You’ve heard the numbers before: car accidents are a leading cause of death for American children. That’s why we want every kid in the right car seat for his or her age and size for every trip: properly restrained children are very well protected in car crashes. Children need proper restraints on an airplane, too: we’ve got more info on that here and here. But what about those other ways you can get places?
CPSTs are often asked about long distance train travel. To that we say: go by train! The train is a very safe mode of travel. In 2012 there were 9 fatalities of people riding on trains (both passenger trains such as Amtrak and freight trains), while there were 22,912 fatalities in the United States in vehicle accidents.
These numbers are sobering: if you have the choice, train is simply the safer way to travel. It’s also a lot of fun for small rail fans and adults alike!
Trains do not have seat belts: there is no way to secure a child restraint on a train. Children who do not have their own seat can sit in a caregiver’s lap, and children who have their own seat can relax in their seats. There is plenty of room to stretch out and move about a train and long distance trains usually have a lounge or café car to visit for a snack or a game of cards or just to watch the scenery go by. When traveling with an infant or young toddler, a babywearing device may be helpful. If your baby fits in a rear facing only seat you can use it on board, placing it on the floor and properly tightening the straps, but again, since train seats do not have seat belts, there’s not a way to install a car seat on the train.
My family prefers the train to the plane for the leg room alone: we’d happily trade toddler containment for some space to stretch out.
Though trains are very safe, there are a few ways to maximize your safety on a train. If you are sleeping, best practice is to put your feet toward the front of the train. If you move about the train, pay particular attention to crossing between cars safely: do not hang out between cars and watch little fingers in the doors. Always wear proper footwear when moving about the train to protect little (and not so little) toes.
One concern when traveling by rail is carrying your car seats on board so that you can safely travel by car on either end of your journey. A luggage cart, stroller or traveling toddler type stroller converter may be of use here as it is when traveling by plane. We carry our car seats stacked on a simple folding luggage cart: we plan for this to be one of our wheeled pieces of luggage.
Once you are on board, Amtrak (US) and Via Rail (Canada) will offer luggage storage. The exact specifics of these spaces will vary by class of travel and car style.
If you are riding in the coach section of the train (meaning you have a seat, either assigned or not, rather than a bed), there will be luggage areas in each car. If you are seated in coach, stack your car seats in a way that prevents other passengers from the temptation to move your car seats in order to get to their own luggage. Usually there is space for luggage above your seat as well. That higher space may or may not fit a child restraint. Additionally, in many cars, train seats put back to back will make a surprisingly large triangle and you may be able to fit your car seat in that space. In some train cars, there is enough leg room to just keep your car seat at your feet — the train is nothing like the plane, remember: there’s lots of room!
If you are lucky enough to have a sleeping compartment, there are multiple ways to stow your car seat. Some compartments have room for a car seat in the compartment itself. Many sleeping cars have a space for luggage at the entrance to the train, like coach cars. On some routes, Amtrak and Via Rail also offer checked luggage. Just like on an airplane, a checked bag runs the risk of being lost in transit, and for this reason is best to avoid checking your car seat.
Though trains are very safe for passengers, they are, like highways, dangerous for pedestrians. Most fatalities due to trains are of people outside the train. Teaching children proper track-side behavior is an important lesson in passenger safety. In my family we always treat train tracks like we do roads, never crossing them without holding an adult’s hand. In a station small children stay in a stroller or on a parent’s hip or hold a hand at all times. The yellow line on train platforms is as serious a barrier as a curb: we Stop, Look and Listen around train tracks and always obey the instructions of all railway personnel. Amtrak offers these safety tips for grown ups and kids alike. Traveling with kids is always a bit of a challenge, but the train offers a safe and fun way to get even the tiniest of Useful Engines from point A to point B.