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Monday 26 October 2015

Outcast on our train journey - mums and babies - is this fair?

baby train journey

I don't normally like to write about negative experiences on this blog but I feel this one needs to be aired...

Today I decided to take Arthur on a train journey into Leeds to meet a friend. Although he is 9 months old, this is only the third time I have actually done this, mainly because my last experience left me in a situation where I had to leave Arthur on the platform and board the train to ask for some help from a fellow passenger ( a school boy!) in getting the pushchair onto the train. We almost didn't make it as the conductor started to shut the doors. The station where I board the train has not only a HUGE gap between the train and the platform, but also a noticeable height difference making it impossible for some to walk onto the train, let alone board the train with a buggy/pushchair without help. 
Truthfully, it surprises me that there is no help offered automatically from staff on the train to mothers with babies/toddlers, which brings me to my experience today...
We managed to get onto the (relatively quiet at this point) train ( again with help from a fellow passenger) and I sat in a single 'parent with children' (or for the elderly) seat and put the pushchair right up against the screen as can be seen in the photo above. We went through a couple of stops and people got on and off the train no problem. Arthur loved looking out the door windows and waving to people as they got on and off.

When we came to the last stop before Leeds (20 mins away from Leeds) the conductor stood next to Arthur and SHOUTED down the carriage "Who does this pushchair belong to?!!" (To clarify, I was sat right next to/opposite the pushchair)

As if this wasn't embarrassing enough, the conductor then told me (with a smile on his face) that I need to go and sit in the disabled area where there is 'a big space for pushchairs' in the next carriage, along with any other mums. 

I told the conductor that I could not wheel the pushchair down the aisle to the next carriage, it is too narrow. He said "No, get off the train, walk down the platform and get back on".

(Writing this now I just wish I'd told him where to go!)

I will add here that he DID NOT HELP me to get off the train ( again, a fellow passenger did) and after I waited outside the next carriage to get on, he did help me to board the train (again) and showed me where I have to go.....

baby train journey

As you can see from the photo above, there are already 4 prams (one a double with a 5 week old baby) plus a standing toddler and parents crammed into the toilet area. The conductor instructed the parents with prams to squash up so that I could fit Arthur in on the right in front of the seat...

baby train journey

...There was no space for the parents to sit down, and I had to stand in the doorway of this area. 

I am sure that I don't need to go into detail to other mums reading this post as to why being forced to stand on a moving train just weeks, or months after giving birth is completely unacceptable and quite uncomfortable for some mums - especially when there are plenty of free seats available elsewhere in the train.

But stand we did, crammed into a smelly toilet area like naughty school children with our beautiful, unaware children, wondering just what the hell was going on.

We were about to find out.....

The conductor came back and told us all that we were a 'fire hazard' with our pushchairs near the other doors and that for this reason we HAD to come to this area instead. He reminded us that when we get the train back home, we must look out for the disabled signs on the doors and board the train there so that we can put our pushchairs in this area.

Now I am all for fire safety and passenger safety, but I will say this:

  1. If there were a fire, or any other emergency, we mothers and fathers with our precious cargo would certainly perish, for we were packed in so tightly it was impossible to escape without lots of jiggling and maneuvering around in advance of any anticipated alightment. 
  2. I have been on this train at other busier times (and therefore more dangerous times in terms of fire safety) and there has been no issue at all with passengers being crammed into the entrance and exit areas like tinned sardines.
  3. Cyclists with bikes and passengers with suitcases or other luggage have also been known to stand in the entrance and exit areas of the train - again at much busier times ( see photo further down from my husband's journey home from work today)
  4. Other passengers were unable to access the toilet facilities ( or carriages beyond) because of our prams. If a passenger in a wheelchair had boarded the train there would have been nowhere for them to go.
  5. I paid almost £6 (off peak) for my ticket - I'd quite like to sit down, instead of putting myself at risk of falling over in a doorway, on top of my child.
The fun didn't end there either. Leeds Station appeared to be particularly difficult for mums and babies today!....

baby train journey

We came in at platform 10, which meant we had to queue for the one lift, in order to get up to the walkway, and then queue again for a lift to go back down in order to make it out of the station. ( The only other lift is a goods lift, which incidentally, a friend had to use a month or two back because no other lifts were working)

We then had to queue to get through the barriers via the one open gateway that was large enough for pushchairs.....

baby train journey

30 Minutes after getting off the train we finally made it out of the station!

On the way home I did get on the train via the disabled doors to place Arthur and myself in the designated area as instructed this morning. I found a young woman in a wheelchair sitting there, waiting to get off the train. A conductor shouted down the train to her that he hadn't forgotten and he would get the ramp shortly.

She looked at me and said that "we are made to feel like outcasts" in the smelly toilet area.

I couldn't agree more.

Here is a picture of a man with a bike, (much more in the doorway than Arthur and I were on a much less busy train this morning) on the train my husband got home from work this evening...

baby train journey

Have you had a similar experience??

Did you know about this rule that mothers with babies on trains should be places in the disabled area?

Do you agree that for mums, dads, babies, disabled passengers, this simply isn't acceptable?

I'd love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

*** UPDATE ***

A response from the train company:

"I am sorry to learn that you have experienced difficulties whilst travelling with a pram.

Our trains whilst being large vehicles do have limited accommodation for bulky items. We are dependent on our customers to co-operate with each other and ourselves in using the available space to best effect.

This means that we have to place limits on the items that we can carry. These limits cover weight and size etc. In respect of prams and pushchairs we would expect that they are folded whilst on the train. There may of course be times off-peak when a conductor may exercise discretion.

If a pram or pushchair is not capable of folding and the conductor believes that its carriage may cause inconvenience or nuisance to other passengers, delay the train or impact on of the safety of the train they have the authority to decline travel I can only apologise if this was not carried out in a polite and courteous manner.

I have passed your comments to the Information Manager, for future consideration, as I agree it would be most helpful to anyone travelling with a pram or pushchair to know of the conditions.

I hope you can appreciate our position regarding this issue, however I am sorry if you remain disappointed with this policy"

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