The cards normally grant one-third off most rail journeys, but between late March and July holders were told not to travel unless they were essential workers.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) had hoped to offer financial recompense or extend the validity of existing railcards. But the Department for Transport (DfT) rejected the idea to “ensure we are fair to taxpayers”.
Barry Doe, who writes on fares for Rail magazine, told The Independent: “This is fraud. People have bought railcards in good faith and it is disgusting that the DfT won't allow the rail industry to grant an extension.
“I wonder if a legal case could be made? A railcard gives a reduction on all journeys for a year and the government telling people not to travel negated that contract and compensation is due.”
Penny Dent, a passenger from Bedfordshire, called it “a very short sighted decision”.
She said: “My Friends and Family railcard hasn't been used at all since late February, because my family was following the rules.
“Whilst I'd love to come back to the trains, it grates a bit when I've been a railcard holder for years.”
A spokesperson for the RDG said: “We understand the restrictions due to Covid means some railcard customers haven’t made all of the journeys they had planned.
“Extending railcards for over 5.1 million people would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer which is why the government has confirmed to us that railcards will not be extended.”
In a note to customers, the RDG appears to pin the blame for the delay on the DfT, saying: “The rail industry and the government have been working together on numerous proposals to try and find a way forward for railcard customers.
“Unfortunately, these conversations take time, especially when they happen at the highest level.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Passengers deserve punctual and reliable journeys at a fair price which is why we are investing billions into modernising the network and working with industry to try to provide commuters with more flexibility and better value.”
The coach operator National Express, which did not operate in April, May or June, has automatically added six months’ validity to all coachcards that were valid on 1 March 2020 or bought during that month.
“No further action is required,” the inter-city bus firm tells passengers. "Coachcards will not be reissued with revised dates, simply book and travel with your current card.”