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Community rail welcomes plans to decarbonise transport and enhance integrated and active travel

Transport Decarbonisation Plan – ‘Decarbonising transport: a better, greener Britain’

Rail Environment Policy Statement – ‘On Track for a Cleaner, Greener Railway’

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), which sets out the government’s commitments and the actions needed to decarbonise the entire transport system in the UK. The plan can be accessed here.

Alongside this, the DfT also published its Rail Environment Policy Statement (REPS), here. This sets a direction for the rail industry on environmental sustainability, and outlines policy priorities for the Sustainable Rail Strategy, due in 2022, for which Community Rail Network is on the working group.

Community Rail Network has welcomed these important documents. Jools Townsend, chief executive, commented: “We strongly welcome this approach of thinking holistically across transport modes, and considering how rail, buses, walking and cycling can be enhanced, developed and integrated to not only decarbonise transport but deliver benefits for all our communities. We are pleased to see the importance of social value and community engagement recognised, to create place-based solutions for people and the environment.

“Within community rail, we know very well how crucial our railways, and wider sustainable transport network, are for people’s access to opportunity, for health and wellbeing, and for building a greener future. We also know we need concerted efforts, collaborating with communities and across sectors, to reduce traffic, pollution, and car dependency, and rapidly shift onto lower carbon modes of travel. We are wholeheartedly behind the commitments to make public transport and active travel the natural way to get around, and to put our railways at the heart of a joined-up, effective and sustainable transport system everyone can benefit from.”

Implications and opportunities for community rail

We have been reviewing the documents to digest the issues most relevant to community rail, and we are very pleased to see the role of the movement highlighted in the REPS, building on the explicit references in the recent Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail. This briefing provides a summary for Community Rail Network members of the references most relevant to community rail, but this should be read alongside the TDP and REPS themselves, alongside other relevant government updates.

Community Rail Network will continue to partake in discussions with DfT and other partners on both documents and update members as and when appropriate. We see the plans as positive developments, particularly the commitments to improved rail connectivity and integrated sustainable journeys, place-based solutions to reducing emissions and helping to combat the climate emergency, and the acknowledgment of rail’s importance to creating social value and enabling modal shift.

Rail Environment Policy Statement:

The REPS sets out policy priorities for the forthcoming Sustainable Rail Strategy, which will align with Great British Railways’ aim to make the railway the ‘backbone of a cleaner, greener public transport network’. Community Rail Network is supporting development of this strategy.

The key priorities outlined in the statement are:

  • Traction decarbonisation – including electrification, new traction technologies, e.g. hydrogen, battery trains;
  • Air quality – reducing air pollution from the railway, improving air quality in and around stations;
  • Decarbonising the rail estate – reducing the environmental impact of stations, terminals, and depots;
  • Waste, litter, and graffiti – improving cleanliness on the railway;
  • Social value – embedding social value across the rail network;
  • Integrated travel and modal shift – encouraging modal shift to rail to support a green recovery;
  • Land use – generating clean energy and supporting biodiversity;
  • Railway noise – minimising the impact of noise on railway neighbours;
  • Water – monitoring and reducing water consumption.

Social value

The REPS states that increasing the environmental sustainability of the rail network should also increase the social value it contributes to the public, passengers, communities, and those employed in the sector. It says that “decarbonising trains and the wider network will reduce emissions, help us fight climate change, protect the environment and support the benefits that this will bring for us all.” It also highlights the health and wellbeing benefits associated with increasing levels of active travel and public transport use.

Within this section, Community Rail Network and the community rail movement across Britain is mentioned explicitly. On community rail, the REPS states:

“Local communities act as partners to help develop rail and its place as the backbone of local sustainable transport networks. Partnerships treat stations as vital local centres of social and economic activity, and potential beacons for sustainability. Community rail promotes green and caring credentials, and focuses on connections with bus, community transport, and active travel, to make rail more accessible, and reduce car dependency.”

The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail recognised the important role that community rail partnerships and groups already play in supporting a thriving rail network across the country, stating that they would be “empowered to strengthen rail’s social and economic impact”, with best practice supported more widely across the network. This recognition is emphasised further in the REPS, which states:

“These important organisations [community rail partnerships and groups] will continue to enjoy the same level of support and protection that they currently receive.”

Integrated travel and modal shift

The REPS reiterates that the government’s vision is for active travel (typically walking or cycling) and public transport to be the “natural first choice for our daily activities.” Aligning with the TDP, rail, as a low-carbon way to travel, is highlighted as key to decarbonising transport and meeting the government’s net zero transport targets for 2050. It states:

“Rail offers a low-carbon option for both short and long-distance travel. We want to make rail the first option for suitable journeys in the UK and encourage commuters to cycle, walk or take public transport to and from rail stations, making their journey environmentally sustainable from door to door. By making journeys simpler and more integrated, we want to encourage more people to travel by train. The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail sets out how we will reform the rail network to make it more appealing and encourage customers to return in larger numbers than ever.”

The REPS also states that new Passenger Service Contracts, to be designed by Great British Railways, will include integration with other transport services to enable more convenient connections between long-distance and local services, and requirements for operators to support integration objectives for bus travel and cycling.

Transport Decarbonisation Plan:

Of the plan’s six strategic priorities, two have particular relevance to community rail:

‘Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport’

  • Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities;
  • We will have a cohesive, widely available, net zero public transport network designed for the passenger;
  • We will use our cars differently and less often, with new technology helping reduce our carbon footprint.

‘Place-based solutions to emissions reduction’

  • By 2050 every place in the UK will have its own net zero transport network;
  • We will reform the way local transport infrastructure is funded to drive decarbonisation at a local level;
  • All places will have the ability to take bold action to decarbonise transport, to radically change how people travel and level up the UK.

Decarbonising our railways

This section of the plan states that Great British Railways will be responsible for identifying the right technology for the right part of the network, delivering the necessary infrastructure, and commissioning the right train services, ensuring net zero emissions from the railway by 2050.

It adds “Making rail travel easier, simpler and better integrated, including through improving journey connectivity with walking and cycling and other services, will encourage a shift to cleaner travel.”

Of the eight commitments under ‘decarbonising rail’, the two most relevant to community rail are:

  • We will work with industry to modernise fares ticketing and retail to encourage a shift to rail and cleaner and greener transport journeys;
  • We will improve rail journey connectivity with walking, cycling and other modes of transport.

Under the second commitment, the plan talks about:

  • Greater provision of walking and cycling routes to and from stations to support healthier, greener journeys after the pandemic;
  • Secure cycle storage, cycle/e-cycle hire, dedicated car-pooling parking spaces, and electric vehicle rental points and charge points being significantly expanded, including at smaller stations;
  • A further £2 million being spent in 2021/22 to improve cycling access to stations and increase sustainable journeys by installing cycle racks, security systems, ramps, and cycle paths through the Cycle Rail Scheme, building on the £40 million provided since 2012.

This section also talks about ensuring better integration with other local transport services through ‘Local Transport Plans’, which will “transform stations into joined-up mobility hubs within local and regional transport networks.” It states that as rail ticketing and fares systems are updated, opportunities will be considered for facilitating integrated electronic ticketing with buses, adding that more bus routes and demand-responsive services should serve railway stations for easy connections between modes, and bus services should be timed to connect with trains. There is also a commitment to increase the amount of space for bikes on trains wherever practically possible, particularly on popular leisure routes.

In the plan, the government commits to publishing a Local Authority Toolkit in 2021, providing guidance to support local areas to deliver more sustainable transport measures. This will help local authorities build business cases and action plans, develop innovative sustainable transport policies, secure funding, and deliver measures on the ground.

Should you wish to discuss any of the above further, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Community Rail Network team.