Freedom ride protest blocked

Scores of pensioners gathered together to board a train to Meadowhall as part of their freedom ride campaign
Scores of pensioners gathered together to board a train to Meadowhall as part of their freedom ride campaign
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Elderly and disabled campaigners fighting ‘outrageous’ travel cuts are today hoping their battle could come to an end – after their latest freedom ride protest was blocked.

Defiant residents from across South Yorkshire planned to ride from Barnsley to Meadowhall by train without paying – but were stopped from getting inside the station by British Transport Police and rail staff.

But they rallied outside the entrance to chant, wave placards and sing in a protest demonstration yesterday.

Now a meeting between the action groups and transport chiefs is to take place in Sheffield this afternoon as the protest enters its sixth week.

Protesters hope transport chiefs, who axed free train travel for elderly and disabled passengers on April 1, might come up with a compromise.

George Arthur, secretary of Barnsley Retirees Action Group, questioned the cost of blocking the protest when concessionary passes were being scaled back by South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive to save £629,000.

He told the crowds, to cheers of ‘shame’: “It is amazing that Northern Rail can afford to pay for so many people to be here to stop us getting on the train.”

Messages of support from other groups and unions were also read out at the rally.

Mr Arthur, of Jump, Barnsley, said ‘pressure’ put on by protestors had led to the meeting with the transport executive and they would continue their campaign until there was a resolution.

The 64-year-old added: “We assume that we have been asked to this meeting because they have something new to say.

“Protesting doesn’t do any good at all, is what they said, but they are prepared to meet with us.

“They thought we were going to disappear.”

Northern Rail, which is in charge of the day-to-day running of Barnsley station, would not comment on the cost of stopping the protest.

A spokesman said the operator respected the right to peaceful protest and understood ‘disappointment’ about the withdrawal of concessionary travel but travelling on trains without a ticket was illegal.

A group of protestors from Sheffield, who did not pay, made it to the demonstration by train and joined in as protesters made their way through Barnsley town centre.

Bipolar disorder sufferer Tim Jones, from Stannington, said: “I can’t access medical services because of these cuts.

“They say funds are under threat but then put on all these people to stop us. It is just outrageous.”

A rally is planned outside the officers of the transport executive at 1.30pm today.