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Travel by train with children in the UK

Posted by Sarah Barrell at 02:27 on Monday 17 June 2013

Our guide to taking the train with children in the UK with advice on family railcards, discounts and what services you can expect from the different rail operators.

Travelling by train along the southwest coast of England at Dawlish with First Great Western. Photo: First GroupTravelling by train along the southwest coast of England at Dawlish with First Great Western. Photo: First GroupTRAVEL ESSENTIALS:Virgin Trains offers complimentary VKids activity bags, containing magazines, freebies and other fun things to do available from the onboard shop. Photo: GreentravellerVirgin Trains offers complimentary VKids activity bags, containing magazines, freebies and other fun things to do available from the onboard shop. Photo: Greentraveller

A. Fares/tickets: Across all listed operators, up to two children under five travel free on most routes, when accompanying a fare-paying passenger (sharing an adult’s or unoccupied/ required seat or berth). Children five-fifteen get a 50% discount on most tickets. Seat and sleeper berth reservations are not available for accompanying children who are travelling free of charge.

The UK has 28 train operators but as a general rule, if your ticket says 'Route any permitted' (most do) then it’s valid on any operator's train with some restrictions (e.g. off-peak tickets are time sensitive). Advance tickets are only valid on the specific train you've booked.

The extra space in first class using the weekend upgrade facility can be a welcome relief for families with young babies. Photo: GreentravellerThe extra space in first class using the weekend upgrade facility can be a welcome relief for families with young babies. Photo: GreentravellerB. Weekend Upgrade: Some operators run a 'weekend upgrade' whereby you can upgrade from Standard Class to First Class on Saturday and Sundays from £10 per person, which often includes free wifi (where you might normally have to pay for it in standard class) as well as complementary tea and coffee. For families carrying young babies, the extra space in first class can be a welcome relief!

C. Railcard: A Family & Friends Railcard is an essential piece of kit for families travelling with children five-15 years. It costs £28 (one year) up to £65 (three years) and usually pays for itself within one or two long-distance journeys. It’s valid for up to four adults and four children (you don't need to be related but the travelling party needs to include at least one child) and gets you 34% off all adult fares and 60% off child fares across the rail network. www.family-railcard.co.uk.

D. Booking: For journey planning and booking, see our Guide to travelling by public transport in Britain.
For timetables: www.nationalrail.co.uk. There are no credit card or booking fees if you book online directly with the train operators; Virgin Trains offers bookings across most of the network. Independent booking sites sell tickets across the network for the same prices but with different fees. Most companies offer ticket collection at the station for free and charge a small fee for postal delivery. These include: thetrainline.comraileasy.com, mytrainticket.co.uk, redspottedhanky.com, takethetrain.co.uk, quno.com.

C. Live Arrival/Departure information: Call TrainTracker (tel. 0871 200 4950) or text 84950. TrainTracker text provides live train running information on journeys within the next 24 hours. It is an automated service where you can 'read' your SMS message and reply with journey information direct to your mobile phone via SMS.

E. Live Arrival/Departure information: Call TrainTracker (tel. 0871 200 4950) or text 84950. TrainTracker text provides live train running information on journeys within the next 24 hours. It is an automated service where you can 'read' your SMS message and reply with journey information direct to your mobile phone via SMS. For costs and more information on the service: www.nationalrail.co.uk/passenger_services/traintrackertext.

Travelling with children on train can be a relaxing way to travel. Photo: Stage Coach Group.Travelling with children on train can be a relaxing way to travel. Photo: Stage Coach Group.RAIL OPERATORS:

Here's a handy page on the Network Rail site that enables you to download maps of routes and station interchanges for mainland UK rail connections: nationalrail.co.uk/passenger_services/maps

First Great Western: Scenic countryside routes from London Paddington to hubs like Cardiff, Bath, Swansea and Plymouth, into Devon and Cornwall. The 50 high-speed trains among the fleet have an entertainment carriage (coach D), featuring seatback TVs with kid’s channels. Most children need to stand/kneel to see the screen (use a bag as a booster). Bring headphones or buy then for £1.50 from the café. The Night Riviera sleeper runs London-Devon/Cornwall (single- and twin-bunk cabins, plus dining car). All trains have at-seat power sockets and a café plus toilets with baby change facilities. As with many operators, the sizeable gap between the train and platform is tricky with buggies. www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk. See also our Guide to the Sleeper Train London to Penzance.

Arriva Trains Wales: Serving all major stations across Wales, into the valleys and marshes from English border hubs such as Birmingham and Manchester. This is the go-to operator for travel in Wales, with access to all the main hubs with connections to smaller steam services like the Brecon Mountain Railway that puffs its way through the Brecon Beacons National Park. Long-distance trains have at-seat catering (snacks and hot/cold drinks). No priority seating for pregnant passengers or those with infants, and only select trains (notably refurbished long distance trains) have toilets with baby change facilities and power sockets. Smaller rural trains that run into the valleys have no loos at all. www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk

Cross Country: Covering around 1,400 miles and 121 stations from Aberdeen to Penzance, this extensive network connects many of the UK's most popular destinations in Scotland, the North, Midlands, South and South West, and Wales. Cross Country has three types of trains (Voyager, High Speed and Turbostar): Voyager trains have toilets with change facilities and Wi-fi; all have at-seat power-sockets and a hot and cold food/drink trolley service. Luggage areas can accommodate closed buggies and there’s priority seating for pregnant passengers. www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk

East Coast: Operating across 920 miles from London to Inverness and Aberdeen in the North of Scotland, via eastern destinations like Edinburgh/Glasgow, Newcastle, York and Leeds, including some high-speed services. Trains have at-seat power sockets and Wi-fi (complimentary in first class) and hot and cold snacks and drinks in the café (complimentary at-seat service in First) or a trolley on selected services. Staff cannot heat food/milk for babies. Baby-changing facilities are in the toilets in coaches G (standard class) and L (first) and the luggage area can accommodate closed buggies. www.eastcoast.co.uk

Virgin Trains: The biggest operator long distance from London-Scotland. Its inter-city trains include the high-speed “tilting” Pendolinos (between Euston, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow) and Super Voyagers (Euston, Chester, North Wales, West Midlands and Scotland). All trains have Wi-fi (complimentary in First Class) and at-seat power sockets (only on table seats in standard Class). Food and drink from the café (complimentary seat service in First). Complimentary VKids activity bags, containing magazines, freebies and other fun things to do available from the onboard shop, subject to availability. Baby change facilities in toilets. www.virgintrains.co.uk

Photo: Stage Coach GroupPhoto: Stage Coach Group

East Midlands: Fast, frequent trains connecting London to cities such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Corby, Derby, York, Leeds and Sheffield. This is a good operator for exploring the Peak District and the popular family attractions of Chatsworth House and Alton Towers. All London trains have hot/cold food and drink, and Wi-fi (both complimentary in first class). Newer Meridian trains, which mainly operate between London, Sheffield, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby, have baby changing facilities in both standard and first class. No priority seating for pregnant/infant-carrying parents but all trains have ample luggage space is available - with some of recently refurbished trains offering a dedicated space for buggies. www.eastmidlandstrains.co.uk

Travelling by train through Edale in the glorious Peak District. Photo: Stage Coach Group.Travelling by train through Edale in the glorious Peak District. Photo: Stage Coach Group.

Southwest: Commuter and long-distance services to over 200 stations in the South West of England, including ferry links to the Isle of Wight. Based in London Waterloo, key routes include the London suburbs, Southampton, Bristol, Salisbury, Brockenhurst (for the New Forest), and Weymouth. No seat reservations available. Catering on services available from Waterloo to Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Exeter St Davids. Wi-fi was recently added on some London long-distance services; power sockets in first class. Toilets with baby changing facilities are on board long distance and outer suburban trains; none on inner London trains but most stations have toilets with baby changing facilities. Southwest offers first class upgrades for pregnant season ticket holders (including weekly tickets), on any train. It also has an online guide to family days out by train, including detailed itineraries for walkers, at: southwesttrains.co.uk/walking-guides

Northern Rail: Local and long-distance trains across the north, serving major rail hubs such as Manchester, Liverpool, York, Blackpool and Leeds as well as rural services to the likes of Staffordshire, the Lake District, Cheshire and Durham. Host to some of the country’s most scenic routes, including one from Carlisle through the Pennines to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, just outside Settle. Call for facilities. The majority of trains are old rolling stock operating on short commuter runs, so there are few facilities (no Wi-fi or power sockets), and apart from a trolley service on the Settle-Carlisle service (as above) there’s no catering. There is priority seating at the ends of coaches and space for folded buggies in the luggage area. Northern rail operates some 14 different types of train. The most modern trains (for example the 333 electrics out of Leeds and some of the long distance diesels) have loos with baby changing facilities. Older, smaller trains making shorter journeys have toilets but no change facilities. www.northernrail.org

Scotrail: Services throughout Scotland, across the border to Newcastle and Carlisle, along some of the UK’s most beautiful routes. These include: the West Highland Railway (Glasgow to Fort William, Mallaig and Oban); the Far North Line (Inverness to Wick and Thurso); and the Inverness service with access to the Isle of Skye. There is Wi-fi on four express trains, with 55 more planned by March 2013. First class has power sockets, as has the Class 380 fleet, operating in west Scotland. There’s priority seating for pregnant passengers on most trains and space for buggies in vestibules. Most of the trains have loos; the newest fleet - the Class 380s – has baby changing facilities. The Caledonian Sleeper runs between London and 40 locations in Scotland with single and twin berths plus seated sleepers and a dining car. As with twin berth cabins across the UK’s train network, the upper bunk can be unsafe for children. www.scotrail.co.uk

The sleeper winding alongside Loch Trieg in the Scottish Highlands. Photo: Norman McNab supplied by ScotrailThe sleeper winding alongside Loch Trieg in the Scottish Highlands. Photo: Norman McNab supplied by Scotrail

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