Environmentally speaking, rail is the optimum way to travel to parks such as Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Dales or areas of outstanding natural beauty like the Quantock Hills or the North Norfolk Coast.
Many small towns which are popular tourist hot spots such as Whitby or Swanage become overrun with traffic at high season.
Both heritage railways and national rail operators have a mutual interest in offering leisure trips by rail, especially as regular travel patterns have been altered due to the pandemic with this year seeing a trend in staycations.
Heritage railways have a totally different commercial need to that of national rail operators with both having different approaches and methods to managing and maintaining railways.
The study shows that despite the differing business models, a common interest has formed with the growth in the leisure travel market on rail.
The study shows that running heritage rolling stock on the national network does incur expensive modification, however, modern rolling stock working on heritage railway is a much more straightforward process.
Thirty-two heritage railways are currently connected to the national rail network or have an interchange, with two heritage lines running regular scheduled through services to and from the national network. It was also found that another two heritage lines are planning to connect to the national network with the intention of running regular scheduled services to the mainline. An example of this is Dartmoor Railway, which has been returned back into the national network and will feature regular trains running from Okehampton to Exeter during 2021, this project is part of the Governments ‘Restoring your Railway’ initiative.
The All Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail study gives recommendations to actively encourage ‘public tourist transport’ using the incredible network that heritage railways provide. They also suggest that information should be provided via National Rail Enquiries of national network connected heritage railways services and raise the idea of protecting the route of earlier railways where heritage railway extensions may be of use and therefore needed in the future.
The Group also suggests that reflection on the role of heritage railways for new passenger service contracts with national train operators who could provide a link with national ticketing and information systems in a supportive role. It is also suggested that The Department for Transport should drive policy matters regarding heritage railways.
For this study, they have used information and evidence from the Minister for Railways, the Chairman of Network Rail, the Chief Inspector for Railways at the Office of Rail and Road, the Managing Director of Great Western Railway, the CEO of the Heritage Railways Association and also from five heritage railways with main line links.
This study is the group’s fourth report having reported on the economic value of heritage railways in 2013, on young people working on heritage railways in 2018 and on the future supplies of coal in 2019.
Chair of the Group, Rt Hon Liz Saville Roberts MP said:“Heritage railways are a key part of the tourism sector but offer so much more in terms of local employment, skills training and well-being benefits to both the volunteers who work on them and the visitors who enjoy them to access the countryside. Our study shows that there are clear opportunities to co-operate more closely with the national rail network in developing a new era of growth in leisure travel by rail.
“The rich heritage of Britain’s railways is something to celebrate, but their potential to provide car-free access to sensitive rural and coastal areas is their extra contribution to wellbeing and to local economies. This in turn also brings environmental benefits and should be encouraged.”
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