Answers to questions about Community Rail 

You can find more information about the government’s Community Rail strategy, the benefits of a railway line being a Community Rail route, and how to set up a Community Rail route on the other pages in the Community Rail section.

Any line can be designated as a Community Rail route if it meets the criteria set out in the strategy. But any line can have a Community Rail Partnership if local people believe it can add value.

They’re typically local or rural routes, single or double track with normally one operator, or a single passenger operator plus freight.

They are generally subsidised either by central government or by local stakeholders.

They normally serve the areas covered by just one or two local authorities with transport planning responsibilities.

Designated Community Rail lines don’t include:

  • lines that form part of the Trans European Network (TENs routes); or (except as shown) that are designated as part of the Trans European Rail Freight Network (TERFN)
  • multiple track lines (more than two tracks)
  • lines with a speed limit in excess of 75 mph
  • intensively used lines forming part of commuting networks around major cities.

While there are many lines on the network which won’t become designated Community Rail routes, there is still a chance for the community to get involved in running stations along the route through station adoption schemes managed by the train operating companies.

These are organisations whose members may include local authorities, community groups, rail user groups, train operating companies and Network Rail. They are usually a community interest company or not-for-dividend partnership.

Some include other bodies such as national park authorities, town or parish councils and businesses.

They are established by mutual agreement and are typically staffed by a paid officer supported by a committee of stakeholders. They are funded by the partners who will then typically seek additional funding to support their activities.

Partnerships may also exist on lines not designated as Community Rail lines. We work with these partnerships but there may be fewer opportunities for innovation on these lines.

Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP)

These companies provide various trading services and local management on the railway. Two examples are:

  • Settle & Carlisle line
  • Esk Valley line.

Railway development companies may also exist on lines not designated as Community Rail routes. We work with these organisations but there may be fewer opportunities for innovation on these lines.

Both can provide an effective local management presence for the railway within the community.

They support the railway with a wide variety of services such as marketing, research, ticket selling, catering and retailing at stations or on trains, and property restoration and management. They can also provide ancillary services such as running community bus services.

They may employ staff, lease or own property and undertake trading activities in a way which might not be possible for voluntary groups or local government officers.

For tasks that are vital to safety, either we or the train operator remain responsible.

The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership and the Bittern & Wherry Partnerships in Norfolk were among the first in Britain, in the early 1990s. The idea grew and in 2000 led to the formation of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) which promotes Community Rail involvement nationwide.

The AcoRP strategy, as well as the practical experience of other partnerships in the UK, was used by the Strategic Rail Authority to develop the strategy for Community Rail routes.

In its planning, it looked at a number of lines and services that are important to the communities they serve, and with considerable potential for development. It found that branch lines were running safely and reliably – but expensively, with too many empty seats on services.

Even if they were filled, it suggested, the lines would still require substantial levels of subsidy. The strategy identified ways to both grow income and reduce costs so that the subsidy levels could be reduced by a third, and the subsidy per passenger could be halved.

Community Rail routes play a key role in many parts of the strategy. From targets on CO2 emissions in government strategies through to local authorities’ transport plans, the rail industry is involved in planning all the way through the system.

Local transport plans, for example, need to include Community Rail schemes to help them meet their objectives.

So if a Community Rail route impacts on the local area, whether through improving transport links or reducing congestion, it should be included in relevant local strategies.

It depends on the station and what work is planned. The train operating company (TOC) will be able to give guidance, but if the area is not part of the station they lease from us then you’ll need to ask our permission too.

We have a community licence agreement that gives community groups safe and controlled access to specific areas to carry out environmental improvements. Find out more about our community schemes.

For large-scale station projects and more substantial works, such as building work, both us and the TOC must be involved. Normally, the TOC will agree to a scope of work with the community group for which they will then seek ‘landlord consent’ from us.

Where work has the potential to impact on the operational railway, we may directly manage all or part of the project. At the very least, asset protection will be required to manage the interface with the operational railway and check that appropriate arrangements are in place to manage the safety of the railway and anyone working on or near it.

For all schemes, the initial point of contact is the TOC. You can find out whether your scheme falls in their area or whether you need to speak to us. For schemes within the railway’s boundary, the Community Rail team is a good place to start.

There are no changes to existing arrangements, where processes are already in place such as with the Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) in metropolitan areas.

We work with Community Rail Partnerships across Britain to reduce the number of empty properties. Together we identify suitable properties and community-use tenants, and make it as easy as possible for these buildings to become productive again.

In the first instance, contact the train operating company responsible for the station. If the property is outside their lease area they will pass you on to our estates teams.

If you feel you have not got the response you hoped for please contact us.

If the enquiry is commercial, you’ll need to follow the advice on our Property section.

Funding for community railways is the same as elsewhere on the network. We are paid by the train operating company for ‘access’ to the network. This is defined in a contractual agreement for the number, timing and type of train the operator wants to run.

The operator receives income through the fares that passengers pay and from support grants made either by central government or sometimes by local authorities and Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) that wish to support particular loss-making services.

We also receive some direct government support for particular projects.

Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs) and other groups are funded by a number of different routes. The Department for Transport (DfT) provides some project grant funding and some funding to the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP).

A partnership between DfT, Network Rail and ACoRP provides grants for designated community railways. ACoRP has a small grants scheme.

County and district councils as well as PTEs and TOCs in their areas all contribute to CRPs, railway development companies and Station Friends groups around the country.

Train operators and others in the rail industry make cash contributions or contributions in kind. Some groups also seek public subscription or act as sub-contractors to the industry to support their activities.