New rail minister Andrew Jones has challenged train operators to step up their support for community rail projects across the UK as he launches the 2018 Community Rail Strategy.
Last week Jones returned as the transport minister responsible for rail after the departure of ‘remainer’ Jo Johnson, who resigned over the proposed Brexit deal.
Jones was previously parliamentary under secretary at the DFT between May 2015 and June 2017.
Train operators should support community rail organisations to flourish as inclusive, independent and sustainable groups, said Jones. This would enable them to deliver the Community Rail Strategy’s key pillars:
• Providing a voice for the community
• Promoting sustainable, healthy and accessible travel
• Bringing communities together and supporting diversity and inclusion
• Supporting social and economic development.
On a visit to the Cumbrian Coast Lines ‘rail, journey to recovery’, the minister saw how former alcohol and drug addicts are gaining skills through job placements and training which involves the station, supporting them in getting back into work.
Meeting with volunteers and members of the scheme, Jones urged train companies to commit more time, materials and resources to shaping the future of the grassroots strategy, ensuring local people and their priorities are put first.
He said: “Community rail projects are vital because they get everybody involved, from right across the community and give local people a say in how their rail network can serve their needs. This is why it is so important the train operators commit to supporting them.
“Since the first strategy was launched 14 years ago, we have seen hundreds of successful projects spring up across the country, giving so many people a local lifeline to events, activities and initiatives that they would otherwise have no access to.
“That is why it is so important for train operators to increase their support, opening up space and ensuring their stations become vital hubs in our communities.”
‘Rail journey to recovery’ is just one of the projects run by the 60 Community Rail Partnerships (CRPs) across the country. The CRPs have been set up by local groups, charities and councils working with train operators to help people get the most from their railways, promote social inclusion, support sustainable travel and bring stations to life.
Chief executive of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, Jools Townsend, said: “Hundreds of community rail partnerships and station groups across Britain are working to help local people to get the most from their railways, and support industry partners to put communities at the forefront.
“We welcome this strategy, which recognises the importance of community rail to mobility, inclusion, wellbeing and development, and provides a clear framework for partnership work between communities and industry, government and third sector partners. We hope it will inspire more people to get involved.”
Among the new measures in the 2018 Strategy are:
• A new accreditation scheme for CRPs, to act as a trusted mark of quality and reflect the community-facing role they play
• A commitment to play a pivotal role in the government’s new loneliness launched in October, by helping community groups make use of unused or under-used railway property to create a local hub and facilities for people, especially in isolated areas the creation of a transport network that boosts people’s social connections and provides opportunities for new education, employment and life skills opportunities.
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