As many families set off on their travels for the final bank holiday weekend of the year, the second scorecard developed by the Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains reveals the ideas and technology exist to make UK train travel family friendly, but there remains a big gap in putting the ideas into practice.
The research ranks train operators across the UK rail network from the perspective of passengers travelling with young children. Since last year, the scores reveal some notable shifts in provision for families with young children on the UK rail network, suggesting a light at the end of a long tunnel for family friendly train travel.
The scorecard assessed 23 train operators against ten criteria including the availability of dedicated space for unfolded pushchairs, clean and spacious toilets with baby changing facilities, step-free access to the platform, level boarding, assistance available for boarding the train, and the quality of information available for families.
In 9 out of 10 categories at least one train operating company managed to gain a top score, which shows that making family friendly travel a reality across the UK rail network is not due to a lack of ideas or technology, but a lack of implementation and determination.
Coming out top, with 5 out of 10 points, the two operators with the highest score this year are Merseyrail and LNER.
Merseyrail, a commuter network, and LNER a long-distance operator, have both taken significant steps towards introducing family-friendly facilities and services. This highlights the potential for all train operating companies to make changes to improve the experience of families with young children.
- Merseyrail has tackled two of the biggest challenges for both families and train operators: dedicated space for unfolded buggies and level boarding from platform to train.
- LNER has signed the Family Friendly Pledge never to order a new train or undertake a refurbishment without providing dedicated space for unfolded prams or pushchairs.
- Southeastern was the only company that said Passenger Assist is available for, and advertised to, families travelling with young children. The Campaign for Family Friendly Trains recommends the rail industry and train operators make the Passenger Assist service available to parents travelling with young children, particularly solo parents.
- Three train operators scored highly for the prominent inclusion of families in their customer service training: LNER, CrossCountry and Avanti.
Seven companies failed to respond to the family friendly travel questionnaire two years in a row. These operators are: Chiltern Railways, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, London Northwestern Railway, South Western Railway, and West Midlands Railway. The lack of response suggests these operators are either not interested in the difficulties faced by families with young children travelling along their routes or it is a very low priority.
“It is encouraging to see companies like Merseyrail and LNER travelling in the right direction.Their scores show some train operators take the issue of family friendly travel seriously, whilst others badly lag behind,” said Alice Delemare Tangpuori, Campaign for Family-Friendly Trains. “Like LNER has done, we want to see more operators pledging to never order a new train or undertake a refurbishment without providing dedicated space for unfolded pushchairs. UK train operators can no longer feign ignorance about the issues that parents with young children face, but there is still considerable work to be done to ensure the UK rail network is family friendly”.
The Office of National Statistics data shows there are 2.1 million children under 3 in the UK, yet the family-friendly scorecard shows there is no dedicated space for unfolded prams and pushchairs on long-distance UK trains. Across the UK rail network there is higher demand for leisure travel, compared to commuter and business travel. Between January and March 2023 data from Great British Railways Transition Team showed leisure travel is still the biggest overall market with the largest share of revenue for the UK railway industry.
The Campaign for Family Friendly Trains highlights the significant challenges of accessing UK trains with young children in pushchairs, exacerbating social exclusion, due to the traditional design of trains tailored to business and commuter passengers. The Campaign calls for train operating companies and the UK rail industry to improve the offer to young families.