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Royal support for Rail to Refuge


Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall visited London Victoria station to meet the people who pioneered the lifesaving ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme, which enables survivors fleeing domestic abuse to access free train travel to a safe refuge. The meeting follows the Duchess’ public support for the scheme’s recent extension.

Rail to Refuge is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid, whereby train operators anywhere in mainland UK cover the cost of train tickets for women, men and children travelling to refuge accommodation. On average, four survivors a day have been using the scheme to access free train travel since April 2020.  

During her visit, the Duchess met: 

  • Darren O’Brien, Southeastern station manager, who first proposed the idea of free travel for survivors after viewing the Dispatches documentary ‘Safe at Last’ about Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid; 
  • Charlotte Kneer, domestic abuse survivor and now CEO of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, where ‘Safe At Last’ was filmed;
  • Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse charity;
  • Seb Gordon, director of external communications at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), who drove the adoption of Rail to Refuge as a national scheme after it was initially introduced by Southeastern and GWR. 
HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.

Over the past year, train operators have provided free tickets to 1,348 people, including 362 children over five, equivalent to four survivors travelling to safety each day on average.  Almost two-thirds (62%) of people who used Rail to Refuge said they would not have travelled if the journey had not been paid for. 

Speaking with Darren O’Brien, Her Royal Highness commented: “This is a brilliant initiative. And you should feel very proud of yourself. 

“It’s amazing during this lockdown how many wonderful ideas have been thought up… we need more Darrens!”

Darren O’Brien, Southeastern

Darren O’Brien, station manager at Southeastern, commented afterwards: “It was a real honour to meet with Her Royal Highness today, and to discuss the importance and significance of the Rail to Refuge scheme.

“When I first came up with the idea, I had no idea how many people it would support, but I was motivated by the possibility that it could be life changing, even if just to one person.

“I’m incredibly proud to have played a part, and hopeful that today’s activity will help to raise even more awareness of the scheme so that it continues to help others.”    

Farah Nazeer, Women’s Aid.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, added: “This vital scheme shows the importance of us coming together as a society to address domestic abuse, and what we can achieve collectively. Awareness was raised through Dispatches, which inspired Darren O’Brien, and his employer Southeastern listened and took action.

“We are so pleased to be able to continue this important scheme, which means that survivors without access to money can reach refuge. We know that economic abuse is a significant barrier to being able to leave an abusive relationship.

“The wonderful news that all train companies are continuing Rail to Refuge will make a huge difference to hundreds of survivors across the country.”


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