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  • The Government’s strategy

    Find out about the strategy and why the Government is supporting local communities in having their say on the future of the railway.

  • What is the Community Rail development strategy?

    Published in 2004 the document outlined a new way focus on local branch lines which gives people the chance to get more involved in the current and future running of their local lines.

    To do this, the Department for Transport have supported the Community Rail concept.

    They published a strategy which has 4 key aims:
    • To increase passenger and freight use and revenue
    • To reduce costs
    • To involve the local community more closely in the development of their railway
    • To make use of the railway to support regeneration

    The strategy is supported by the rail industry and other stakeholders such as local authorities.

    Community Rail can benefit and enhance local economic development, accessibility, social inclusion and the environment and so funding can be drawn from a wide range of sources.

    The focus of Community Rail is on managing existing lines and services in a better way and developing them to bring more benefits to the local community as opposed to the re-opening closed lines and stations.

    What is a Community Railway?

    Any line can be designated as a Community Rail line if it meets the criteria set out in the strategy. But any line can have a community rail partnership if local people believe it can add value.

    They’re typically local or rural routes, single or double track with normally one operator, or a single passenger operator plus freight.

    They are generally subsidised either by central government or by local stakeholders.

    They normally serve the areas covered by just one or two local authorities with transport planning responsibilities.

    Designated community railway lines don’t include:
    • Lines that form part of the Trans European Network (TENs routes); or (except as shown) that are designated as part of the Trans European Rail Freight Network (TERFN)
    • Multiple track lines (more than two tracks)
    • Lines with a speed limit in excess of 75 mph
    • Intensively used lines forming part of commuting networks around major cities
    • Scotland is introducing its own version of community rail over the coming months

    Where there is a limited opportunity to change the standards used on a community railway, maybe because of freight or mainline operators using the route, the community rail service might be designated.

    While there are many lines on the network which won’t become Designated Community Rail lines, there is still a chance for the community to get involved in running stations along the route through station adoption schemes managed by the train operating companies.

    What is a Community Rail partnership?

    These are organisations whose members may include local authorities, community groups, rail user groups, Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and sometimes Network Rail. They are usually some form of community interest company or not-for-dividend partnership.

    Some include other bodies such as national park authorities, town or parish councils and businesses.

    They are established by mutual agreement and are typically staffed by a paid officer supported by a committee of stakeholders. They are funded by the partners who will then typically seek additional funding to support their activities.

    Partnerships may also exist on lines which are not designated as Community Rail lines. Network Rail will work with these partnerships but there may be less opportunities for innovation on these lines.

    What is a railway development company?

    These are the companies which provide various trading services and local management on the railway. Two of these have been established so far:
    • Settle & Carlisle Line (set up over 10 years ago)
    • Esk Valley Line

    Railway development companies may also exist on lines which are not designated as Community Rail lines. Network Rail will work with these organisations but there may be less opportunities for innovation on these lines.

    Given changes in company law over recent years, the distinction between community rail partnerships and railway development companies has become more blurred.

    They may employ staff, lease or own property and undertake trading activities in a way which might not be possible for voluntary groups or local government officers.

    What do they do? Community rail partnerships and railway development companies support the railway with a wide variety of services such as marketing, research, ticket selling, catering and retailing at stations or on trains, and property restoration and management. They can also provide ancillary services such as running community bus services.

    For those tasks which are vital to safety however, the train operator or Network Rail will remain responsible.

    Both railway development companies and Community Rail partnerships can also provide an effective local management presence for the railway within the community.

    What is a Station Friends group?

    These are local groups which can be formed to support their station.

    They tend to work mainly with the Train Operating Company(TOC) and their activities could include:
    • reporting problems and maintenance issues
    • developing station gardens
    • promotional activities such as station galas

    They also actively promote station adoption.

    If a friends group identifies an issue requiring rapid attention by Network Rail, they should get in touch with us. 


    For issues which are not urgent, you should contact the TOC first and they will advise you on the best course of action.

    Where does the Community Railway idea come from?

    Ideas about community involvement in their railways have been common in Europe for some years. The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership and the Bittern & Wherry Partnerships in Norfolk were amongst the first in the UK and that led to the formation of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) which now promotes these ideas nationwide.

    Their ideas, as well as the practical experience of other partnerships in the UK were used by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to develop the strategy for community railways.

    In their planning, they looked at a number of lines and services that are important to the communities they serve, and with considerable potential for development. The strategy focussed on pilot lines that reflected the diversity of community rail lines.

    They pointed out that too many empty seats are running up and down Britain’s branch lines safely and reliably – but expensively.

    Even if they were filled, they suggested, the lines would still require substantial levels of subsidy. The strategy identified ways to both grow income and reduce costs so that the subsidy levels could be reduced by a third, and the subsidy per passenger could be halved.

    How does this fit into the rail planning strategy?

    Community railways will have a key role to play in many parts of the strategy.

    From targets on CO2 emissions in Government strategies through to local authorities’ transport plans, the railway is involved in planning all the way through the system.

    Local transport plans for example will need to include Community Rail schemes to help them meet their objectives.

    So if a community railway impacts on the local area whether its through improving transport links or reducing congestion, they are included in any rail planning strategy.

    and the concept is still evolving and their impact has not yet been felt at every level but they can contribute to the overall delivery of government targets.

    In 2012 the Alternative Solutions RUS was published. The scope of this RUS is different than the others as it considers a range of solutions to supply and demand, some of which go beyond the current rail network. Community Rail as a solution for managing costs down on the rural network is considered in the document.
  • Creating a community rail line

    Interested in helping to run your local railway? Find out how you can get involved and start a community rail line in your area.

  • Why should we get our line designated as a Community Rail line?

    Once a line has been designated as a Community Rail line, it can lead to:
    • Changes in the way the line is managed with the local community having more say on issues such as fares and timetables if they can show it will improve the financial performance of the service.
    • The line being identified as one needing particular attention to review how standards are being implemented and how maintenance is carried out.
    • Reinforcing the role of the Community Rail partnership in bringing together local stakeholders in developing the line.

    The changes you’ll see Whether it’s through the Community Rail Partnership or the Train Operating Companies (TOC), the benefits of being designated as a Community Rail line or service could include:
    • Bespoke solutions for Community Rail lines
    • Greater involvement of the local community in the timetable and fares
    • Greater local decision-making on connections policies
    • Examination of how standards are specified regarding maintenance and renewal of infrastructure, to help put the lines on a sustainable footing for the future
    • Making station development easier and cheaper and more appropriate to the local environment
    • Minor changes to stations, such as relocation of facilities
    • Innovative approaches to providing better disabled access to stations
    • Risk-based approach to infrastructure enhancements to find lower cost solutions
    • Removal of the requirement for infrastructure to meet European interoperability standards

    Changes to how the line is managed Designation could also see an increased focus on promoting the line in the local area and raising its profile both locally and in the railway industry as a whole.

    It also encourages train operators, Network Rail, local authorities and the local community to work together to make the most out of opportunities provided by the railway.

    It passes more power to TOCs to change timetables and fares in consultation with the community rail partnership and also gives opportunities to flex contractual requirements so they can find more cost-effective ways to deliver the service.


    Who owns and runs the Community Rail line?

    There is no change to the ownership of all infrastructure assets. They remain with Network Rail.

    Ownership of the trains will usually be with one of the ROSCOs (rolling stock leasing companies) but designation will encourage a creative approach to this issue where costs can be reduced.

    Operation of the stations and trains will generally be by the TOC who holds the franchise in that area. However, a number of different solutions are being considered such as local management or even separate small train operating companies.

    Maintenance and renewal of the infrastructure is expected to remain a Network Rail responsibility (other options are being considered) whilst day-to-day maintenance of the stations remains the responsibility of the TOC.

    The TOC may decide to sub-contract this activity to a railway development company if this shows cost savings.

    How does the designation process work?

    The process begins with the production of a simple Route Prospectus which identifies all the constraints and opportunities for the line and which will reflect the local nature of the line.

    This is accompanied by a route specification setting out some of the technical issues on the line such as capacity, weight restrictions, loading gauge and defining the limits of the proposed designation.

    These documents must be fully aligned with the appropriate Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) and Route Plans which outline the plans for development and maintenance on the line.

    Designation will only be considered where there is an active community rail partnership or railway development company

    There are 4 stages to the Community Rail Designation process:

    Stage one - declaration of intentions and seeking of views
    This will be done by an announcement on the DfT website. This will include an estimate of the date that consultation will take place and a request for short submissions of views to be taken into consideration.

    Given that there is already a list of lines being considered for Community Rail designation in the strategy, there is generally no need for a high profile announcement of this part of the process.

    Stage two – production of Route Prospectus and Route Specification.

    The DfT will produce templated documents based on the information already to hand, existing plans and initiatives likely to be value-for-money, as revealed by Stage One. These will then be sent out for consultation.

    Stage three – local consultation
    Consultation will take place with the following stakeholders prior to designation:
    • County councils, district councils and unitary authorities associated with the line
    • Metropolitan borough councils and PTEs served by the line
    • The Community Rail partnership (CRP) or railway development company (RDC)
    • The Rail Passenger Council (which may also take into consideration the views of any rail user group who are not formal consultees)
    • All Train Operating Companies (TOCs) associated with the line
    • All Freight Operating Companies (FOCs)
    • Network Rail
    • ORR
    6 weeks will generally be allowed from issue of documentation to closure of the formal consultation.

    The local MPs will be informed for the plans, but will not be formal consulates.

    Stage four – revision of Route Prospectus and Specification.

    The documentation may be revised in the light of the consultation, following consideration by the Community Rail Development Steering Group.

    The Secretary of State will be invited to designate the line under the revised documentation. This will not take place unless there is clear local support. DfT Rail Executive Group will make the recommendation to the Secretary of State.

    Designation (or rejection of designation) will be confirmed in writing to all consultees.

    After designation takes place, it is not expected that this will be reviewed for at least 3 years. If there is a significant demand to review, then the designation process will be repeated as described above.

    Who starts the designation process?

    There is currently a preferred order for future Community Rail designations set by DfT’s Community Rail Development Steering Group.

    That order may change if there is a particular requirement to bring a line forward for designation.

    What does designation mean for our railway?

    Designation brings the opportunity for the partnership (or railway development company) to work on service improvements such as enhancements to stations, changes to the timetable, new fares structures and promotional activity, within the Community Rail framework (and therefore with greater flexibility to deliver change).

    This should make changes happen faster and should ensure full involvement of the local community through the partnership.

    Designation does not come with any funding but it is hoped that the partnership approach will enable funders to come forward.

    Will a designated line be downgraded or closed?

    No. The intention is to run these lines cost effectively, reducing the drain on taxpayers’ money, not to close them down.

    The idea is to find ways that designated lines can be run to standards appropriate to their current levels of rail traffic and that they are appropriately specified for any future development.

    The strategy also gives the opportunity for local innovation and for service developments that meet local needs.

    Find more information about creating a Community Rail line

     You’ll find plenty of information on the following websites:

    Department for Transport  

    The Association of Community Rail Partnerships 


    How can our group reopen a closed line?

    ACoRP can supply advice on rail re-openings but this is not something for the faint-hearted! There have been many schemes, but few succeed.

    As Network Rail has taken over some of the Strategic Rail Authority’s responsibilities for development of the network, we are the next port of call for any serious enquiries.

    If there is a realistic prospect that a line could be re-opened, and the funding to do so is available (Network Rail is not funded for rail re-openings), our Network Planning team would consider the next steps.

    Find out how to contact us

    Whilst we’re keen to see the network develop in order to address current and predicted capacity issues, and in order to assist the delivery of government targets on cutting pollution and improving access, it should be noted that in recent years there have been limited successful re-openings on the national network.

    There is considerable activity in Scotland and there has been some re-opening in Wales but in England those that have taken place, such as the Wensleydale and Weardale Railways, tend to be in the independent sector.

    How can our group re-open a closed station?

    As with line re-openings, you should not expect a quick result. There are many issues to consider, finance being just one.

    Stations have an impact on line capacity (the number of trains that can operate is reduced because of trains stopping at stations), and additional stations on some routes may not be possible.

    You also need to consider the effect on the train service. Additional stops will extend journey times, and may increase the number of trains required to operate the service.

    Extra passengers require extra seats, so the costs involved may not just be that of the station itself, but of leasing extra rolling stock. A longer journey time may also make the service less attractive to passengers from other stations on the route.

    One of the first deliverables that will be required is a feasibility study into the proposal to look at the overall impact on the network, on train services and to demonstrate that there is, or will be, a demand for the station. As the promoter, generally you will need to pay for this study.

    Find out how to contact us 
  • Community groups and Network Rail

    If you’re part of a community group such as a Community Rail partnership or Station Friends Group, find out how we work with you on the railway.

  • What’s the difference between Community Rail partnerships and rail user groups?

    Partnerships are expected to work together to deliver improvements to rail services and improve the financial viability of the service.

    Potential improvements might be identified by the partnership or they might be identified by rail user groups or campaigning groups.

    Rail user groups are often members of a partnership and tend to be campaigning groups. 

    How does a Station Friends Group work with Network Rail?

    For station friends and station adopters, contact is usually managed by the Train Operating Company (TOC), who has day-to-day management and safety responsibility for the station.

    Any issues that cannot be resolved by the TOC would normally be referred to Network Rail.

    Find out how to contact us  

    Can a community group work on the station?

    It depends on the station and what work is planned. The Train Operating Company (TOC) will be able to give guidance, but if the area is not part of the station they lease from Network Rail, then you’ll need to ask permission from us first.

    Find out how to contact us

    We have developed a community licence agreement to give community groups safe and controlled access to these areas to carry out environmental improvements. These arrangements are not applicable in all circumstances.

    Visit our Community Schemes page 

    Large scale projects For more substantial works, such as building work, both the TOCs and Network Rail must be involved in any station project.

    Normally, the TOC will agree to a scope of work with the community group for which they will then seek ‘Landlord consent’ from Network Rail.

    Where the works may impact on the operational railway, this might require direct management by Network Rail for all or part of the project.

    At the very least, ‘asset protection’ will be required to manage the interface with the operational railway and check that appropriate arrangements are in place to manage the safety of the railway and anyone working on or near it.


    Find out more about asset protection  

    For all schemes, the initial point of contact is the TOC. They can tell you whether your scheme falls in their area or whether you need to speak to Network Rail. For schemes within the railway’s boundary, the Community Rail Team is a good place to start.


    There are no changes to existing arrangements, where processes are already in place such as with the Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) in metropolitan areas.

    More information on becoming a Station Friends Group

     It’s simple to become a station adopter or start a Station Friends Group. For details, contact the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

    How can a community group access disused property on its local station?

    Working with ACoRP and CRPs around the country, we are taking some positive steps to address a number of empty properties.

    If we can identify suitable properties and suitable community-use tenants, we’ll make it as easy as possible to put these buildings back into productive use. This may mean less commercial lease terms in some instances.

    In the first instance, speak to the Train Operating Company (TOC) responsible for the station. If the property is outside their lease area they will pass you on to our estates teams.

    If you feel you have not got the response you hoped for please contact Community Rail. 


    If the enquiry is commercial, you’ll need to follow the advice on our Property section.

    How can we contact Network Rail to get advice or make a complaint?

    Day-to-day enquiries about issues and problems on Network Rail’s infrastructure are best dealt with through the National Helpline.

    If the matter relates to community railway development, please contact the Head of Community Rail.

    How does Network Rail relate to heritage railways?

    Heritage railways are not generally part of the national network. They are owned by a number of different bodies and companies and exceptionally by Network Rail.

    For details of operating railways, visit the Heritage Railway Association website.


    In all cases, the first approach for any initiative should be to the company or group managing the line. They’ll contact us if it’s appropriate.

    The Head of Community Rail will initially work with any heritage railway that needs to deliver a new scheme which impacts on the national network.

    Once the scheme is clearly developed, its outputs clearly defined and there’s a reasonable prospect that the resources needed can be secured, it will be passed across to a Scheme Sponsor who will take the scheme forward through the various stages of project delivery process.

    Who provides funding for Community Railways and Community Rail partnerships?

    Community railways Funding for community railways is no different from anywhere else on the network.

    Network Rail is paid by the Train Operating Company for ‘access’ to the network. This is defined in a contractual agreement for the number, timing and type of train the operator wants to run.

    The operator receives income through the fares that passengers pay and from support grants made either by central government or sometimes by local authorities and Passenger Transport Executives that want to support particular loss-making services.

    Network Rail also receives some direct government support for particular projects.

    Community rail partnerships Community Rail partnerships and other groups are funded by a number of different routes. Department for Transport has provided some project grant funding and provides some funding to ACoRP.

    A partnership between DfT, Network Rail and ACoRP provides grants for designated community railways. ACoRP has a small grants scheme.

    County and district councils as well as Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) and Train Operating Companies in their areas all continue to contribute community rail partnerships, railway development companies and station friends groups around the country.

    Train operators and others in the rail industry make cash contributions or contributions in kind. Some groups also seek public subscription or act as sub-contractors to the industry to support their activities.