Communities unite to keep rural rail lines thriving

October 7, 2020

Local rail branch lines will continue to thrive despite the challenges thrown up by Covid-19 – that was the message at Greater Anglia’s annual community rail conference last week.

Community Rail Partnerships, station adopters, local authorities and other organisations from across East Anglia came together with key players at Greater Anglia in a virtual conference last week to discuss how to ensure a bright future for the region’s local rail branch lines, building on the transformational benefits brought by the new trains being introduced across the region.

Discussions focused on how to help community rail lines recover beyond the pandemic; how to maximise the positive impact of the new trains; how community rail partnerships can help strengthen further their links with local communities, involving schools, colleges and local authorities to help bring about positive changes locally, and how to improve and highlight integrated transport options to help make people’s journeys easier.

The conference was attended by East Anglia’s six Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs), Station Adoption community volunteers, local authorities, Transport Focus, the Community Rail Network (which represents CRPs and promotes community rail at a national level) and the Department for Transport.

Jonathan Denby, Greater Anglia’s Head of Corporate Affairs, said: “Community Rail Partnerships have continued to undertake excellent work throughout the pandemic, with recent initiatives including guides to encourage people to use the railway to access the countryside for walks and numerous biodiversity projects.

“Community rail initiatives help to bring railways closer to the communities they serve, encouraging more people to take the train and supporting local communities by making it easier for residents to travel for work, learning, shopping or leisure and for visitors or tourists to get around with benefits for the local economy.

“Most community rail lines saw significant growth in passenger numbers in recent years before the pandemic and the new, high quality, longer trains being introduced, and already in place on many routes, provide a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people to take the train.

“We’ll continue to build on our strong track record of partnership working, which has seen community rail lines become more and more popular with customers, whilst train services and stations have become more integrated with local communities’ needs, with more frequent services, all year round, in place on most routes.”

He added: “A huge thanks to all involved for making the virtual conference such a positive, effective event with clear goals and a shared desire to ensure our local lines continue to thrive and maximise the impact of the exciting transformation being delivered by the introduction of our new trains.”

To date in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, partnership working has helped to boost tourism and local economies and improve health and well-being through the production of local area guides, guided walks, special event trains, volunteering initiatives, community art projects, wildlife initiatives, partnership initiatives to deliver service improvements and station upgrades and wider community involvement schemes.

Greater Anglia continues to ensure that rail travel is safe for staff and passengers with an enhanced cleaning regime, on stations and trains, concentrating on high-touch areas such as push buttons, grab rails and door handles.

The train operator has also introduced a wide range of measures to make it easier for customers to maintain social distancing at stations and on trains – including floor markings, one-way systems, new signs and queuing systems.

It is now mandatory for customers to wear a face covering when using public transport, to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Children under the age of 11 and people with a disability or illness which means they cannot wear a face covering are exempt from wearing them.