For too many years now, travellers have laboured under a strange hypnotic spell cast by airline companies. So all-pervading has air travel become that the thought of travelling by any other way seems arcane. People seem put off train travel, in particular – by fear of the expense and apprehension at the length of journeys and complicated booking systems. But global warming and the advent of new train-line and related websites have started to bring travellers, especially families, back to train travel. We have links to essential resources for planning and booking train journeys in our feature Top 10 Family Rail Trips, a guide to unforgettable family-friendly rain journeys around the globe.
More energy-efficient than planes or cars, trains are one of the most eco-friendly transportation options unless you walk or cycle! Carbon emissions from trains are less damaging to the environment than aeroplanes, because they’re not released directly into the upper atmosphere. And the relative energy-efficiency of trains means the industry is less vulnerable to increases in fuel prices, so train fares are more stable in an unstable economy, which leads us to…
Rail travel can be surprisingly reasonable especially if you book ahead and shop around, and if you can be flexible about dates. What looks like a much cheaper deal by low-cost airline may not work out that much less than the train once you’ve factored in luggage, taxes and other ‘extras’ such as transfer costs to and from airports. Do all the maths before you make a decision.
Trains also have the added bonus of fixed and stable prices (except in the school holidays) – air fares notoriously bounce around. Rail cards and passes also make a huge difference to cost, especially the Family and Friends Railcard in the UK (which also gives you a variety of offers, including free or discounted family Youth Hostel Association membership and reduced-price entry to certain attractions) and the various European passes.
Although ticket flexibility has worsened in the UK of late, in Europe things are generally more relaxed, and depending on the type of ticket you have, if you miss a connection, there’s a strong chance you can catch the next train (although if it’s full and you don’t have seat reservations, you won’t have a very comfortable journey).
With train travel you don’t have to arrive at the station 2hrs early, wait in a long security line, take off your shoes for inspection, or ration out your liquids and gels – in most cases you can arrive 30 minutes ahead of time and walk straight to your platform, with little security and no queuing.
Unlike airports, most major train stations are in the heart of the cities they serve, so instead of taking an expensive taxi or shuttle ride from miles outside town, you can step off your train and be at your accommodation in moments.
Comfort and Relaxation
If you have wriggly little ones, plane travel can be a nightmare. On the train you can let them loose to explore a little and perhaps find kids with better toys than themselves, letting you enjoy the paper for a while or chat with fellow passengers. Eurostar has family carriages, so you know you won’t disturb other passengers and are also close to baby-changing facilities.
Although there are still limitations to how much you can carry, choose your luggage wisely (Kids Travel 2 is a good source of children’s gear) and you can take much more with you than you can on a plane.
The train ride is often interesting enough to be part of the holiday itself – allowing you to get a feel for a place and often see some amazing countryside that would be very difficult to see otherwise.
Spending Time Together!
This should really be at the head of the list. Unlike in planes, where everyone sits in a row absorbed in their own seat-back screen or handheld or magazine, on a train you can sit round a table (find out if you can reserve one ahead) and chat and play cards or other games. You can also have a civilized meal together in the restaurant carriage.