The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) made an abrupt U-turn after having announced that the UK was leaving the Interrail/Eurail arrangement for European rail travel.
An Interrail pass can be purchased by any European resident. It is not just for the European Union – the arrangement extends to countries such as Bosnia and Serbia as well.
A Global Interrail pass gives unlimited train travel on the scheduled train services of the national train operators across most of Europe. A single-country Interrail pass gives unlimited travel in just one country. Interrail passes date back to 1972, when the national railways of Europe clubbed together to offer a rail pass for young people, giving unlimited train travel across the Continent.
People who are not resident in Europe, or a list of adjacent countries including Ukraine, Russia Turkey and Morocco, cannot buy an Interrail pass but can purchase the very similar Eurail pass instead. To avoid confusion, plans are being made to merge the two passes into one.
The company responsible for the marketing and management of the Eurail and Interrail Pass products worldwide is Eurail Group G.I.E. It was established in 2001 to take on the management, marketing and distribution of Eurail pass products. Then, in 2007, it acquired the same responsibilities for the Interrail passes.
On its website, Eurail Group announces that: “Global Passes issued from 1 January 2019 will enable Eurail and Interrail Pass holders to travel to and across 31 countries, including Great Britain, FYR Macedonia, and Lithuania.” It then proudly displays the European vision of the UK – London’s Westminster bridge on a very wet day, complete with red buses and umbrellas.
On 7 August 2019, the RDG announced it was pulling out of Eurail. The announcement from regional director Robert Nisbet commented: “British rail companies have been taking part in a trial of selling Eurail passes for the last year while continuing to sell our long-standing BritRail pass.
“We are ending the trial with Eurail because offering both passes is confusing and rail companies and Visit Britain support BritRail.”
It further added: “We want to work with Eurail Group to develop an offer for tourists who want to buy the Eurail and Britrail passes together.”
Eurail general manager Carlo Boselli had a slightly different view: “I deeply regret that RDG’s priority to secure a competitive position for their BritRail Pass has led them to pull out of Interrail and Eurail.
“We strongly believe that RDG being part of the Eurail and Interrail community would be beneficial to both the participating British railways as well as our community of travellers.
“Over the last months we have done everything within our reach to persuade RDG to remain within both Passes but, unfortunately, we have been unable to reach an agreement yet.”
This didn’t go down well. A number of voices were raised in against leaving the scheme.
Former Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis reacted on Twitter: “Shameful that Britain’s train companies will no longer recognise inter-rail passes.
“This is closing Britain to the next generation of continental Europeans, just as Britain is shutting itself off from the continent too.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, added: “The RDG blames this on a dispute with the Eurail Group, but that’s nonsense. This has got small mindedness written all over it, along with the Government’s Brexit fingerprints.
“Either this shows the true Little Englander nature of the Tories, or how out of touch the rail companies are with the people. Or both. Either way it’s not good enough.”
“Be in no doubt this decision will harm tourism outside of London and the wider economy. I’d urge the RDG and Transport Secretary, Grant Schapps, to think again and quickly sort this out.”
These reactions bore fruit. Just 24 hours later, Robert Nisbet issued a second release: “Britain’s train companies never wanted to leave Interrail.
“Following the strong reaction to news of our departure, we and Eurail, the company which runs Interrail, renewed talks. We are pleased to be able to tell passengers that we have reached agreement and will be remaining part of both the Interrail and Eurail passes.”
So, the UK is back in, if it was ever out. And we never did want to leave, not really.
In the end, it was a distracting interlude for one day. But it does show that the RDG may lack the safe pair of hands that the industry likes to think it has.