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Community-led groups looking to play major role promoting green travel by rail, as Scotland’s train services move into public ownership

Members of a grassroots ‘community rail’ movement are looking forward to playing a growing role helping Scottish communities to thrive, and working towards a greener transport future, as ScotRail services transfer into the public sector on 1st April.

As Scotland’s railways move into this new era, the country’s network of community rail partnerships and groups are set to play a key role in its future, engaging communities with local railways and stations, promoting social inclusion, and enabling and encouraging more people to get around sustainably by train. This year, following on from COP26, they are especially working to get across the huge carbon savings of travelling by train instead of driving or flying, and engaging communities and rail partners to make it easier to use the train combined with walking, cycling, buses, and community transport.

To coincide with the changes in the rail industry, Scotland’s community rail partnerships are working with their umbrella body Community Rail Network to showcase the vital, sometimes life-changing work taking place in community rail, from the Borders to the Highlands, and get across the importance of train travel to tackling the climate emergency – including through an inspiring video.

This follows on from Community Rail Network’s ‘Community Rail in Scotland’ report, published in 2021, which highlight the efforts of 1,200 volunteers who give over 55,000 hours annually, valued at £4.7 million per year, to promote sustainable and healthy travel, wellbeing, economic development, and tourism in their local area.

Making up Scotland’s eight community rail partnerships and 260 station groups, they carry out projects to bring improvements to rail services and stations, such as improved accessibility and community facilities, while helping communities to have a voice in rail and transport development, working with train operators, local authorities, and other partners. They also build local confidence and awareness around train travel, breaking down barriers and creating a sense of public ownership towards the railways.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “As Scotland’s railways enter a new era, and with the need to encourage greener ways to get around more pressing than ever, Scotland’s community rail movement is redoubling its efforts. We see the shift of ScotRail trains into public ownership as a great opportunity to further connect local communities with their railways and get more people travelling by train. Community rail has an inspiring track record of doing just that: promoting travel confidence and increasing access to opportunity, while bringing people together, giving communities a voice, and putting railways and stations at the heart of community life.

“Over the coming years, we’ll be working closely with Scotland’s community rail partnerships, volunteers, and railway partners with a strong focus on supporting and enabling greener journeys by train. We’re looking forward to community rail playing a vital role in the great shift we need, towards more sustainable, inclusive, community-friendly transport.”

Transport is the largest contributor to climate emissions in Scotland, and in response to the climate emergency, Transport Scotland has committed to reducing emissions by 75% by 2030, and to a legally binding target of net-zero by 2045. Rail accounted for just 1% of UK domestic transport emissions in 2019, despite representing 10% of the total distance travelled, and for a 30-mile journey, travelling by train instead of by car can reduce emissions by up to 86%.

Scotland’s community rail partnerships (CRPs) consist of: the Borders Railway Community Partnership; South West Scotland CRP; East Lothian CRP; Strathallan CRP; the Highland Main Line CRP; and the West Highland CRP. There is also Rail 74 CRP, which covers stations in South Lanarkshire, and the Edinburgh-based 6VT Youth CRP, the only youth-led CRP in Britain.

The partnerships are supported by Community Rail Network and the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme, funded by Transport Scotland and administered by Paths for All. This support helps to develop projects and deliver work promoting sustainable journeys with rail at their heart, aligning with Scotland’s vision of a sustainable, inclusive, safe, and accessible transport system.

Graham McQueen, Smarter Choices, Smarter Places manager, said: “Changing the way we make everyday journeys is good for our health, it’s good for our communities, and it helps protect our environment. We need to drive less and walk, cycle, and use public transport more. We are delighted to support Community Rail Network in Scotland as community support and engagement is key to the integration of train stations into communities, making them more pleasant and accessible, and ultimately encouraging more people to use sustainable transport options for longer journeys.

“The Paths for All Smarter Choices Smarter Places programme supports hundreds of creative projects throughout Scotland, all looking to encourage behaviour change towards a happier, healthier, and greener way of life. The way we travel is central to this and that’s why we’re delighted to support the promotional video that shows how rail travel can play a key role in changing the way we travel and how travelling by train can be more inclusive and sustainable.”