Community rail involves local people and organisations working in partnership to improve their local railways. Community rail initiatives such as station enhancements and innovative promotional schemes can help get better value for money from the rail network. These initiatives range from people helping to maintain station gardens, the refurbishment of small stations with artwork from local schools and can include major schemes.
The Community Rail Development Strategy considers ways to make it easier for the industry and local communities to develop community rail together:
Community railways aim to:
- increase revenue
- reduce costs
- increase community involvement
- support social and economic development
Although community rail routes are mostly rural, a few, such as the Severn Beach Line in Bristol, operate in largely urban areas.
Community rail lines and services are part of the commercial rail network accounting for around 40 million journeys per year. Train companies operate the services and Network Rail own and maintain the infrastructure – the track, signalling and stations.
Although community railways often provide a tourism service, they are largely separate from heritage and private railways which function solely as tourist attractions.
Community rail lines are typically:
- low speed – less than 75 mph
- single or double track (not multiple track)
- running with one train operator providing most services
- not providers of commuter services to major conurbations
- not routes with major freight flows
- not part of Trans European Networks
Support is usually provided through a Community Rail Partnership (CRP) comprising the railway operator, local councils and other community organisations. Around 4,000 volunteers work in community rail contributing over 1.2 million hours of work, bringing around £27 million of extra value to the rail industry. Research has shown that for every £1 invested in a CRP it can bring £4.60 in benefits.
Community rail routes
The government has formally designated 36 lines or services as community rail.