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Government report on rural transport innovation recognises community rail

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a new report looking at the technologies and innovations emerging within the transport sector, and how rural areas might benefit from their introduction.

The report, ‘Future of Transport: Helping local authorities to unlock the benefits of technology & innovation in rural transport’, considers how innovations such as demand responsive services, shared mobility options, self-driving vehicles, drones and more could enhance connectivity across rural communities.

The DfT states that the document is designed to start a conversation about how rural areas can take advantage of innovations in transport, connect communities, and open up new opportunities. It is making up to £3million of R&D funding available for innovation that tackles rural challenges, and is also inviting local leaders to collaborate on rural mobility to share and scale best practice.

Community rail is directly referenced in the report (page 34) in a section on the role of local rail. It highlights how community rail partnerships help bring local communities and rail industry partners together to deliver a range of community engagement activities, promoting access to sustainable transport and increasing community cohesion. This section of the report also references the government’s Restoring Your Railways Fund, with the reopening of lines and stations helping to reconnect smaller communities, regenerate local economies, and improve access to jobs, homes, and education opportunities.

The report also outlines nine principles for the future of rural mobility, including:

  • Affordable and accessible public transport and shared mobility must be fundamental to an efficient rural transport system;
  • Walking, wheeling, cycling and micromobility must be enabled as the best options for short rural journeys;
  • New transport services must be designed to operate as part of an integrated system that combines public and private modes with community-led schemes for transport users;
  • New transport modes and services in rural areas should support a rapid transition to zero emissions and be adapted to climate change.

The report is informed by the Future of Transport Rural Strategy Call for Evidence from 2021, in which the DfT ran a UK-wide public consultation on how emerging technologies and services could improve rural transport.

Community Rail Network fed into that consultation, using insights from across the community rail movement to make recommendations including:

  • Ensuring a community-led, engaging, and empowering approach;
  • Striving ambitiously for an integrated system of public, community, shared and active transport;
  • Countering car dependency by building pride, positivity, and confidence around sustainable transport;
  • Enabling more sustainable leisure and tourism.

You can read the report via the DfT website here.