The 10th Community Rail Awards at Scarborough attracted railway volunteers, staff and supporters and representatives of the emergency services from far and near. The high-spirited event marked a further coming of age for ACoRP which is now involved in franchise provision across the network.
Transport Minister Baroness Kramer, hot foot from Hexham, mingled with the crowd before launching proceedings with news of the Newcastle – Carlisle Tyne Valley Line. This has now been designated a community rail service, opening up the line to greater social and local involvement. The scheme builds on the rapid success of the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership.
Kramer spoke movingly of the work done at Hexham station kiosk where young people with learning difficulties serve refreshments to the wider public.
‘It’s changed the lives of these students. They take money, serve the community and it’s the local CRP that has given them that. It’s changed passengers perceptions too. It’s incredibly inspiring,’ she said.
Kramer, a Liberal Democrat, worked for many years in the take-no-prisoners world of American high finance, based in Illinois. She is right behind the community rail movement. ‘ I want it [community rail] not just to survive but thrive. I’d like to see community rail recognised in all future franchises,’ she said.
It’s a theme echoed by Neil Buxton, ACoRP’s genial general manager.
Of itself the railway is a social and environmental force for good. Making it more socially responsible and better attuned to the people it serves is where community rail steps in. Neil affirmed that ACoRP is closely involved with the Department for Transport (DfT) – representatives of which nodded sagely throughout – in determining what franchisees should be doing to help the people in their sphere of operations.
Dr Paul Salveson, founding father of the community rail movement, praised what he described as Baroness Kramer’s obvious enthusiasm. Paul acknowledged the new spirit abroad at DfT. ‘If we are going to stick with franchising, let’s get as much out of it as we possibly can,’ he said. Salveson also called for a widening of horizons. ‘We need to stop thinking just ‘railway’ and look beyond the railway fence – other forms of transport – but also how rail and complementary transport can be at the core of sustainable communities. It isn’t about having loads of money, it’s about how we do things better, differently.’
Salveson also acknowledged the role of the new industry and the need to think commercially. Paul revealed that he himself was no stranger to such disciplines and, with his usual irreverence, added that his speech itself was in fact sponsored by the Tripe Marketing Board.
The awards themselves saw an inspiring progression of men and women who between them had run special trains, decked out stations, harnessed the energies of schools and students and launched new plans and strategies to bring railways back to the towns and villages they serve.
The Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership won the outstanding teamwork award alongside First Great Western, Network Rail and Dawlish Town Council for The Rebuilding of Dawlish Station. Still in the west the ‘Love Looe’ campaign, backed by Rail Media, won best marketing campaign. Gill Bridges, who runs the Polraen Hotel near Sandplace station, had grown increasingly concerned about the effect the negative press coverage of the flooding of winter 2012/2013 was going to have on Looe. Major roads were closed and repairs took a long time.
The Love Looe campaign was set up involving the CRP, local tourist offices and railway people and a plan put together. So successful was the campaign that the line saw passenger figures soar to their highest level that June and July. Says Gill, ‘I am delighted with this award, absolutely over the moon.
‘The need to fight negative press reports about Looe being closed was essential. I’d like to thank everyone who helped with the PR campaign. It was a collective effort by many businesses in and around Looe. Visit Cornwall and the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership were wonderful with the unstinting help and support they gave us. The campaign was a real team effort.’
The overall winner of the awards was the Scottish railway network, already much in evidence in the prize giving. These included the staff and supporters of ScotRail, numerous station adopters, new CRPs and Transport Scotland. The accolade marked a personal achievement for John Yellowlees of ScotRail who is generally acknowledged to have done a great deal with his quiet diplomacy, encyclopaedic knowledge of railways and enviable connections to advance the values and benefits of community rail.
Yellowlees led a huge clan gathering up on stage as the crowd applauded to the sound of Scotland the Brave and the Proclaimers. The pipes and drums, and obvious delight on stage, brought a lump to the throat of many a rail official in the audience. Could the UK really have managed without such friends? The answer from Scarborough is a heartfelt no, not very well at all.
John Yellowlees sported a yellow and black tartan tie. ’Is that the Yellowlees clan tartan?’ One journalist asked – referring to the wasp-belly livery. ‘Uh, no, it is in fact the Cornish tartan – part of my family come from Cornwall,’ said Edinburgh-born John, once again exhibiting the quiet diplomacy that has become the hallmark of the community rail movement.
As this was the 10th anniversary of the Community Rail Awards, a huge celebratory cake had been baked. However, as the staff were slicing it up the fire alarm went off. Standing outside overlooking the North Sea on a balmy evening, delegates were able to applaud once more as two tenders from the Yorkshire Fire Brigade bowled along the sea front within seconds.
A thorough check was conducted. ‘How many candles did you light on that cake?’ A fire captain asked. Officials moved quickly to deny there were candles before realising this was another phlegmatic example of Yorkshire humour.
As Neil Buxton said, community rail is in a good place and Scarborough was an even better place to affirm that success. Community rail is a movement that has emerged as a major element in the extraordinary phenomenon of the new rail industry. From Hexham barista to London baroness it now enjoys a bigger, bolder, level of support than at any time in the past.
Photos courtesy of Paul Bigland.