The Rail to Refuge scheme offers free train travel to women, children and men fleeing domestic abuse who have been offered a place in a refuge. Since its launch, the scheme has helped 2,265 survivors, including 650 children, reach safety.
On average, Rail to Refuge helps four survivors, including children, find safety each day. 64% of survivors would not have travelled without Rail to Refuge and could have been left at increased risk of homicide or suicide.
According to the charity Women’s Aid, continuing this scheme beyond March 2022, the current potential end date for Rail to Refuge, is vital. With upcoming changes to Rail Delivery Group, the facilitators of the scheme, confirming how Rail to Refuge will be funded in future is essential to ensure the scheme’s continuation. Women’s Aid is also keen to discuss with the Department for Transport the potential to expand the scheme on buses, trams and ferries.
Women’s Aid also encourages public sector organisations and private sector transport companies to support the work. Black and minoritised women’s organisations and specialist women’s organisations to design future schemes for survivors.
Appropriate safety and support and full staff training for future schemes to support survivors effectively. Survival services must be joined-up with frontline services to provide optimal, holistic support.
About the scheme
Free train travel, provided by train companies, can be booked by member services of Women’s Aid Federation of England (WAFE), Welsh Women’s Aid (WWA), Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and Imkaan (the UK’s umbrella organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritised women and girls). These organisations can make bookings when offering them a place in their Refuge or referring them to a refuge outside of these organisations’ memberships.
The scheme was introduced by all train operators during the first lockdown, having been pioneered by Southeastern in 2019 and joined by GWR in March 2020.
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: ‘This report shows just how many women and children’s lives have been saved through Rail to Refuge. When we know abuse isolates you from your finances, this scheme, which takes these barriers into account and brings survivors to safety at no cost to them, is exemplary. The continuation of this scheme is essential for the safety of women. It is a lifeline for survivors who would otherwise be trapped in abuse and at a huge increased risk.’
‘We are delighted that train companies have worked with us to remove such a significant financial barrier to escaping abuse and hope to receive positive news soon regarding funding that secure the future of this life-saving scheme.’
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘The railway has an important role to play in ensuring a fair recovery from the pandemic right across the country, so train companies are immensely proud to have helped over two thousand people so far to escape domestic abuse and get to a place of safety. This report shows almost two-thirds of people wouldn’t have been able to leave without the free travel provided by train companies, so it does offer a way out for the people who urgently need it.’
Stop Domestic Abuse, a Hampshire based domestic abuse service, have used the scheme most frequently.
Claire Lambon, Stop Domestic Abuse CEO, said: ‘The Rail to Refuge scheme has changed lives and saved lives. There are many challenges women face when fleeing domestic abuse, and one of the main concerns is how they will afford a train ticket to get to a refuge. Rail to Refuge has meant that Stop Domestic Abuse has secured over 100 rail tickets to get women and children to safety.’
‘The scheme makes it a much easier decision for women to find the courage to leave their abusive relationship knowing they have financial support to travel. Being the most frequent user of this scheme highlights how important the Rail to Refuge scheme is to Stop Domestic Abuse and the women and children we support. We are so pleased that the scheme has been extended, and we will continue to support Women’s Aid in securing further funding for this life-saving initiative.’