All about community rail

Community rail is all about ensuring communities get the most from their railways. Working alongside local, regional and national partners, community rail partnerships and groups around the country aim to play an important role in social inclusion, community wellbeing and economic development, and promote rail as a key part of sustainable, healthy travel.

There are over 70 community rail partnerships around Britain, working along railway routes to connect communities with the railway, train operator and other partners. They deliver a range of activities to engage and benefit local people and support the development of the railway. You can see where Britain’s community railway lines are, region by region, and their main attractions, on our Scenic Rail Britain site.

More than 1,200 smaller community rail groups, such as station friends or adoption groups, or social enterprises, work locally, often involving volunteers in ensuring the station is a welcoming and productive hub for the community.

Find you nearest community rail partnership and station group on our interactive map.

Community Rail Network provides support and advice to the community rail movement through our membership. We share good practice and connect community rail partnerships and groups together, while working with government, the rail industry, and the wider voluntary and community sector to champion community rail.

Read more about Community Rail Network

The value of community rail

There is evidence of community rail delivering social, economic and environmental impact in a wide range of ways, adding value at a local level and supporting national strategies.

Community rail in numbers

Increasing rail use

Community rail promotes understanding, confidence and positivity around rail and removes barriers to travel, and most community rail partnerships have achieved success in helping to attract passengers.

Using figures compiled by the Office for Rail Regulation, with help from the Rail Delivery Group, passenger numbers on community rail lines rose by 42% between 2008/09 and 2017/18, higher than the overall increase of 35%.

Even with capacity issues emerging on some lines, community rail still has an important role to play in engaging the community in planned improvements.

Growth in rail trips:

Economic value

Community rail is evidenced to deliver significant economic value more than covering the investment put in. Community rail partnerships and station friends are ‘low-cost, high-value’, with partnerships paying for themselves. Volunteer activity is calculated to be worth £33.2m annually.

This could be an under-estimate, though, and it does not factor in wider benefits, such as benefits to volunteers, and better health and air quality through shifting travel away from cars. Community rail has also enabled much important work to be carried out in a cost-effective way.

Local passion, expertise and engagement, the contribution of volunteers, in-kind support, pooling of resources, and outside investment that community rail brings would be more challenging and costly if delivered by the rail industry alone.

Community engagement

The way community rail has connected railways with local people is a great success story. Volunteering is a key element, carrying benefit to the railways, passengers, local people, and volunteers.

A 2019 study identified shows that around 8,500 volunteers give more than 390,000 hours every year to delivering community rail activity, on initiatives including community gardening, station maintenance, events, schools’ engagement, walking and cycling activities, and accessibility programmes.

Another big part of community rail is working with schools, colleges and youth groups, increasing confidence and understanding about the railways, supporting mobility and opportunity, and encouraging sustainable and healthy travel.

Community rail partnerships are increasingly focused on engaging diverse groups, particularly those who face difficulties accessing rail or are socially marginalised. Case studies show the impact of such work on people’s lives.

Regeneration and development

Community rail can be a catalyst for bringing partners together to work towards physical, economic and social regeneration. This includes a growing number of community station projects where redundant or dilapidated stations buildings have been transformed into attractive gateways and hubs for the benefit of the community.

In some cases, such projects appear to help build momentum towards wider regeneration. Community rail also plays a role in social and economic generation in a broader sense, by promoting and aiding sustainable, healthy access to employment, education and leisure opportunities, and bringing partners and local people together to ensure that our railways develop in line with local needs and aspirations.

Professor Paul Salveson

Community rail expert and Community Rail Network founder

“One of the most important contributions of community rail has been to focus attention on lines which received less attention from railway management. By bringing partners together within and outside the industry a positive momentum has developed which has led to dramatic increase in ridership (and revenue) greatly improved stations and a better passenger experience.

Towns and villages have also benefited from the wider promotion by community rail partnerships,
such as relating to tourism but also developing a greater sense of pride.”

Read our Value of Community Rail report

View report

Read case studies on community rail activities and successes

View case studies