Community rail features in pan-rail industry sustainability framework

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has launched the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, a new framework to support the rail industry in Great Britain make efficient progress on environmental and social sustainability challenges.

Community Rail Network fed in to the creation of the framework as a member of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint working group, and one of the Blueprint’s strategic aims is the development of a ‘thriving community rail movement across 100% of routes.’

The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is the rail industry’s consensus view of how rail can deliver even more across environmental and social issues. As the industry adapts to changes in passenger and freight demands and changes in rail usage post pandemic, the Blueprint will help inform debate and decisions on options, affordability, and practicality. 

It details policy milestones and proposed initiatives that strike a balance between ambition, practicality, and financial pressures. The focus is on delivering government objectives on carbon reduction, improving air quality, protecting and conserving biodiversity, resources and improving quality of life across Great Britain. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) identified the need for a cross industry strategy in 2020, and funded development of the Blueprint—co-created with industry stakeholders and delivered by RSSB’s sustainability experts.

It sets out for the first time what the rail industry needs to achieve, how it can be delivered and who needs to contribute on: 

  • Eleven sustainable rail topics, across emissions, natural environment, and social sustainability;
  • Six common solutions identified as the primary enablers of sustainable rail;
  • The role of train operators, infrastructure managers, rolling stock owners, the supply chain, government, and regulators in delivering sustainable rail. 

One of the eleven sustainable rail topics is entitled ‘Rail at the Heart of Communities’, which strives to create a railway that engages and empowers its communities, with the rail industry playing its part in creating sustainable communities and facilitating better outcomes for, and in support of, government aims around Levelling Up.

The Blueprint states this is about the industry being responsive to local needs, aspirations and voices, and involving local communities, local authorities and local transport partners in the design and development of rail buildings, services, and infrastructure to create a sense of place, pride, and self-efficacy.

Community rail is one of the four strategic areas within this topic, with a stated aim to create a thriving community rail movement across 100% of routes, and a movement that can progress the four key pillars of the DfT’s Community Rail Development Strategy; giving communities a voice on rail, promoting sustainable and healthy travel, supporting inclusion and diversity, and contributing to social and economic development.

The Blueprint states: “While community rail is already closely supported, the industry must develop a more consistent, empowering approach. This will enable community rail to deliver greater value, working in partnership with communities and local leaders, drawing on local voices and knowledge, and strengthening modal integration and rail’s place in communities.”

On the Rail at the Heart of Communities Routemap, there are two proposed initiatives for 2025, namely to:

  • Create a funding and support model for community rail, including to draw on its insights and local voices;
  • Better understand the social value delivered by community rail.

This leads onto two ambitions for this strategic area, namely:

  • Ongoing growth and success of community rail is supported, to increase coverage and ability to deliver impact (by 2030);
  • Ongoing growth and success of community rail is supported towards coverage across whole network (by 2035).

Community rail is also referenced directly for the positive role in can play in community engagement and in rail connecting customers, colleagues, and communities to nature.

Work is already ongoing to implement the Blueprint, and RSSB is leading several programmes to embed sustainability across the rail industry. These include a data platform to measure and monitor sustainability performance, a learning hub to develop the industry’s knowledge and capacity, and integration of the Blueprint across the industry’s business processes and contractual mechanisms. RSSB is also facilitating the industry’s sustainable rail working groups, driving collective action across a range of technical topics.

Huw Merriman, Rail Minister said: 

“As we look to achieve our net zero goals, this government-commissioned blueprint will become a vital resource for the rail industry, providing clear guidance on what a sustainable railway for the future should look like.

‘While significant progress has already been made in recent years, this report will further support the industry in reducing its environmental impact, using innovative techniques to make our rail network even greener, and ensuring the environment is at the heart of our decision making.”

Malcolm Brown, CEO of Angel Trains and chair of the Sustainable Rail Executive said: 

“The Sustainable Rail Blueprint is a solid example of what can be achieved through collaborative working across the GB rail industry, with a unified approach to delivering broad benefits for both the environment and society. 

‘The clear roadmaps set out within the Blueprint will help drive this ambitious programme forward and ensure we remain focused on affordability and practicality as we seek to make significant improvements to our operations as a whole.”   

George Davies, RSSB Director of Sustainable Development said: 

“RSSB has led development of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, co-creating it with the rail industry, for the rail industry. It’s a practical resource to shape thinking and guide action across environmental and social issues, whilst recognising the pressures our industry is under currently.

‘The Sustainable Rail Blueprint sets out what needs addressing, how it can be worked on and who needs to get involved.  Reflecting legislation and policy along with what society expects, the Blueprint brings consistency to realise and even more sustainable railway.”

Elaine Seagriff, Programme Director, Strategy at the Great British Railways Transition Team, said:

“The rail industry has the opportunity to drive forward sustainability for Britain, not just by reducing the impact on the environment of moving people and goods but also in encouraging investment in and the development of new technologies. As such, we welcome the publication of the Sustainable Rail Blueprint, which is a key input to the long-term Strategy for Rail.”

You can view the Sustainable Rail Blueprint here.