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Author Topic: Community and Rail - how they work together  (Read 5762 times)
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« on: April 14, 2020, 06:48:06 am »

Do you want your local railway to "do better" - be more effective for your local community?  Without passengers or freight, the railway has no reason exist, and no logical financial model to exist under either.  And without appropriate public transport, residents visitors and businesses in an uncovered area are held back.  So it's in the mutual interest of the community and the rail industry to partner towards good common aims.

There are ways that you - in your community - can help towards this common good, and it can be rewarding for all.  But do be aware that rail specification and operation is necessarily complex - so the best approach is very much to work with and support the professional experts and to be networking, supporting friends (sometimes helping checkpoint by asking difficult questions). This thread will be a series of posts leading towards the avenues to providing that support.

* History of Community and Rail - up to the 1980s - (jump to section)
* Checkpoint, Low point - (jump to section)
* The rebirth of Community in Rail - (jump to section)
* Development of ACoRP (Association of Community Rail Partnerships) and its rebranding as the Community Rail Network - (jump to section)
* Main Community Groups and Organisations with rail interest - (jump to section)
* A wider look to organisation groups with some involvement / interest - (jump to section)
* And finally - - (jump to section)

Edit - adding links to each section
« Last Edit: April 14, 2020, 07:06:55 am by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2020, 06:49:44 am »

History to the late 1980s

Many original railway lines were promoted and financed by local interest in the communities they served. For example a meeting in Melksham in 1841 triggered proposals that lead to an act of parliament in 1845 and the design and build of the Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth which opened from its junction with the main London to Bristol line at Thingley Junction in stages - initially to Westbury in 1848 and eventually onward to Weymouth with the first train in 1857.  There were branches to Salisbury, Devizes and Bradford-on-Avon too.

However, a smaller local company found it hard to run local services and to maintain its line - or, even if they managed, found it more practical to achieve their aims of serving the local business community by contracting the operation of their line to one of the bigger regional companies.  Within the space of a few years, most of regional companies too over the smaller local ones; not only did that provide the standardisation of a larger pool of staff and common rolling stock and specialist maintenance facilities, but also through serviced and planned connections, ticketing and linkages for both freight and passengers. Others got into financial difficulty and were taken over with that additional reason. Our example of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth was absorbed in 1850.

By the 1920s, with the changes brought about by the first world war during which the railways had been under government control, the remaining companies were grouped together into "the big four".  The second world war left the railways worn out again, and the big four, who also had to struggle with ever increasing road transport including buses and the private car, were nationalised as British Railways.  Passenger numbers continued to fall and freight traffic was lost - especially on more local journeys, and over the following three decades much of the network was closed - a managed decline much of which (to this day) remains controversial as to its depth.

At the low point - around 1980 - the UK (United Kingdom) was left with a network of main lines, commuter routes especially in the London area, some regional routes, and rural railways which had survived the cuts either because of local protest, because it was hard to provide a road alternative, because they passed through marginal constituencies, or for a mixture of those reasons.  The same could be said for stations - an odd and eclectic bunch survived; Freshford with a population of 500 retained its station, Melksham with a population of around 16,000 at that time had not done; that particular closure was one step beyond sensible, and Melksham and a few other stations have been re-opened, though they had to start up again building use from a zero base.

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« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2020, 06:50:29 am »

Checkpoint, low point

A rail network "bumping along the bottom". A lack of government investment in their system; a government with an ideology of privatisation and market lead provision. Intercity routes doing relatively OK, the commuter network in the South East in reasonable shape, but local lines away from the south east having sparse services, competing with the private car which had become ubiquitous, and carrying fresh air around for much of the time. Add to that a lack of local inputs to what service would best work for the areas served, and a need to run down to a minimised loss and not up to an appropriate service.  Even re-opened stations such as Melksham had but one or two trains each way per day, which did nothing for anyone except the few for whom the outbound train was right, and for whom the inbound train was right too.  Earliest ORR» (Office of Rail and Road formerly Office of Rail Regulation - about) ticket data suggests around 5 passengers leaving and 5 passengers arriving each day.

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« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2020, 06:51:22 am »

The birth of the community in rail again

In 1983, the Settle and Carlisle line carried 93,000 passengers per annum. That's about 125 each way per day, on a long main line that's very expensive to maintain, and maintenance had been allowed to fall behind. Proposals by British Railways to close the line resulted in strong protests - as late as 1988 British Rail were looking to sell the land after closure, but in 1989 a government decision was made to retain the line which, by that time, had grown to 450,000 journeys per annum, or 620 each way per day.

In more detail ... "In 1981 a protest group, the Friends of the Settle–Carlisle Line (FoSCL), was established, and campaigned against the line's closure even before it was officially announced." but that protest group realised that protest was not enough, and growing the railway was the logical and sustainable way forward, and that meant not only protest, but also partnership with the very organisations who's proposals were being protested about at the time to help rebuild to a viable, long term future.  Looking forward to today - 40 years after the formation of FoSCL - it's all about partnership - or almost all.  Everyone is on side to make this work and it's only on very rare occasions that an organisation like FoSCL needs to protest ("be a critical friend"); it's much more about being an advocate for the line and service, and that includes proposals for the future - making sure it's fulfilling purpose in a further 40 years.

The Settle and Carlisle line was not unique in its low passenger numbers.  From Liskeard to Looe, from Huddersfield to Sheffield via Penistone, from Barton-on-Humber to Grimsby, from Whitland to Pembroke Dock, from Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh and many more - lines often loved by and important to their communities, but planned and run so remotely from "Whitehall" that local desires and needs - and indeed opportunities and enthusiasm - were lost.  The provision of rail was in the hands of the mandarins, aided and abetted by big multinational businesses as the railways were privatised in the 1990s.  The privatisation model might do well for the main lines, perhaps for the commuter runs too, but there was a gap left for the local lines.

Communities and their local rail operators (public or, increasingly, privatised) saw they had common goals. Getting more people onto trains that were running anyway.  Making little changes that made a big difference to the communities served. Taking a pragmatic approach to full provision that was necessary on mainlines, but overkill on local branches. And local publicity and pride in the railway too - for a local pride brings in volunteer members of the community.

And so were born "community rail partnerships". Although initial interest may have been from rail advocates in regions or areas, forward looking local authorities also saw the benefits of these partnerships to their area as a whole, and indeed many (becoming most) community rail partnerships (CRPs (Community Rail Partnership)) were set up / headed / operated with county councils or the equivalent as their lead, administration and funding leads.

St Keyne is very different to Goxhill. Maiden Newton to Aspatria. Chandler's Ford to Burscough Junction. But yet they can all identify with service issues on their lines and they can learn from each other - sharing good practise for (save for the occasional awards event) there is no competition here and everyone works for the common good.  There is also huge benefit in sharing beyond a location to a region; passenger journeys are made from "A" to "B", by a train that run through "A" and "B" and yet very often "A" is in one local authority area and "B" is in another. So there are many reasons for Community Rail Partnerships to work together.  Introducing what was - until just a few days ago - the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP (Association of Community Rail Partnerships)) (now known as the Community Rail Network).  I think it was set up in around 1995 - though the history online has been thinned out to look forward rather than now dwell on the past.

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« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2020, 06:52:19 am »

Development of ACoRP (Association of Community Rail Partnerships) and its rebranding as the Community Rail Network

ACoRP was (and the Community Rail Network still is) funded at its centre by the Department for Transport, with significant subsidy for members at events and for materials.  Individual members pay an annual fee, but more as a committent to the organisation than to help pay a significant part of the costs.  In pioneering days, this willingness of a rail supporting group to put its money where its mouth was was sufficient to allow it to join as a full member, but over time the membership criteria were tuned and indeed when the TransWilts CRP (Community Rail Partnership) (of which I was a founding member) came to join rather late in the day, meeting the criteria set by that time was no trivial exercise, and indeed the first application was rejected because - although we had a train service - it wasn't considered sufficient to be realistically marketed and grown.

For quality control, and to allow further delegation to a more local level, ACoRP and the DfT» (Department for Transport - about) introduced the "designated line" - a branding of lines as local ones where the pragmatism I've mentioned above to bypass main line standards (except in areas of safety).  A further category - the "designated service" was later added, for services which were certainly Community Rail, but shared infrastructure with other rail services.  Our TransWilts was one of the final services to be designated - in 2016, and as a service not a line because of the heavy freight flows, and its use for long distance passenger trains on diversion.

Bringing this story up to date - "designated line" and "designated service" has now been replaces by "accredited Community Rail Partnership" status from the Department for Transport.  This has come in since I left my Community Rail Officer role at the TransWilts CRP ( a heartbreaking personal decision ) and looks to the organisation rather than the line or service. Lots of paperwork and policies, I understand; for sure it provides a check on uniformity and adherence against a raft of 10 policy documents, but as such it seems to need considerable professional resource to the possible independence and localism that has been such a successful feature of the Community Rail Movement. With funding moving largely to the franchised train operators, and specified by the DfT, are CRPs becoming Quangos, an their paid staff in essence public servants?

As well as Community Rail Partnerships, ACoRP / the Community Rail Network has a second tier of membership for "Station Friends Groups". There are, I believe, around 1,000 of these - typically volunteer groups at the smaller stations who are safety briefed, advocates of rail, organise local publicity and events, and undertake tasks such as weeding and watering and looking after plants that the operator isn't funded to do with paid staff yet provide a welcome interface between the railway station and the town / village it serves.  Some station friends groups also look after significant buildings, cafes, other resources - much depends on what time has left available for them, and the metrics of the local group.

Remember "New life for local lines"?  The Community Rail movement has done such a superb job there - "getting bums on seats" that the objective has moved on to four broader pillars not only looking is sales terms at the "feature" of numbers travelling, but at the wider "benefit" to the community served, its economy, and its harder-to-reach and harder-to-support members.

Time, then, with a superb job done for ACoRP to move on, and the retirement of the General Manager, who head a team of no more than half a dozen, as an opportunity to widen the scope, reach and effect of the organisation - at the time of writing, it has expanded to a team of seventeen, rewritten its mandate wider (as briefly described above) and rebranded to the "Community Rail Network". 

With that significantly expanded remit, I would commend to the Community Rail Network to similarly expand their membership net, were it my place to do so.  There is a range of groups in the community who network with rail providing a voice for the community, to promote sustainable, healthy and accessible travel, to bring communities together, supporting diversity & inclusion and to support social and economic development, yet do not qualify for either Community Rail Network category.  Examples - TravelWatch SouthWest, RailFuture, and our own Coffee Shop forum (but be aware than some such as the Campaign for Better Transport are listed as members, having joined in the early days).

My inspiration for writing this article / update was a phone call the other day, asking about how we do some things on the Melksham Rail User Group website. His line / service / stations are not - to my knowledge (nor his) Community Rail Network members, though he like many others is new to the group. It is all too easy to assume that people know all about community rail, yet with newcomers arriving, and with some older members having changes which mean they can no longer do what they once did, that is a dangerous assumption.  Hence the article.

We also live in interesting times;  I write this during the lockdown of a pandemic. I am finding it perverse to be discouraging travel in any form (including by train and bus) at present, and I can only guess at the shape of things to come; that's an educated guess, mind you, and I have liaised with our train operator to offer continued partnership in the changing circumstances.

My advise to the gentleman I spoke with the other day is to network, listen, ask and share. His stations are special, but they are not unique and a lot of heartache can be saved.  Work with your TOC (Train Operating Company), your local authority, your experts to look not only at where things should be going in the short term tactically, but in the long term strategy too. Learn what other long term planning is around; neighbourhood plans, local enterprise partnerships, subNational Transport bodies; does HS2 (The next High Speed line(s)) effect you, devolution, etc. But most of all, ask and listen.  I may have come across as being a little concerned at the membership category of the Community Rail Network, but I utterly commend talking with their staff, who will typically go "over and above" to help you in early days - even before you qualify to join - and talk with other members too.

But ... the community works with the rail industry through other avenues too ...

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« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2020, 06:53:25 am »

Other Community ways of networking with rail

The amazing thing here is how just about every body has changes its name over the years!

Transport Users Consultative Committee (TUCC)
became Rail Passengers Committee/Council (RPC)
then Passenger Focus from the 2004 Transport Act
now Transport Focus -

The arm of the Department for Transport that looks after the interests of passenger; does excellent research and looks after adherence to franchise issues.  Typically not the route for a specific complaint nor station / service volunteer work nor looking towards future services, but sometimes a great help when looking to have the current service perform to its very best.

Railway Development Society Ltd
now RailFuture -

An independent member-funded company looking to promote a bigger and better railway for the UK (United Kingdom).  Railfuture has 14 geographic branches, a number of specialist groups, and some real experts on their team - some of who do a lot of really effective lobbying behind the scenes.  Railfuture can feel a bit intimidating and set in its ways, being an excellent example of a problem that all volunteer organisations face of being largely run by retired experts, set in their way and not wanting to risk change or dissent.

Office of the Rail Regulator
now Office of Rail and Road -

The watchdog over the rail industry - doing things like checking the financial and other conformance of organisations applying to run their own train service. "We regulate the rail industry's health and safety performance, we hold Network Rail and other rail infrastructure networks to account and we make sure that the rail industry is competitive and fair." and "We work alongside rail infrastructure companies, the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh governments, other safety bodies and companies in the industry."

Association of Community Rail Partnerships
now Community Rail Network -

See long article above - this is one of the ones / resources to work with if you can. A font of a very great deal of knowledge, and an organisation who really want things to work, even if there's something of a hurdle at entry level.  You can find your local member CRP (Community Rail Partnership) via ; I don't know of a full list of station friends groups, though.  I do have a copy of an internal GWR (Great Western Railway) map from a year or two back that shows each station and who their group is if any - please ask me if you have a specific station of interest; the map is not of sharing / publication quality - never intended as such.

The South West Public Transport Users’ Forum (SWPTUF (South West Passenger Transport User's Forum (now TWSW» (TravelWatch SouthWest - website) - Travel Watch South West)))
now TravelWatch SouthWest (TWSW) -

Formed on the demise of the RPCs, which lost their passenger representation element when the became "Passenger Focus".   TWSW meets twice a year for general meetings, providing a networking opportunity for a representative of just about and every public transport group in the region, and an opportunity to hear from key public transport industry and planning professionals and academics.  Between the general meetings, other specific meetings may be run to help inform members on matters such as upcoming franchise consultations or changes to bus legislation or planning systems, and further the TWSW board looks to inform the media of common standpoints and register inputs both prior to and during consultations, effectively promoting the common member's view.   Perhaps unique amongst all these organisations, TWSW (and there is also TWSE and TWNW (TravelWatch NorthWest)), the new group is assured of a warm welcome and help in introducing you even if you are just learning and perhaps see things with a different perspective to the organisation.

Rail Ombudsman -

"We offer a free, expert service to help sort out unresolved customer complaints about service providers within the rail industry."  It would be extraordinary for the Rail Ombudsman to be involved in a general case - that would typically be Transport Focus - rather this related to individual customer issues once every avenues has been explored with the TOC (Train Operating Company) ...

TOCs (Trains Operating Companies)

These are people who actually run the trains, and also manage all the stations apart from the 20 or so biggest ones. They subcontract the provision of track and signalling, and timetable co-ordination and approval to Network Rail, they lease trains from Rolling Stock Owning Companies (RoSCOs (Rolling Stock Owning Company)) and they are the main passenger interface to the railway.  Even where something goes wrong because (perhaps) Network Rail have failed to complete engineering works on time, it's the TOC you'll speak to for redress, and who has to provide alternative transport if necessary - often subcontracting that too.

Train Operating Companies are also the main organisation in the rail industry that your community group should work with.  Some TOCs are excellent at working with the community and appreciate the value, but with others it sometimes feel as if they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. Community Groups can do themselves the most enormous of favours by looking to understand what make their TOC tick, and looking (over time, and by networking) to understand how the rail industry works so that requests and input are fair and logical, requests have common good for everyone in them, and that criticisms are constructive.

Train operating companies are (as one friend put it) just companies doing what they are told; they may be running under a franchise agreement with the Department for Transport, they may be running under a "direct award" management contract, and at present they'll be running under "emergency measures".  In more usual times, a few companies also run trains under 'open access' which allows them to run their own choice of services at their own commercial risk. In the case of community rail lines and services, it's pretty unlikely that open access will be involved as running local trains is pretty unlikely to be a profitable operation.

British Railways
then SRA» (Strategic Rail Authority - about)
now DfT» (Department for Transport - about) Rail

The Department for Transport (Rail section) looks after the specification, award and operations of Rail Franchises and Network Rail, and by doing so tightly also controls the rolling stock market. It also funds / provides a degree of management for other rail organisations mentioned above (and otherwise) such as the Community Rail Network, the Office of Rail and Road, Transport Focus and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Prior to reaching the point of designation / accreditation at the upper echelons of being a CRP, direct formal contact between Community groups and the DfT will be limited.  However, you are likely to get to meet and network with a few of their team, and you'll come to realise that really we're all on the same side to work forward for a better railway - one that works for the passenger, the communities it serves, the rail industry, and for taxpayer value and government policy too. They really know their stuff - even if at times you might be less than happy with their message, and frustrated by just how slowly it feels that wheels turn.  You can do yourself a massive favour by putting yourself in their shoes - just as you can for any of the organisations above - as you interface and look to work for common objectives.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2020, 08:19:14 am by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2020, 06:56:15 am »

Other community groups and organisations with rail interest

As well as the groups and types previously listed, there are other community based groups with rail interest. Some have primary goals of improving general public transport for the users, potential users, and the wider community through partnership, others are slightly or in some cases far removed from that goal or methods.

There are a large number of groups in many of these categorises - just examples here

Rail User and Campaigning Groups
- English Regional Transport Association -
- FoSBR» (Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways - site) -
- WWRUG» (West Wiltshire Rail Users Group - about) -
- Portishead Railway Group -
- Pilning Station Group -
These groups typically interface well with their TOC (Train Operating Company) and communities, but are neither Community Rail Partnerships nor Station Friends groups.  The Community Rail Network is very much about use of currently open lines and stations with viable services, and so membership might not be a natural fit.

Facebook groups and other social media
- Great Western Coffee Shop -
- Association of British Commuters -
- Northern Resist -
These groups typically are passenger campaigning groups first and foremost; our Great Western Coffee Shop being something of an exception - prepared to be critical in occasions, but a critical friend and primarily a partner.

Enthusiast and fan groups and clubs and railway societies
- wnxx -
- railuk -
- Pewsey Vale Railway Society
- Stevenson Locomotive Society -
- Railway Correspondence and Travel Society -
- Locomotive Club of Great Britain -
- Railriders -
These groups are very much about rail and positive to it, but they are not primarily concerned with the general encouragement and betterment of public transport promotion. Additional to these groups are a large number of Facebook groups looking at anything from old railway maps to disused stations who welcome new members with shared interests.

Heritage lines and their support groups
- Heritage Railway Association -
Too many to even start to list. A few have national network / general travel aspirations.

Model Railway Groups
Too many to even start to list. Overlap with national network interest is rare.

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« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2020, 06:56:57 am »

Many thanks to members of our "Transport Scholars" group for your comments on the above over the last 24 hours ... hopefully now cut into reasonable mouthfulls.

And finally ...

Yes - it's complicated.  We all understand that on the forum - we started there too.  So if in doubt, please ask us ... please bounce ideas off us.  That's part of what this forum is for.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2020, 07:09:28 am by grahame » Logged

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