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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 12:50 GMT
Bigger role for rural rail users
Train
Rural train services could be run by local groups
Local people may be given a say in running some rural rail services, the Strategic Rail Authority has suggested.

A raft of measures in a consultation document is aimed at saving little-known branch lines from closure.

The SRA says rebranding 60 lines as "community railways" promoted by local people could increase passenger numbers and cut running costs.

Community groups could revamp abandoned station buildings as shops and improve the integration of trains and buses.

They would work with tourist groups to market the railways and have an input in making timetables more flexible.

But train operators would continue to be in charge and maintain safety standards.

FIVE PILOT SCHEMES
Island Line (Isle of Wight)
Esk Valley Railway (Middlesbrough - Whitby)
Watford Junction - St Albans Abbey (Hertfordshire)
St Erth - St Ives (Cornwall)
Liskeard - Looe (Cornwall)
Six months ago there was a fear that branch lines may be run down and the trains replaced with buses.

The SRA has identified 60 routes which it says could become community railways handed over to local people and companies.

But first it recommends setting up five pilot schemes from St Ives in Cornwall to Whitby in North Yorkshire.

The ideas include transforming stations into shops or tourist centres and setting up community bus services and car clubs to get more passengers to and from the trains.

Tea parties

Some of these initiatives have already been tested out with great success.

One branch line in Norfolk has seen passengers numbers grow by 140% in just seven years, after volunteers took ownership of stations in an effort to revamp them.

A Women's Institute group holds tea parties on the platform at West Runton to raise money for improvements.

The key to successful local railways is innovative thinking and community involvement in shaping a railway
Stewart Francis
Rail Passengers Council

SRA chairman Richard Bowker told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "It is not cost-cutting at all, though making sure that costs are under control is part of this.

"This is about ending the doubt about these lines, and ensuring that they have a new life in the communities they serve."

Rail Passengers Council chairman Stewart Francis said: "This consultation provides a valuable opportunity to think radically about community rail and how it can best deliver for passengers in the future.

"The key to successful local railways is innovative thinking and community involvement in shaping a railway that meets local needs."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Hall
"The Strategic Rail Authority wants to see more local partnerships"



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