2022 is a new era for the railway with more focus on sustainability, accessibility and collaboration needed, say leading rail experts

“This is a new era for the rail industry” was the headline message from Transport for the North’s Community Rail User Stakeholder Event this week, which brought together partners from across the sector to explore lessons learned from the pandemic and discuss how the industry can better work together this year.

Reflecting on the challenges that the past two years have brought to the railways, including reduced passenger figures, staff shortages and streamlined timetables, the event explored the way that a shift in living and working patterns has impacted passenger needs and demand, and the ways in which the industry has quickly adapted to this.

Event host David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North, said: “Getting back on the train following the lockdown in 2021, it was striking to see how much of a step change there had been and the difference in overall atmosphere on the railways.

"This included everything from a new station platform at Leeds, removal of pacer trains from the network and a cleaner and calmer environment across the networks.

“Despite the challenges of the past few years, we are emerging with a better, more efficient railway that people can enjoy.

"Alongside investment from the train operating companies and Network Rail, a lot of this is thanks to our partners across the Community Rail Network.”

Another key theme emerging from the event was the pivotal role that rail must play in the transport decarbonisation agenda and sustainable travel.

Peter Cole, Principal environmental and sustainability officer at Transport for the North, said: “Our recently launched Decarbonisation Strategy, the first of its kind for the North, sets out how rail is already one of the least carbon intensive ways to travel and accounts for less than 3% of transport emissions in the North.

“Therefore, the biggest decarbonisation gains will come from encouraging more people to switch from road to rail.

"A key priority for Transport for the North this year is working with partners to turn ambitious words into tangible delivery, and as the Community Rail Network are the eyes and ears on the ground across the North, they are integral to helping achieve these goals.”