Railcards have been useless for half a year – but no refunds nor extensions for holders

Simon Calder
·3-min read
Waiting game: the taxpayer is subsidising empty trains to the tune of £30m per day, including from London Waterloo – once the busiest station in Europe (Simon Calder)
Waiting game: the taxpayer is subsidising empty trains to the tune of £30m per day, including from London Waterloo – once the busiest station in Europe (Simon Calder)

“We have already lost 12 months of much longed-for travel – and at our age every year is important.” So says Jan Stalder from Bicester in Oxfordshire.

Ms Stalder is one of more than five million holders of railcards who have been unable to use their discount passes for half of the past year. But they will get no refund nor extension of validity.

By the time England’s third lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic ends on 29 March, a “stay-at-home” order will have been in force for 183 days.

The first ban on leisure travel began on 23 March and continued until 4 July. The second lockdown barred use of the railway for non-essential journeys from 5 November to 1 December inclusive.

In 2021, trains are inaccessible except for essential journeys between 5 January and 28 March inclusive.

Even when trains could be used for leisure journeys in England, different rules in Wales and Scotland meant there were limits on the extent of rail trips.

In Wales, prospective passengers were told to avoid public transport for leisure travel for a 21-week stretch across the summer of 2020, from 23 March to 17 August.

But holders who have paid £30 for a discount pass valid for a year will get no credit for the lost time.

A railcard spokesperson said: “After careful consideration, the government confirmed to us that railcards will remain non-refundable and will not be extended.

“Refunding or extending railcards for over 5.1 million customers would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer at a time when the focus must be on maintaining rail services to support the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

“In terms of committing to a railcard, the cost of a railcard can often be covered by the savings they offer in a single journey (which is why they are non-refundable and cannot be extended). So they can still provide great value for customers.”

Ms Stalder said: “I feel so angry and aggrieved with railcards not taking the government ban of non-essential travel into consideration when refusing to refund or extend the validity of our cards.”

Another passenger, Robert Marshall from Leeds, said: “We are all being encouraged not to travel and to stay at home. Airlines, hotels, restaurants are all extending any offers until times revert to normal or at least near normal once more.

“We find the intransigence of railcards to extend the validity date of our senior railcards appalling – and against all that other organisations are doing to try to help their customers during the pandemic.”

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: “We have provided unprecedented taxpayer support for the rail industry through this pandemic, committing around £10bn to keep services running, protect frontline jobs and deliver refunds.

“To ensure we are fair to taxpayers and focus their investment on protecting services and jobs, we are not offering refunds or extensions for railcard users.”

The government is currently paying around £30m per day to run largely empty trains. Extending railcards by six months would incur a one-off cost of around £75m.

The DfT says that over half-a-billion pounds in refunds have been processed over the past year for travellers whose travel plans changed unexpectedly due to the pandemic.

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