Community Rail Partnerships: Super-Local Economies
From “Community railways are on the right track” by Paul Salveson:
Community rail partnerships have transformed many of Britain’s local railways, and not just rural branch lines transporting tourists through some of our most scenic countryside. The partnerships cover around 60 lines, some of them urban routes in major cities where community rail is playing a role in urban regeneration. They bring together train operators, Network Rail, local authorities and more than 100 “station friends” groups and community groups that promote lines which were threatened with closure.
Many of the lines have experienced double-digit growth, thanks to imaginative promotion and community involvement, backed up by modest investment. Stations have experienced a new lease of life through community adoption, including a social enterprise which runs the booking office of a formerly unstaffed rural station. Railways minister Theresa Villiers has praised the “ideas, innovation and enthusiasm” of community rail partnerships. And their services could be in more demand than ever, following last month’s government-commissioned report into rail industry costs by Sir Roy McNulty. He called for £1bn in costs to be stripped out of the industry and, while not recommending line closures, he floated the idea of phasing out ticket offices in small stations. But as local authorities face hard decisions over budgets, some of these partnerships have already had their funding reduced and train operators are unable to make up the shortfall.
The Severnside Community Rail Partnership covers local routes in the Bristol area, including the branch to Avonmouth and Severn Beach. It runs through some of the most deprived parts of the south-west. The partnership is working to make stations more friendly and welcoming and to reduce crime, vandalism and antisocial behaviour. “Better stations, with community involvement, encourage more people to use the train,” says Keith Walton, the partnership’s chair.
Stapleton Road station, on the Severn Beach line has been transformed through community involvement and boasts a mural celebrating the communities served by the station. Alongside the station is Roots, a community-run garden centre, located on formerly derelict railway land. The partnership worked with Network Rail to clear up the area and it is now a flourishing example of social enterprise. At other stations along the line school students have created artwork which has transformed the appearance of what were once run-down, depressing eyesores. The partnership has also worked with the Probation Service in using offenders to help with environmental projects. The local “community payback” team has cleared decades of accumulated debris at stations prior to community groups moving in to plant the areas with shrubs and flowers.
Read the full article (there’s a lot more) by Paul Salveson on The Guardian.