’WE ARE DOING exactly what we said about strategic planning’, insisted Strategic Rail Authority Chairman Richard Bowker on March 3, unveiling the first of a series of Route Utilisation Strategies to be published over the next year. These are intended to get the maximum use out of the UK rail network while minimising investment expenditure.

The first RUS covers the Midland Main Line between London, the East Midlands and Sheffield. It is due to come into force in December 2005, after a period of disruption caused by CTRL works at London St Pancras, and will form the basis for the next MML and Thameslink franchises. The RUS sets out a timetabling strategy for the next decade, but Bowker admitted that ’the detailed mechanics have still to happen’.

On February 26 SRA began consultation on a ’Community Railways’ strategy, designed to ’close the gap between revenue and costs’ on 60 routes in England and Wales where closure is politically too difficult and would not generate any cost savings. These total 2090route-km with 420 stations, and account for around £200m in annual subsidy.

Executive Director, Community Rail Development, Chris Austin highlighted initiatives in Germany, France and the Netherlands, and the successes achieved by 34 Community Rail Partnerships over the past decade. The lines could merit greater local involvement in marketing, management and operation over the past decade, and five have been selected as pilot projects (box right).

One aim is to exempt designated Community Railways from European interoperability standards, and avoid the cost implications of applying over-rigorous main line standards to secondary routes. Other areas for consideration include innovative timetabling, and the use of surplus inter-city rolling stock to handle summer traffic levels up to 20 times greater than winter patronage.