The Citizens' Rail Project

Saving underused train lines in rural areas

The challenge

In North-West Europe, high speed rail connections are being continually improved and developed, connecting major urban areas. However, local and regional railways which are important for connecting rural areas, are struggling to survive. A new approach is needed to preserve this industry and effectively tackle local transport needs.

The project in brief

The Citizens’ Rail project responded to this opportunity by developing marketing campaigns to increase the frequency of rural services, financing the renovation of underused stations, and organising social activities around these stations.

The seven partners of the Citizens’ Rail project decided to focus on strengthening these local and regional railways by involving communities in the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Through new and refurbished station buildings, more frequent services, volunteering, social outreach and local marketing campaigns, the project helped more people use and be part of their local train services. The Citizens’ Rail project proved that this approach can be an innovative way to solve local transport needs and add value to the economy at the same time.

The “train des plages” (beach train) was one way to breathe new life into a dying line.

Richard Watt, Rail Development Team Manager with Lancashire County Council

The impact

Citizens' Rail brought together new partnerships with local grassroots organisations, national infrastructure owners, local/regional authorities, policy stakeholders and transport operators.  For example, through the connection to the project partners, Germany community rail is now being seen as a new policy instrument. In fact, by the end of this project, two 4-6 year long contracts were created to continue the community rail that contributed EUR 50.000 per year for staff and investment in community engagement.

In addition to adding jobs and boosting investment in local communities, this project also supported local transport needs and increased revenue in every pilot location.

To illustrate, using the community rail concept, Citizens’ Rail regenerated the line between La Roche-sur-Yon and Saumur in Pays de la Loire, France, rebranding it as ‘The beach train’ in 2013. Before the project’s intervention, the services were infrequent and passenger numbers were low. Citizens’ Rail consulted a large network of stakeholders including the Regional Council, the school transport authority, and local organisations to find out how the line could best serve local residents, visitors, and the area’s economy.

The idea of a beach train was then developed, along with other changes to make the line more attractive. As a result of making these changes, and with the help of a marketing campaign in the local media, the line grew from 5 300 passengers in 2013 to 20 000 in 2015. Along the line, the stations saw a 64% increase in daily passenger use from 2010 to 2015.

The Citizens’ Rail approach was shown to be an innovative, low-cost way to boost the economy, tackle local transport needs and reconnect isolated populations.

Citizens' Rail in France


more passengers in 2015 than in 2013

increase in daily passengers from 2013-2015


passengers in 2015

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