After viewing a Dispatches documentary that followed the stories of women who were fleeing violent partners, Darren O’Brien, a station manager for Southeaster, was inspired to help.
He decided to propose the idea of free train travel for people fleeing abusive situations at work, and within a year, the Rail to Refuge scheme was launched. It was implemented by all UK train operators during the first lockdown and was scheduled to be phased out at the end of March of this year, however, after seeing what a positive impact it had, train companies decided to continue it.
Charlotte Kneer, CEO of Women’s Aid in Reigate and Banstead, says, “Women have told us they have no money to pay for a train ticket because every aspect of their lives was controlled by the perpetrator. If they had not been able to get the rail fare, I dread to think what would have happened. This is a life-changing scheme.”
To break it down, out of the 1,348 individuals who have used this service, 362 of them were children, and 62 percent say that they wouldn’t have been able to take the journey without the support of Rail to Refuge.
“When I first had 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,” says O’Brien. The survivors receive their tickets and collection details through their mobile phones and can travel as normal, without having to announce that their ticket was free, or give any details about the abuse they are fleeing from.
Rail to Refuge allows men, women, and children who contact domestic abuse services like Women’s Aid and Men’s Advice Line UK. The organizations then arrange accommodation and book the trips so that they can escape their situation and have a safe place to go.