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Covid-19: Rail station investment could boost local recovery

Words: Laura Edgar
Brighouse, West Yorkshire / Shutterstock_1406672426

Local economies and communities could get a much-needed boost from the investment in rail stations as part of the recovery from Covid-19, according to a report by the Urban Transport Group. 

Action Stations: How Devolution is Transforming Rail Stations for the Better finds that the greater the involvement of local or devolved authorities in station transformation, the better the local station. 

“Local authorities and the Scottish and Welsh governments have been instrumental in opening, reopening or upgrading stations, and sometimes reopening whole lines. These projects have opened up access to opportunity for more people in more places – including to jobs, training, education, healthcare and leisure.”

They have also repaired some of the “damage done during the excesses of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s”. 

The report explains that devolved authorities are aware of the “proven economic benefits of putting communities back on track” and the “less tangible boost it can give to civic pride in communities that all too often can feel left out and left behind”.

More than 35 completed station projects were considered as part of the research for the report from across the UK, including Forres, Moray; Pye Corner, Newport; and Brighouse, West Yorkshire.

Such projects demonstrate that taking an active role, local and devolved authorities have helped to meet local housing need and begin regeneration of the area by turning rundown stations into gateways and somewhere to be proud of. The accessibility to and the environmental performance of the buildings was also improved. 

The report says plans by new devolved authority to promote stations such as Darlaston and Willenhall in the West Midlands, and White Rose and Thorpe Park in West Yorkshire “will be vital as many communities and local economies seek to bounce back after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Co-author of the report, Stephen Joseph, transport policy consultant and adviser to the Rail Devolution Network, said: “Stations are more than simply the places where trains stop, they also help to define those places – acting as attractive gateways which celebrate and reflect history, becoming a focus for commercial and community activities, and even spurring housing developments and wider regeneration.

“The need to deliver these types of benefits is more urgent than ever in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. As the custodians of place, local, regional and devolved administrations recognise what stations can do for local communities and economies both now and in the future. Their active role in station projects – whether renovating older stations or building news ones – and the benefits this brings, further strengthens the case for greater devolution of our railways.”

To maximise the benefits from the involvement of local and devolved authorities and administrations in stations, the report suggests:

  • Ensuring plans for stations are more systematically integrated with wider plans for meeting housing need, supporting economic development and plans for rapid decarbonisation.
  • Looking at the network of local stations as a whole when assessing opportunities for development and improvements (which can also learn from the experience of previous projects).
  • Ensuring that stations have the same branding and look and feel as the rest of the local public transport network so there is a single integrated network with one fare system under a common brand.
  • Setting more demanding (and enforceable) minimum standards for stations on the provision of facilities, cleanliness, accessibility, personal security and information.
  • Ensuring that investment in station reopenings is fully integrated with wider strategic transport capital investment plans in terms of prioritisation, allocation of funding and interplay with other capital investment programmes (such as park-and-ride systems).

Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Transport North East and lead board member on rail for the Urban Transport Group, said: “Devolved authorities and administrations need significant influence over their local stations, ranging from full or partial ownership of stations through to having a strong and binding relationship with the owners and operators of stations.

“As we move from short-term emergency arrangements for the funding and oversight of rail networks to something more robust and long term, there is a great opportunity to build on the proven success of rail devolution in delivering better rail services and stations. As this report shows, stations can be wonderful assets for local communities and that this is best achieved by making sure that more decisions on those stations are taken in the places those stations serve.”

Action Stations: How Devolution is Transforming Rail Stations for the Better can be found here on the Urban Transport Network website.

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