The Interrail pass, which allows European citizens to travel around 31 different countries by train and ferry, was first launched in 1972. Since then Europe’s trains have been full of backpackers travelling across the continent from Edinburgh through to Istanbul, using just a single train ticket.
On Wednesday, for the first time in its history, The Rail Delivery Group, the membership body for the British rail industry, announced that, from the start of 2020, interrailers would need separate tickets to travel around Britain. The Eurostar would be only train on British soil on which an interrailing ticket was valid. The RDG also announced that Britain would pull out of Eurail, a scheme which offers an equivalent ticket to non-EU nationals.
However, within 24 hours this decision had been reversed. “Britain’s train companies never wanted to leave interrail,” the RDG claimed.
So why the massive U-turn? And why, if Britain’s train companies never wanted to leave, did the Rail Delivery Group announce that Britain was leaving?
One explanation that’s been put forward is that UK rail firms wanted to stay in Interrail but leave EUrail.
Some background is important here. Historically, the EUrail pass has not covered the British rail network: travellers from outside of Europe have instead been forced to buy an additional Britrail pass to visit Britain. (EU rail passes were briefly trialled in Britain at the start of this year.)
But the European rail authorities recently made the decision to merge the Eurail pass and Interrail pass into a single ticket. That means British rail companies will lose out on the additional revenue gained from the more expensive – and thus more profitable – Britrail tickets.
One reading of the events of this week is that the British rail industry hoped to use the thread of withdrawal from Interail to get its way on not being forced to accept EUrail tickets. If so this backfired, as it led, in effect, to Britain being
kicked out of Interrail – and the climbdown following a public backlash.
(Editor’s note: Is this reminding anyone else of other aspects of the relationship between Britain and Europe? Just me?)
What would have been the consequences if Britain had stopped using interrail?
The decision to leave interrail was met with a huge amount of resistance from both politicians and the public, including transport secretary Grant Shapps
Despite this not being related to leaving the EU & even though it doesn’t primarily impact on UK citizens, it will make it harder for everyone else to explore the UK. A COUNTERPRODUCTIVE move in my view & I’m therefore calling on the @RailDeliveryGrp to reverse their decision! https://t.co/0KI8vG7rqs
— Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) August 8, 2019
Some commentators feared that the decision would unfairly add additional travel costs to those outside of London. Many UK residents would no longer be able to start their interrail journey from their home station, preventing them from travelling abroad using the most convenient route,
In addition, the additional costs would have put visitors to Britain off travelling beyond London, damaging the tourist industry around the country.
This is UK tourism policy in a nutshell. Let all the tourists come to central London, but god forbid someone from abroad might want to see Edinburgh, or Liverpool, or the Yorkshire Moors, or Stratford, or Stonehenge or… https://t.co/LG7CNFnAcp
— Ste JM (@stejormur) August 7, 2019
Other critics also referred to the potential impact that this could have on the climate.
This will make more people outside London and the South East fly to continental Europe with the resulting impact on climate emissions.
— Nigel Bagshaw (@nigelbagshaw) August 7, 2019
So what happens now?
Ermm, basically nothing. With the decision reversed it means that all interrailing action should take place as normal. Britons and tourists will now be able to travel freely across the UK and enjoy its many sights.
– UK rail firms wanted to stay in Interrail but leave EUrail, so they could sell more profitable BritRail pass
– EUrail says no, they come as a pair
– UK says ‘lol ok kick us out if u dare’
– EUrail kicks them out
– UK comes crawling backhttps://t.co/1CtufMNzUX
— Jon Stone (@joncstone) August 8, 2019