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Preserved lines as public transport

Can heritage railways provide a public transport service? The answer is not straightforward. The business model for a preserved line is different from the national network. Preserved railways are mostly staffed by volunteers, who are unlikely to want to turn out every morning at 5.00am to run a commuter service. On the national network passengers want to get from A to B as quickly as possible, whereas trains on preserved lines typically run slowly to give the longest possible visitor experience. That visitor experience also includes the ambience of a historic carriage, which may not survive intensive use and is not what a commuter expects. Ticket prices per mile are significantly higher on a preserved railway than the national network. Finally, preserved lines were usually closed by British Railways because they did not serve places with large enough populations to generate sufficient traffic.

However these difficulties are not insurmountable. Rail travel is increasing, and new development may mean that more traffic is now available than when the railway was closed. Different market offers can be constructed for travellers and visitors: a service run by the local TOC using modern stock with faster timings and charging normal fares, perhaps subsidised by the local authority, could run during commuter peak periods, and the heritage service run the rest of the day; discounted fares or season tickets can be offered to local residents; or the heritage service could be tailored to attract the off-peak leisure traveller as well as the heritage visitor.

The following preserved lines offer, or have the potential to offer, a public transport service:
  • The Welsh Highland Railway offers a service to leisure travellers, reducing the demand for car parking in Snowdonia
  • The Swanage Railway offers 'Park and Ride' to Corfe Castle and Swanage. On 28th May 2014 the DfT made the Swanage Railway Order transferring 4.7km of the branch line between Worgret Junction and Norden from Network Rail to the Swanage Railway, and on 8th September Swanage Railway signed a 99-year lease from Dorset County Council - this new mainline connection will enable connecting services from the national network to Swanage for the leisure traveller.
  • The Weardale Railway has operated coal trains on to the national network, and is seeking aggregates traffic
  • The Wensleydale Railway aims to provide public transport and freight services in Wensleydale as well as being a visitor attraction.
  • The Spa Valley Railway has the potential for services to be run between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton via the connection at Eridge when the Railfuture campaign to reopen Uckfield - Lewes succeeds
  • A commuter service on the Mid Hants Railway from Medstead to Alton was proposed by the GO-OP cooperative. The initial trial was unsuccessful, but the potential of the cross-platform interchange at Alton remains
  • Moorland & City Railways plan to extend the Churnet Valley Railway to reconnect Leek to the national network, and to develop the Cauldon Lowe branch to provide access to Alton Towers for passengers, and access to local quarries for freight traffic
  • The North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs through services between Grosmont and Whitby.
  • Commuter services on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, with direct mainline interchange at Keighley, have been considered but the financial support that would be required from the local authority is not affordable at present.
  • The ATOC Connecting Communities report proposed a service on the Dartmouth Steam Railway between Paignton and Churston to serve Brixham
  • The ATOC report also proposed a commuter service from Rawtenstall on the East Lancashire Railway
  • Train times are now available on the National Rail website for the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway with direct mainline interchange at Duffield. Wirksworth is code WIR and Idridgehay is code XID. The next step is to get fares uploaded so that through tickets can be purchased online.
  • The South Tynedale Railway plan to offer a solar-powered commuter service from Alston in Northumberland, connecting to the mail line at Haltwhistle
  • Cornwall County Council is investigating the reinstatement of four miles of single track alongside the Camel Trail between Wadebridge and Boscarne Junction, to enable a half-hourly diesel service between Wadebridge and Bodmin Parkway (where there is direct mainline interchange) in conjunction with the Bodmin & Wenford Railway.
Many preserved lines have a mainline connection allowing through charter services to be operated, which may also offer the potential for a public transport service if sufficient traffic can be generated:
The following websites give more information on preserved railways:

Railwatch