New report out today: 600 community rail volunteers and seven local partnerships poised to play a key role in South West’s recovery

Community Rail in the South West report cover

Members of a growing grassroots rail movement – including in Devon and Cornwall – have continued to strive for communities across the South West and work towards a greener transport future, despite the pandemic, and are looking forward to supporting local recovery.

Figures from Community Rail Network’s Community Rail in the South West report, sponsored by Rail Delivery Group and released today, show that across the region, more than 600 volunteers give over 27,000 hours annually to support social inclusion and wellbeing, sustainable and healthy travel, economic development and tourism.

The South West’s seven community rail partnerships and 70 station friends groups engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities, and other partners. Activities include: volunteering, community gardening and biodiversity projects at stations; community arts and heritage projects; work with rail industry partners towards improvements and integration, such as shelters, signage, pedestrian and cyclist access; and events, workshops and activities to promote sustainable travel, bring people together, and celebrate the local community.

Community rail is now looking forward to playing a pivotal role in building back better from Covid, and helping our railways to be a vital component of a greener, more inclusive way forward as part of a ‘green recovery’.

Locally, current projects by the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership include:

Bere Alston signal box
Work has begun to restore Bere Alston signalbox on the Tamar Valley Line (Plymouth – Gunnislake). It will be used as a base and potting shed for the scouts to help their work looking after the station planters. The project is being assisted by grants from the Railway Heritage Fund and the Community Rail Development Fund.

St Ives Bay Line art competition
More than 75 local artists – from hobbyists to professionals – submitted designs in our competition to design new ‘Direction of Travel’ signs to brighten stations on the line. See the shortlist and winners. The signs will be installed later this year.

Looe Valley Line heritage centre
We are busy working behind the scenes on a new railway heritage centre at Platform 3 of Liskeard station. It will open this year, the 120th anniversary of the arrival of the Looe Valley Line in Liskeard.

Reopening the Dartmoor Line
Working with Network Rail and GWR, we designed and developed the official Dartmoor Line website to help people keep up to date on the latest progress towards the historic reopening of the Exeter – Okehampton line by the end of 2021. We are also advising on heritage aspects of the station, including signage, and continue to support and participate in the OkeRail Forum.

Commenting on the importance of the community rail movement in the South West, Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said: “Community rail works to make our railways community-minded and inclusive, and promotes sustainable travel by rail, bringing people together and bolstering local pride and wellbeing. Across the South West, community rail partnerships and groups have adapted and responded, supporting communities through the pandemic, maintaining positivity, and advising rail partners on shifting local needs.

“As we start to rebuild from Covid, within the community rail movement, and across our railways, we will be redoubling efforts, to create confidence and togetherness, and help more people to get around by socially and environmentally responsible means. Community rail is all about communities and connectedness, and people working together locally to make things better for each other and our shared future – that couldn’t be more important right now.”

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “The railway is at the heart of local communities and the fantastic initiatives by community rail volunteers in the South West play to its strengths, connecting people up and down the country. As we recover from the pandemic, getting more people back on trains will be vital to boost local economies and the environment, so the support of community rail will be more important than ever.”

Richard Burningham, Manager of the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership and Chair of the Community Rail Network said: “We can’t wait to be able to start promoting the wonderful Great Scenic Railways of Devon and Cornwall and the lovely places they serve again. Over the last year, we’ve worked up further initiatives to help boost the local economy, such as a book shop trail and a “Vinyl Trail” encouraging first online purchases and then visits when possible. We’ve also been improving our website, with new content and making it even more mobile phone friendly.

“In December 2019, local train services were improved across much of Devon and Cornwall. The first lockdown came before promoting them had started in earnest. Very soon, if all goes to the roadmap plan, we and GWR will be able to start doing so and encouraging local people and visitors to explore our lovely part of the country by train.”

For more information on community rail and to find out about partnerships and groups across the region, visit