Rail to Refuge scheme

The actions of one person can enhance the lives and wellbeing of communities across the world.

Southeastern's Darren O'Brien came up with an idea that has helped thousands of people. 

In 2019 Darren recognised that the rail network could play a major part in helping men and women escape domestic abuse. He took his idea to Southeastern's senior management, who introduced the 'Rail to Refuge' scheme in 2019.

The partnership sees rail operators working in conjunction with Women’s Aid, who will connect a survivor with a refugee vacancy somewhere else in the country. Women’s Aid will book the train ticket – with train operators covering the cost for the victim, as well as any children they may have.

The survivor can use an e-ticket on their phone or pick up a paper ticket from the station discreetly, allowing them to board a train without having to explain their situation to others. The subject of domestic abuse is still associated with taboo and shame, so this helps to further support victims without stigmatising them.

Four people use the Rail to Refuge scheme a day in the UK

Within six months of introducing the scheme, Southeastern was joined by the Great Western Railway and then, shortly afterwards, the whole rail industry adopted the Rail to Refuge scheme. 

The scheme has helped more than 1,300 people - including 362 children under the age of five

In 2021 the scheme received a royal boost, when Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, came to meet Darren and other pioneers at Women’s Aid and the UK’s Rail Delivery Group behind the scheme at London’s Victoria Station.

This followed on from a public endorsement the week prior, where she had supported the scheme through a video on social media. A long-time campaigner against domestic abuse, she called the scheme a “brilliant initiative”.

Two thirds of people who have used the scheme said they would not have travelled if they had to pay it themselves 

MDs across Go-Ahead’s other rail businesses are examining whether this initiative could be rolled out internationally.


SDG - Gender Equality - 05.jpgWe have chosen five of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals as our areas of focus. The rail to refuge scheme helps to demonstrate our commitment to Goal 5 (Gender Equality), as a large proportion of domestic abuse sufferers are women.