Boys on transport 

Young people with special educational needs and disabilities, especially young autistic people, can often struggle to access public transport for a range of reasons, from sensory or physical needs to a lack of confidence.

Unexpected changes when taking public transport can be overwhelming. 79% of autistic people tell us they feel socially isolated, and for some, the fear of unexpected changes could mean not even leaving the house.

Community Rail Lancashire launched the Railway Confidence Programmes to develop confident rail use for autistic young people and those with other special educational needs and disabilities. The free programme provides young people of all ages and needs with free rail experiences to a number of destinations, aiming to build their confidence and travel skills.

Giving young people the opportunity to access rail, with fully tailored programmes, is key to encouraging passengers for life and building a more inclusive industry and society. Community Rail Lancashire addresses a range of factors that may prevent rail use, and provides strategies for overcoming these issues: visualising disruptions, planning journeys or discussing coping strategies and tips.

Students from Bluebell school have successfully completed the railway programme. Students began with a sensory experience in school, where they handled and discussed a range of railway artefacts and designed their own tickets. Train travel and expectations were also discussed ahead of time to prepare each student.

The group met with Community Rail Lancashire staff at their Northern station, students were able to speak to staff to ‘buy’ tickets and familiarise themselves with the local environment. The students then identified where and how to safely board the train. The group then undertook an exciting trip to Manchester Piccadilly. A range of activities were planned, including spotting rail features, creating their own maps and writing postcards about day for parents and guardians. The experience was fantastic for the students who took part, enabling them to experience semi-independent train travel; which was a new experience for half the group!

Tips for teachers from the Community Rail Lancashire team.

  1. Discuss transport with your students. What methods do they use, and why? What would they like to use, now or in the future?
  2. Consider the sensory needs in your class. Would experiencing some of the noises and images of train use ahead of time be helpful, for example, through videos? Is a trip to a station without boarding a train needed?
  3. What would we need to take on the train? A bag packing activity to establish what to take is always useful. Remember: a ticket is essential, or money to purchase one if it cannot be bought before boarding the train!
  4. Planning is important, but planning for things to go wrong is also vital. Work with your class to establish what actions would be taken in a range of scenarios, such as a delayed or cancelled train.
  5. What activities could you do on the train? Would spotting local landmarks be helpful, or perhaps creating your own tickets or illustrating your ideal train?
  6. How can the learning from this trip be extended into school? Could the trip become part of a wider project: for example, linked to social skills or English?
  7. If you’re in Northern England, get in touch with Community Rail Lancashire to take part!
  8. Outside the North, contact your relevant train operating company or community rail partnership via

For more information, or to get involved (Northern England), please contact or visit

This project is funded by Community Rail Lancashire, the Designated Community Rail Development Fund, Merseyrail and Merseytravel.

Community rail involves local people in the development and running of local and rural rail routes, services and stations and aims to increase revenue, reduce costs, increase community involvement and support social and economic development. Community rail lines and services are part of the commercial rail network, with services operated by the train operating companies and infrastructure owned and maintained by Network Rail.