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Sleeper trains with a co-sleeping baby

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m expert at sleeper train travel with a 1 year old, but in the past 6 months we’ve taken 3 sleeper train journeys and 1 overnight ferry, so here’s the quick run-down on experiences so far.

Aberdeen-London, Scotrail single berth compartment: narrow berth, not really enough room for adult + baby (Leon was 9 months at the time). But the bottom bunk is flat and has no gap down the back, so I wasn’t worried about safety. The two-berth compartments are the same style.

London-Venice, Thello, six-berth compartment: this was not the intended mode of transport, but the carriage containing our intended two-berth compartment was broken. (Even more broken, we assume, than the replacement, which is impressive.) The six-berth style compartment we actually travelled in (thankfully not sharing with anyone else, for which I was especially grateful when Leon started to throw up at 3am) had very narrow berths, and the bottom berth was heavily sloped towards the wall, with a small gap between the bottom of the seat back and the bed. I was concerned that it wouldn’t be very safe to sleep with Leon between me and the wall, and it certainly wouldn’t be comfy, so wound up sleeping head-to-tail (until 3am, anyway, when the sleeping stopped). With a younger baby I think I’d have just sat up for the night. I would not recommend this with a baby not old enough to sleep on their own. The four-berth is also this style.

Venice-London, Thello, two-berth compartment. This was much nicer. Bottom bunk was flat, very wide (for a sleeper train; I think 2’6), and had no gap at the back. Lots of room for me and Leon both to lie down comfortably. Would happily do this again, other than the bit where it took him an hour to settle. The three-berth compartments are the same style.

Liverpool-Belfast, overnight ferry, two-bed cabin. Very comfy. Standard size single beds with a rail at the edge (though I still kept Leon on the wall side) and no gap by the wall. Would very happily travel like this again (and indeed I imagine we will, this summer).

If you’re not comfortable with co-sleeping, I think you might be able to fit a small travel cot on the floor in all of the above, but you might want to check with the train company. There is in my experience always room to put a regular sized wheelie suitcase flat on the floor and a couple of inches more than that, so if your travel cot fits that space you should be OK. (I know very little of travel cots so cannot speak further to this.)

I think that, other than the ferry, our sleeper train days may be over now until Leon is big enough to sleep in a bunk on his own, and to see the whole thing as an exciting adventure rather than getting too wound up to sleep…

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Travel busy bag for a 10 month old

We travel by train quite a bit, and Leon is getting beyond the age where just waving my keys in front of him will distract him. Today I constructed a travel busy bag for him, with ideas from a couple of places online.

I made two quilted texture cards: one pieced from differently-textured scraps from my scrap box, the other from a curtain sample. One of them has buttons on one side, and a zip and a suspender clasp (it was kicking around in the bottom of my bits box & I thought he’d like it) on the other. The second has little scraps of fabric of different types sewn onto it, secured only at one end so they all flap like little tags.

Two quilted 'cards' with bits sewn onto them

The other side of the 'cards', one with buttons, one with fabric tags

My new headphones have a carrying bag, but I won’t use it, so I used it to hold a bunch of twisted metallic pipecleaners, and a small string of beads, in, for taking in & out & playing with. (Though he’ll need help with the bag.)

I threaded beads onto another pipecleaner, and a metal spring and split ring I found in my bits bag onto a second one.

Busy bag pieces all spread out

(The pencilcase to hold it all also came from my box of bits. The carabiner clasp visible there I ditched in the end.) I also tucked in a couple of bits of card, one for folding/playing with, and one with the names of a handful of nursery rhymes & songs written on, for those moments when my brain goes blank.

Small zippered bag, with pen-holders on the front

All zipped up and ready to go! When Leon’s a bit older, I could tuck a couple more bits of paper in, and a couple of pencils into the front pen-holder part. (And, of course, swap out a bunch of the activities for something else.) You can’t see in that photo, but there’s a piece of ribbon attached to the zipper, and most of the activities have a ribbon loop on them, so I can tie the ribbon through the loop while Leon’s playing with them, and hopefully spend less time fishing under the seat for something he’s dropped.

It was fun to make, came entirely of bits and bobs I had lying around, and didn’t take that long. Now we need to go somewhere to test it out!

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By land/sea to Northern Ireland: the return

I’ve written before about options for travelling from London to Belfast without flying. Those options are all still available, but on my most recent journey last week, I discovered yet another one: overnight via Liverpool.

London/Liverpool/Belfast

Route: Train to Liverpool, ferry to Belfast
Cost (single): £140* for a cabin (overnight)
Time: 13h30
Epicness: Very civilised. Bit of a faff getting from Liverpool Lime St to the ferry terminal (8 min Metro ride, 15-20 min walk; or you could get a taxi) but nothing major. Bit of a wait in Liverpool but plenty of food options.
Notes: You could also do this in the daytime but I’m not sure how well the trains work out, though the ferry part would be cheaper. The cabin was very comfy. This is now my favourite option.

* This was the cost for this trip per person: £65 London-Liverpool, £75 Liverpool-Belfast, with 2 people sharing a cabin. If you booked the train leg sooner, or were prepared to share a cabin or just have a seat, it would be cheaper. Daytime might also work out much cheaper.

For us, travelling with a baby, this was hands-down the best option. Leon slept happily all night tucked into the berth with me (and unlike the sleeper train, there was plenty of room for both of us). We only had one train journey with an awake needing-to-be-entertained baby; he fell asleep just after dinner in Liverpool and didn’t wake up again properly (just roused briefly for feeds overnight) til Belfast.

This option is especially good now that the Belfast/Stranraer ferry is no more and you have to go via Cairnryan with a coach transfer; which sounds rather more faff to me than it used to be. Next time I think we’ll do Liverpool/Belfast both ways.

We did do the Belfast/Cairnryan route on the way back as I was bound for Aberdeen, but unfortunately I still don’t know how much faff it is. Due to flooding (coach delayed for unknown time), landslides (no train from Stranraer), and more flooding (couldn’t get around flooding to Ayr), we wound up taking a 2 hr taxi ride to Dumfries instead, and a train down to Carlisle, before I headed north again. I do not recommend this as Happy Fun Times, although at least we’re not still sitting in Cairnryan ferry terminal.

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Snowboarding by train: how does it compare to flying?

For the second time in a year, I travelled to France by train last week. This time we didn’t stop at Paris, but crossed town to the Gare du Lyon (a pretty well-joined-up journey, requiring only 2 stops on the RER) to go down to Bourg St Maurice for some snowboarding.

On the way back, I found myself wondering how the costs — in carbon, time, and money — stack up in comparison to making the same journey by air. I compared London St Pancras – Bourg St-Maurice by train (the journey we did); London City – Chambery by plane (then bus transfer to Bourg St-Maurice); and London Gatwick – Geneva by plane (then bus again to Bourg St-Maurice). I included the journey from my house at the London end, but excluded the journey from Bourg St-Maurice up the mountain since it’s the same with all three routes (the funicular then a shuttle-bus service).

Carbon

Helpfully, Eurostar have conducted some specific research to accurately measure CO2 generated by their trains. The ski train as of 2010 measurements was 9.4kg per passenger single trip (18.8kg return).

London to Chambery or Geneva by air is about 1,000 km (620mi). At 0.2897 kg/mile for a short-haul flight, that’s 180kg of carbon per passenger return. The Eurostar research quoted above gives 102.8kg per passenger each way (205.6kg total) for London City-Geneva (the discrepancy is due to the specific load factor which is low for that route, so the per-passenger output is higher). Even using the lower value, rail still has a tenth of the carbon cost of air. (And that doesn’t account for the transfer bus carbon, although buses are low-carbon travel.)

The winner: train, at 90% less carbon.

Time

Train: 30min Tube, 45 min check-in, total time London – Bourg St Maurice, 7h15. Total 8h30.

Plane, London City-Chambery: 30 min Tube, 2 hr checkin, 1h35 flight, 1 hr transfer to coach, 2 hrs on coach (estimated from this page which gives 1h45 for a minibus; coaches can be assumed to be a little slower). Total 7hr.

Plane, London Gatwick-Geneva: 20 min Tube, 40 min train, 2 hr checkin, 1h35 flight, 1 hr transfer to coach, 3.5 hrs on coach. Total 9 hrs.

The winner: plane, at 20% quicker (but only if you take the right route).

Money

Our tickets on the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Bourg St Maurice cost £119 each (return); plus £3.80 each in Tube fares. £123 per person, return.

The cheapest airfare I could find to Chambery, the nearest airport, is £60 each way. That’s from London City, so same Tube fare; but then you need to take a transfer coach at 70 EUR (£60) return. £183 per person, return.

The next closest airport is Geneva, for which I found a £46 return fare with Easyjet; plus £18 each way baggage fare to take any hold baggage. That’s from Gatwick, so £4 Tube fare to London Bridge, then £16 (ish) return to Gatwick. Then there’s the transfer at the other end: 126 EUR (£107) return. £191 per person, return.

The winner: the train, at 50% cheaper.

Conclusion

The overall winner: train, cheaper, lower-carbon, and only slightly slower.

The train comes out better not only on environmental impact (by a long way, and unsurprisingly), but also on cost (by a significant margin, and more surprisingly). It even beats the ‘super-cheap’ flights (actually the most expensive option all-in) in time taken. The plane is slightly quicker for the London City-Chambery route, but 7 hours compared to 8.5 hours isn’t that big of a deal; especially when you think about what you’re saving in cost and carbon.

Plus there’s the fact that it’s simply more pleasant to sit in a train and watch the countryside go past than it is to sit in an airplane and look at clouds (pretty though clouds are). The food available is better; the booze is better (French trains do quite well on this front!); there’s more space per seat; and you’re much freer to move around when you want to. Even without the cost savings!

The details are of course affected by where you’re going. Snowboarding holidays mean mountains, which means airports some distance away. The calculation if going to, say, Geneva or Lyon would be different for time and money. (Although not very different for carbon, of course.) Nor does this address the environmental cost of the holiday itself. What’s the effect of thousands of skiiers and snowboarders on the mountains they’re careering down? But that’s a subject for another post.

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Carbon tracking: travel

Continuing on my thoughts about my carbon footprint: travel. 

A significant chunk of the UK average 5.4 tonnes of carbon is car and plane travel. I don’t own a car, and I don’t intend to fly again, so that’s good for my footprint. Almost all of my practical daily travel is by bike, which has next-to-zero carbon; but I do take trains.

Rather to my horror, CRAG don’t include train (or tube) travel in their conversion factors table. Train data is surprisingly hard to find online (or I’m not looking right), but the splendid Seat61 site has a useful page which gives London to Edinburgh (return) as 24kg of CO2 (= 0.024 tonnes). (The Eurostar to Paris is 22kg return.) Resurgence give 0.1kg/mile for train travel. London-Edinburgh is around 700mi return, so that would be 70kg (0.07 tonnes) which… is rather out of whack with the Seat61 value. Hm.

For now, I’m going to work with the Resurgence value, because I’d rather overestimate than underestimate the cost.

So I’m going to start actually tracking my train travel (distances will be based on Google Maps and thus a little approximate). In September:

  • London to Southampton rtn: 160 mi.
  • London to Aberdeen rtn: 1060 mi.
  • Bermondsey to Battersea Park rtn: 8 mi.

Total 1228 mi = 122.8kg (0.123 tonnes).

No tube or bus travel this month. 

(In the interests of honesty, I should add that I also spent some time in a car on both of the long trips: in Aberdeen in particular there was a fair amount of mileage, although largely as extra passenger rather than cause-of-journey. However, for now I’m going to ignore social trips in other people’s cars, as these were.)