Community Rail Development Strategy

The Community Rail Development strategy (PDF, 634KB) covers principally local and rural lines and provides a broad framework within which they can be developed. The Strategy lists 56 routes which the SRA propose to designate as Community Rail lines. These routes make up 10.5% of the national rail network. The characteristics of these lines vary, but all have scope for development with community support. There is no template solution, instead the strategy is a menu from which the right solution can be put together for each route.

Achieving the objectives of the strategy depends on partnership and on active support from a wide range of stakeholders including local authorities, users and community groups. With this support it should be possible to double originating fare income from Community Rail services over a five-year period and to reduce subsidy per passenger by a half, and so to put these lines on a more sustainable basis for the future.

The development of Community Railways is endorsed by the Government and is included in the White Paper The Future of Rail, published in July 2004. "The Department for Transport will continue to develop the SRA's draft Community Rail Strategy. The Strategy is a flexible one, which aims to put rural community routes on an improved financial footing."

The Strategy was launched on 22nd November. For more information about the launch visit http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/strategyfinance/strategy/community/crds/launchofthecommunityraildeve3503

The Opportunities offered by Community Rail Development

This strategy is designed to improve the value-for-money and social value of local and rural railways in three ways:

  • Increasing ridership and income There are many opportunities to increase revenue, through raising the profile of the railway within the local community, better marketing and promotion of services, amending timetables, special events such as jazz trains, better revenue protection and local fares initiatives.
  • Managing costs down Track costs can be reduced through a maintenance strategy based on a closer specification of requirements and that limits the need for expensive renewals, as well as through a possessions strategy that reduces the need for costly overnight and weekend work. Better use of rolling stock, and lower leasing charges also have a part to play, as has multi-skilling of staff.
  • Greater community involvement This includes working with local authorities to build the railway into its plans for spatial development. More specifically, it can involve developing other uses for old station buildings and under-used railway land, and with the local community it can mean station adoption and involvement in a Community Rail Partnership promoting and being a key partner in development of the line.

Government Policies

The strategy fits with the four priority outcomes shared between central and local Government - congestion, road safety, accessibility and air quality. It also takes account of rural needs and circumstances and ensures that rail policy addresses the needs of rural communities.

Associated objectives include contributing to the needs of the local economy, particularly the tourist economy, social inclusion and environmental improvement - as much of this strategy is about replacing empty seat miles with increased passenger kilometres which would bring a dramatic improvement in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre.

The strategy will only work on the basis of partnership, and depends on active support from local authorities, users and community groups. Much of the impetus and funding for development and improvement of these lines will now need to be generated locally.

The importance of Community Railways

Research by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales shows that three quarters of their members thought their local railway was important to the business economy of their region, while two thirds said they were reliant on their local rail service - the same weight as they put on inter city links.

The establishment of Community Rail Partnerships around Britain have helped to release the latent demand for rail by raising awareness and active promotion of local lines. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Bittern Line in Norfolk, where passenger numbers have increased by 162% since the establishment of the partnership.

The argument for retention and development of these lines is strong - personal mobility is increasing, traffic congestion is rising and growth is taking place in many of the areas served by Community Railways.

The approach is flexible and can work at four levels:

  • Community Rail Partnerships draw together train operators, Network Rail, local authorities and users (and sometimes others) to raise awareness of the railway in the local community, promote and market it more effectively and develop ideas and funding for local improvements. Partnerships can be established on rural lines, local lines in urban areas, or local stations on main lines.
  • Rail Development Companies can be established to take this a stage further. Formed as not for dividend companies, they can undertake trading activities in support of the line such as buying or leasing property, employing staff, running station agencies, catering or retail outlets.
  • Community Rail lines will be designated with the support of their partnerships, on branch lines and deep rural cross country routes which would benefit from separate specification and standards appropriate to the nature of the traffic they carry.
  • Microfranchises could be established on a limited number of self contained branch lines. Here the train service and provision of track and stations would be managed together by a single locally based company, on the same basis as independent or heritage railways.

Analysis of costs

No proper allocation of costs and revenues is currently made for individual lines, and so the work of the team at the SRA includes analysis of the actual costs of operation compared with the allocated costs, and also the analysis of the allocation of revenue to these lines.

Next steps

The Strategy has many elements, and it is possible to start work on some aspects almost immediately. There are already partnerships established in many parts of the country to link communities with their railways and we will continue to work with them to improve the amenity and viability of their lines.

The SRA will concentrate primarily on the 7 pilot project routes, chosen to demonstrate different aspects of the strategy. Then the SRA will lead the work on designation of the other routes. Working with others including train operators, Network Rail and the Office for Rail Regulation, the SRA will also seek to improve understanding and management of costs.

The SRA has led the development of the Community Rail Strategy. With the abolition of the Authority expected in 2005, further development will be taken forward by the Department for Transport. The benefits of the full programme are expected to take five years to realise.

Acknowledgements

The input from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) has been extensive and is gratefully acknowledged. The ideas and practical advice from all of the respondents to the consultation on Community Railways, from Community Rail Partnerships and from railway managers and staff around the country, has provided a valuable input to the strategy that has been developed.