Free rail travel for people fleeing abusive relationships in the UK has been extended until the end of March next year.
The move comes after a surge in demand, with some 836 people – including 210 children – being given free travel to refuge accommodation since April, according to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
Domestic violence reports increased during the first coronavirus lockdown, and charities are braced for an increase in people seeking travel to safety when current restrictions are eased.
“Rail to Refuge” was launched by Southeastern in September 2019 and Great Western Railway in March 2020.
All of Britain’s train operators formed a partnership with charity Women’s Aid to join the programme on April 9.
It was initially set to last for 12 weeks, but has been extended until the end of March 2021.
The scheme can be accessed through Women’s Aid, which experienced a 41% increase in demand for its online chat service after the first lockdown began in March.
People escaping domestic abuse are often advised to seek refuge services at a considerable distance from their perpetrator, but raising cash to pay for a train ticket can be difficult.
RDG chief operating officer Jacqueline Starr said: “We’re proud to have provided a vital lifeline for almost a thousand people escaping a desperate situation, but there are still too many women, men and children that need help.
“Our staff are working hard to support the survivors of domestic abuse with free train journeys while keeping the railway running for all the people, communities and local economies that rely on it.”
Women’s Aid acting chief executive Nicki Norman said women face “huge barriers in leaving an abuser”.
She explained: “Not only is it an extremely dangerous time, but many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape.
“Women tell us that they simply cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. Many women and children escape to a refuge with nothing at all.
“Thanks to the rail industry removing the financial barriers of travel, hundreds of women have left abusive relationships and been able to access safety. It is welcome news that this important initiative is being extended, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely impact survivors of domestic abuse.”
Women’s Aid said domestic abuse victims who want to use the Rail to Refuge scheme can do so via their Live Chat service – chat.womensaid.org.uk – which is open Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday,10am-12pm.
Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
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