The United Kingdom’s Strategic Rail Authority proposed a restructuring of 10% of regional and rural passenger rail services in England and Wales as part of its Community Rail Development Strategy unveiled in November 2004.
The restructuring plan reflects a growing effort across Europe to combine cost reduction with better seat occupancy rates along socially supported rural corridors.
The strategy identifies 56 sections totaling 1,154 miles of the 11,000-mile U.K. network. At present, freight carriers operate on less than 50% of these. The chosen sections vary from branch lines, which are stand-alone except for a sole connection point to the network, to parts of long inter-regional and cross-country service routes. More than 300 stations are included. Frequencies of the affected passenger routes range from hourly to only a handful of services a day.
Seven routes were selected for piloting the changes over the next 12 months, which will include the introduction of new maintenance regimes to manage infrastructure as well as enhanced marketing and local involvement. Communities along the corridors and user groups have campaigned for changes, recognizing that the rail lines will only survive if per-passenger subsidies are reduced.
The adoption of the rail restructuring strategy was influenced by voluntary community rail partnerships, which were formed during the last decade. The Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACRP), formed five years ago, has worked with operators and spearheaded station adoption schemes, profile-raising activities and local promotions.
Some of these promotions have been successful. In West Lancashire, the ACRP amassed more than $1.9 million in public grants for station refurbishments. In addition, partners drawn from towns and villages along the Bittern Line in East Anglia were responsible for a ridership increase of 162% within six years. Better integration with bus services was a key factor for the increase.
The strategy “is a landmark document and the culmination of 10 years hard effort,” said Paul Salveson, general secretary of the ACRP. “Now we’ve got to make it work.”
Under the plan, all community rail route services are charged with doubling fare income in the next five years. “The intention is to keep [the plan] practical to start with,” said David Hibbs, assistant director of the Strategic Rail Authority. “A lot has to be done in the next two or three years working with regions and local governments to get more people on seats and costs down.”