Traveling by Train with a Special Needs Child: Fourth in a Series
Train! Train! my son yells whenever a train races by. Waiting for a train to go by or waiting at a train station is a delight for my special child. Trains can be a great way to travel. Less stressful than planes, trains shoot across country or a short subway ride. They offer an alternative we enjoy. Here's a few tips to make train travel easier with a special needs child. This is the fourth in a series about travel with special needs children.
1. Reserve Tickets in Advance (if possible): Buying a ticket on-line can save money. Each line varies, yet in case you run into a reason you can not go, many tickets are good for up to 60 days. Jumping on a train without a ticket is possible. Be prepared to pay. You are at the mercy of the boarding price and must pay up when the ticket puncher comes by. Amtrack advertises they have accommodations for people with disabilities. Read carefully. You may be able to reserve special needs accommodations on-line, sometimes it may take a phone call. In addition, the type of services are limited and very different, depending on the length of the ride and what type of train it is.
2. Preparation and Packing: Eat when you like on trains and drink to your heart's content. There's a bathroom on board. Sometimes there is WI-Fi and sometimes there's electricity to plug-in to. Check the accommodations when you buy your tickets. For most trains, I keep the bag to a backpack as I have to stoop to tend to my child or push his wheelchair. I like having my hands free.
3. Get There with Time to Spare: On the last train trip, we missed the first one we wanted to catch. The train was sitting on the track. I parked right across the tracks from the car. I yelled to the woman we wanted to board. She pointed at her watch, indicating they were taking off. Special needs or not - the train waits for no one. 4. Consider a Wheelchair or Stroller: (even if you don't use one all the time). I take modified a wheelchair now that my son is too big for a stroller. There is a lot of walking to and from the station. Unlike planes where you can get assistance, there is not a lot of help on the train or in stations. I must admit, hauling the wheelchair into the train is a pain, but I am always happy I brought it when I can sit my son down safely as we start our long walk to our next part of the trip.
5. Get Your Elbows Up: On the cars, I do not get much extra help. I am the one who has to move the wheelchair and the child into the seat. I am the one who has to muscle into the handicap spot in the car. Most people have no qualms about taking the handicap section. I focus straight ahead, get my elbows up, and get us on with great determination.
6. Mind the Gap: Each train has a different entrance into the car. On some lines there are steps and others I can keep the wheelchair open and push my son right on. I've even kept him in the chair the whole trip. Calling trains stations is tough, so I watch the trains before ours to see what we are in for. Then, I can do step #4 with more success. 7. Ask for Help: Finding the right track is confusing. Once I went to ask for directions to the train and the conductor himself took us. At times trains require going up and down elevators and down dark, confusing platforms. If they have the staff to help, I search it out.
8. Once In, Relax. This is the great part of the trip. Subways, of course, are short and to the point. If the trip is a two-hour trip, this is where you can break out snacks, listen to music, yell choo choo, and get up and go to the bathroom when you please. Trains are a wonderful way to travel. The first trip is a great teacher. I felt so much more confident traveling by rails after experiencing different distances and railroad companies. For my son, it's like riding on Thomas the Train - as good as it gets.