A new report from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) has evaluated the benefits of the community rail movement to individuals, local areas and society.
Across the country, an army of 8,500 volunteers give more than 390,000 hours a year working to bring local lines and stations back into the heart of their communities.
Adding together the social value of those volunteering on a regular basis (£27.6 million) and the value of their labour (£5.6 million), ACoRP – the national umbrella body for community rail partnerships (CRP) and groups – calculates that community rail volunteering alone is worth £33.1 million each year.
Community rail is a grassroots movement supported by industry that has grown in scope and influence since the first community groups were formed in the 1990s. Currently it is made up of 61 regional or line-based CRPs – community-based organisations that work along lines or across regions – and more than 1,000 station-based voluntary ‘friends’ groups. Together they aim to connect communities with their railways and help them to get the most from local lines and stations. Work ranges from creating community hubs and gardening and maintenance at stations, to promoting green tourism on community rail lines, working with the rail industry towards a more accessible railway, engaging with schools and organising walking and cycling events.
- The Kilmarnock Station Railway Heritage Trust, which is transforming a disused station space into a hub for the community while also promoting social inclusion and offering work experience and training;
- The Sussex Community Rail Partnership’s work to help school children learn about and gain familiarity with rail as a part of sustainable and healthy travel;
- Community Rail Cumbria, which is working with train operators to achieve major service and station improvements. It also engages with local employers to promote sustainable commuting.
Announcing the next East Midlands franchise, transport secretary Chris Grayling recently revealed that the next franchise, beginning in August, will see funding doubled for community rail schemes and the creation of up to four new CRPs.
Four years ago, ACoRP produced a similar report assessing the value of community rail. Comparing data from the two, it shows that CRPs have increased by 50 per cent and station groups have doubled in number between 2015 and 2019.
In addition, similar comparisons found that lines with CRPs performed well in terms of passenger numbers. Using a sample of 36 community rail lines, ACoRP has calculated that passenger numbers increased by 42 per cent between 2008/09 and 2017/18. This compares to an overall increase of 35 per cent on the national network.
ACoRP said that this reinforces the idea that engaging communities in their local railways helps people get maximum use from them, as well as attracting visitors using sustainable means.
Community rail champion and ACoRP chief executive Jools Townsend said the movement “empowers local people to have a greater stake in their local railways and stations, and to access opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach, through sustainable and healthy means”.
She added: “Community rail is playing a unique role, working at a grassroots level so more people can get around through sustainable travel, and helping people to connect with their locality and those around them.”
The report, which was sponsored by the Rail Delivery Group, was also welcomed by rail minister Andrew Jones.
He said: “Our rail network is simply better for the work of Community Rail Partnerships. I have seen first-hand the vital work that they do, having met with the inspiring volunteers at the ‘Rail Journey To Recovery’ project in Cumbria last November.
“They transform our stations into community hubs, provide purpose and pride, and give people a say in how their local rail network can work for them.
“In 15 years we have seen hundreds of successful projects created across the UK, and through a new Community Rail Strategy this government is committed to supporting even more schemes.”