if you have children in tow. Let us know what you think if you visit!

CFFT on the (virtual) airwaves!

CFFT’s own Abby Taylor was on the podcast Standard Issue, talking about why it’s such a nightmare travelling on UK trains with children…and what the train operators can do about it. Do give it a listen!

Meanwhile, the difficulties of train travel with young children was recently highlighted on BBC Radio 4 (Costing the Earth – How can I be a more sustainable parent?):

“You are not allowed to just bring a pram on the train. You have to fold it down, you have to move a sleeping baby, stand in the vestibule area and hope that everytime the door opens you are not going to wake up the child. You are in everybody’s way”

That’s an experience that is familiar to us all!

Campaign Update

Well, what busy bees we’ve been.

When we last wrote a full campaign update back in November we’d just started meeting the ROSCOs (rolling stock companies – companies that own the trains). We’ve since met with almost all the ROSCOs and many of the main train manufacturers, caught up with some of the TOCs (train operating companies) we’ve met before and built contacts with some that we haven’t.

What we’ve uncovered is that there is enormous amounts of support for our campaign but that, in such a fragmented system, it is very easy – too easy – to point the finger at someone else to make the change happen. On the whole, TOCs said they could only make changes if told by the ROSCOs or the Department for Transport, ROSCOs said they could only make changes if instructed by the TOCs, manufacturers said they could only design in pram space if instructed by the ROSCOs. One thing around which there was clear consensus, however, was that all roads lead to the Department for Transport. So, we met with them – Peter Wilkinson, to be precise, the Managing Director for Passenger Services. Peter was immensely supportive of our campaign, and told us that if the TOCs put in a case for the Department to create space for prams, it would be given serious consideration.

The trouble is, nobody has been asking for it.

This, however, may be about to change; one TOC has indicated to us that they’re brave enough to take the leap. Watch this space, and other TOCs, take note!

Which leads us nicely onto our biggest campaign set piece yet; the launch of a national scorecard comparing TOCs against one another for their family friendliness (you can read the full scorecard results in our press release). It will come as no surprise to many parents to learn that the results were disappointing, with most TOCs scoring extremely low. We intend to repeat the scorecard next year to see who has taken up the challenge and upped their game.

Around that time, one of the lowest scorers, Avanti, unveiled a shiny new refurbishment of their existing Pendolino fleet, which included (drum roll please) absolutely no improvement in their provision for families. We were disappointed, given we met with Avanti 11 months previously. So, we got in touch with Avanti and caught up with them; unfortunately this refurbishment was signed off over two years ago, pre-pandemic. One strong message we’ve received from all parts of the rail industry is that now commuter levels are lower than they were pre-pandemic, the industry is looking seriously at how it attracts other customers, meaning this is a good time for people travelling without laptops to speak up. Unfortunately for Avanti this means they’re launching a refurbishment that doesn’t match the current mood, or the needs of the modern passenger. They are, however, supportive of our aims and are looking at what else they can change to make travel for families a little easier, even if they have missed the boat on creating pram space until their next refurbishment comes around (we understand from contacts in the industry that this could be another 10-15 years).

Other parts of the rail industry are making some interesting strides; with thanks to ROSCO Angel Trains we were invited to give feedback to train design concept agency PriestmanGoode, who developed a train interior design that included flexible space for prams and pushchairs – visitors to Marylebone station may have seen the mock-up in March. It goes to show what is possible providing there’s appetite among decision makers to give it a go. We understand, however, that the TOC they were designing it for has decided against that design and will be approaching them to learn more.

We’ve made connections with other campaigners like the Campaign for Better Transport and Transport Action Network, who have offered us amplification and advice for which we’re really grateful. We’ve also fed into a few consultations: Firstly the House of Lords Built Environment Committee’s ‘Public Transport in Towns and Cities’ consultation and secondly Network Rail’s consultation about station design, checking out their virtual reality station demo in Manchester. Unfortunately the designs leave much to be desired from a family friendly perspective, but we’ve given our feedback and hope it will be taken on board (no pun intended…ok, maybe a little bit). 

One final piece of big news: Since our last update we’ve met twice with the Rail Delivery Group about getting space for unfolded pushchairs included in the Key Train Requirements document; the guidance issued to the industry for the basic design specification for new trains and refurbishments. We are sincerely hopeful that we’ll see pram space make it into the next Key Train Requirements publication later this year. Both the Department for Transport and the Rail Delivery Group’s CEO Jac Starr have been very helpful in supporting this aspect of our campaign. While it’s not the entirety of our campaign, space for unfolded prams on trains is our absolutely core demand, so it will be an enormous victory if we can secure it.

There is lots more we’d like to do but at present we’re a team of volunteer parents trying to squeeze all of this round our day jobs (which includes parenting!) so more help is always appreciated. Let us know if you can offer any support!

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 @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 (

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: 

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

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