Ministers back free train travel for military to remembrance services after outcry | Remembrance Day

The government has vowed to guarantee free rail travel for military personnel to attend remembrance services this year after facing criticism over moves to scrap the offer.

Proposed plans to stop the free train travel after the government decided the cost would be “too great” had sparked an outcry and calls for a U-turn from the former veterans minister Johnny Mercer and others.

An internal briefing for staff by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), seen by the Guardian, said that due to Covid, all revenue risk was being managed by the Department for Transport, meaning public money was being used to fund the railways.

Because it was not known how many military personnel would claim free train travel to remembrance services, the RDG, which represents rail companies, said the possible cost was “seen as too great a loss to taxpayers”.

“Anyone enquiring if the free travel offer will be in place for 2022 should sensitively be told that it is not possible to offer free travel this year,” the memo said, adding they should be reminded of discounts available with the HM Forces and veterans railcards.

Earlier an RDG spokesperson had said: “Although we are unable to offer free travel to veterans on Remembrance Sunday this year, we would encourage current and former military personnel to use our armed forces railcard or veterans railcard. They provide significant discounts on rail travel for the whole year.”

Remembrance Sunday will be held on 13 November this year, and the Royal British Legion says it is an “opportunity to remember the service and sacrifice of all those that have defended our freedoms and protected our way of life”.

The proposed move to no longer grant free train travel to military personnel had been criticised by Mercer, the Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View, who said prior to the U-turn: “This is the first government in UK history that seems happy to be reducing serving military personnel’s rights.

“Liz Truss has taken away ministers from the Office of Veterans’ Affairs and there seems to be a deliberate focus away from veterans and serving personnel.

“I’d suggest the prime minister rectifies this immediately, as I’m sure she will be aware how hollow she’ll look at remembrance when her policies are so obviously in the other direction.”

Labour had also spoken out against the planned move saying it showed “complete contempt for those who courageously served our country”.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, had said: “Ministers need to get their priorities straight. In a cost of living crisis, our service men and women deserve to be able to pay their respects without it costing the earth.”

Initially, the government declined to comment, but the decision was said not to have been signed off by ministers and it became apparent that the transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, was looking into whether she was able to reverse it.

In a tweet on Friday night she said: “As a proud champion of our armed forces, I’m appalled by reports veterans would pay for their travel to commemorate the fallen. Incorrect.

“Our #ArmedForcesCovenant is a commitment to go the extra mile for our military. Train travel for veterans for Remembrance remains free.”

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