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Grassroots movement playing key role in improving accessibility and breaking down barriers to rail travel

Community rail is playing a leading role in enabling accessible and inclusive journeys, opening up rail travel and stations to those with a wide range of physical and non-visible disabilities and other support needs, a new report shows.

Projects are increasing travel confidence and supporting rail journeys, and in some cases repeated rail use, for people living with dementia, autism, and mental health conditions, promoting independence and broadening social mobility with sometimes life-changing effects.

Community rail partnerships (CRPs) and groups, which make up the growing grassroots community rail movement, are also helping to make stations physically accessible to those with a disability or impairment, working to create more inclusive and welcoming station environments, and coordinating inclusive volunteering.

‘Community rail and inclusive, accessible travel’, produced by Community Rail Network with support from Rail Delivery Group (RDG), highlights that community rail’s local knowledge and relationships with other community groups is vital in making initiatives promoting accessibility and inclusion a success.

It finds that impact is enhanced if those with lived experience are empowered to genuinely shape and influence projects, where creative approaches are used to bring people together and give them a voice, and when groups take an inclusive pan-disability approach.

The report encourages the rail industry, including policy makers and strategic planners, to appreciate and understand the accessibility and inclusion work going on within community rail, and to be responsive to the vital insights these projects offer.

Examples in the report include:

  • Hampshire CRP and Winchester Go LD’s ‘Travel with Confidence’ project, in which adults with learning disabilities deliver travel training and mentoring to groups of their peers;
  • Community Rail Lancashire’s pioneering work opening up rail travel to people with autism, using virtual reality, interactive videos, guided adventures, and station audits;
  • The work of the Leeds-Morecambe CRP and Friends of Buxton Station in creating dementia-friendly rail journeys and station environments;
  • Essex and South Suffolk CRP’s initiatives offering supported, inclusive, sociable rail journeys for refugees and asylum seekers;
  • Tyne Valley CRP’s ‘Lyric and Line project, which uses songwriting and music to identify and explore barriers to rail travel for groups with additional support needs.

The community rail movement, which is made up of 76 CRPs and 1,200 station groups, aims to improve travel confidence, promote sustainable and healthy travel, increase access to opportunity, tackle social isolation, and put railways and stations at the heart of community life. The projects showcased in the report complement the aims of the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy in providing equitable access to rail, and the system-wide approach being taken by Great British Railways, which is due to publish a new National Railway Accessibility Strategy before the end of 2023.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Our railways, and public transport as a whole, need to become more inclusive, accessible, and responsive to local needs if we are to achieve a greener, healthier, fairer transport future – partnership working within local communities is vital to this. Our growing evidence base, including this report, shows the myriad of ways that community rail provides a vehicle for this, empowering communities and benefiting people’s lives though grassroots projects, supported by the rail industry.

“Putting accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of rail industry thinking, and supporting this through the local engagement typified by community rail, will ensure our railways play a growing, enabling role at the heart of our communities into the future, enabling more people to travel sustainably by train and access the opportunities they want.”

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive officer of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We believe that rail should be accessible and inclusive. The railway provides a vital service, and this latest report shows that working with community rail is invaluable when implementing new initiatives on accessibility and inclusion successfully. It includes examples of what can be achieved by working collaboratively with community networks.

“We remain committed to ensuring that all our customers have equal opportunities to travel comfortably and independently.”

The report can be accessed via the Community Rail Network website here.