Rail to Refuge extension

Duchess of Cornwall backs Rail to Refuge scheme extension

Rail to Refuge extension

The Duchess of Cornwall has expressed her support for the extension of the Rail to Refuge scheme, which offers free train travel for people fleeing abusive relationships.

In a video message, the duchess warned how lockdown has been life-threatening for survivors of domestic violence. She has long campaigned against domestic abuse, urging those who need help to contact Women’s Aid for support and access to the initiative.

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She said in the message: “Lockdown has been hard for everyone, but for the survivors of domestic abuse, it has been life-threatening.

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“I’m delighted to hear that Britain’s train companies are extending the Rail to Refuge scheme for longer to provide free travel to a safe refuge for those fleeing domestic abuse.

In 2019-20, refuge services in England supported 10,592 women and 12,710 children.

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“If you need help, contact Women’s Aid for support and access to the Rail to Refuge scheme.”

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The free rail travel scheme has been extended for the foreseeable future after reports showed that abuse had worsened during COVID-19 restrictions.

The initiative was launched by Southeastern in September 2019 and Great Western Railway joined in March 2020. All of Britain’s train operators formed a partnership with the charity Women’s Aid to join the programme on April 9 last year.

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It was initially set to last for 12 weeks, but was extended until the end of March 2021, and has now been extended further, with no set end date.

Women’s Aid’s Domestic Abuse Report estimates that in 2019-20, refuge services in England supported 10,592 women and 12,710 children, but demand is even higher.

Andy Bagnall, Director General of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Train operators have provided lifesaving travel to four survivors every day through the Rail to Refuge scheme, and it’s right that we keep it going for those who sadly still need it. Rail staff are continuing to work hard helping survivors of domestic abuse with free train travel, while supporting all our passengers to feel safe on their journeys.” 

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Farah Nazeer, chief executive at Women’s Aid, said: “Women face many barriers when escaping an abuser. Leaving your home because you and your children are not safe is a massive undertaking. Additionally, leaving the abuser is a dangerous time with a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation, so it needs to be done as safely as possible, with support from expert refuge services.  

“Many women and children have to travel long distances to escape their abuser. There remains a serious shortage of refuge spaces, so it is vital that women are not prevented access to safety in a refuge by the cost of travel. In addition, many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse and will not have access to a bank, credit card or even cash. Women tell us that they cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. 

“We are delighted that train companies have worked with us to remove a significant barrier to people escaping abuse. The Rail to Refuge scheme will continue to be lifesaving for hundreds of women and children, and it is incredibly welcome news that it has been extended.” 

Survivors of domestic abuse who would like to access the scheme, or need other support, can get in touch with Women’s Aid through its Live Chat service, open Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am–12pm.

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Sam Hewitt

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