Plans to offer serving military free train journeys to attend memorial services this year have been scrapped, after the government decided the cost would be ‘too high’.
The offer was made last year and in 2019 but was revoked for this November – sparking an outcry and calling for a U-turn from former veterans minister Johnny Mercer.
An internal briefing for Rail Delivery Group (RDG) staff, seen by the Guardian, said that due to Covid all revenue risk was handled by the Department for Transport, meaning public money was used to finance the railways.
Because it was unclear how many service members would claim free train travel to memorial services, the RDG, which represents the rail companies, said the potential cost was “considered too great a loss to taxpayers”.
“Anyone who asks if the free travel offer will be in place for 2022 should be sensitively informed that it is not possible to offer free travel this year,” the memo reads, adding that it is worth remembering the discounts available as part of the HM Forces and Veterans rail pass. .
Remembrance Sunday will take place on November 13 this year, and the Royal British Legion says it is an “opportunity to remember the service and sacrifice of all who have defended our freedoms and protected our way of life”.
The decision to no longer grant free train travel to military personnel was strongly criticized by Mercer, who told the Guardian: “This is the first government in UK history that seems happy to cut back on the rights of the serving military personnel.
“Liz Truss has removed ministers from the Veterans Affairs Office and there appears to be a deliberate focus on veterans and serving personnel.
‘I would suggest the Prime Minister corrects this immediately, as I’m sure she will be aware how much she will stare down memory lane when her policies go so obviously the other way.’
Labor said the move showed “complete disregard for those who have bravely served our country”.
Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said: ‘Ministers need to clarify their priorities. In a cost of living crisis, our service men and women deserve to be able to pay tribute without costing the earth.
She also pointed out that the revelation came on the same day that under-fire train operator Avanti West Coast renewed its six-month contract, with Haigh saying ‘millions more of taxpayers’ money’ had been handed over to “a failing private railway company”. .
The government declined to comment, but the decision was reportedly not approved by ministers and Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan was investigating whether she was in a position to reverse it.
An RDG spokesperson said: ‘While we are unable to offer free travel to veterans on Remembrance Sunday this year, we encourage current and former service members to use our Armed Forces Rail Pass. or our veterans train pass. They offer significant discounts on train travel for the whole year.