The first Community Rail Partnership is generally reckoned to be the Penistone Line Partnership (Huddersfield – Penistone – Barnsley – Sheffield service). Formed in 1993 it sought to build deliberately on a trend already apparent on the Cotswold Line (Oxford – Evesham – Worcester – Hereford), where independent voluntary activities at neighbouring stations had had a beneficial effect on the line as a whole.
Led by Dr Paul Salveson, the Penistone Line Partnership expanded this concept to on-train activities such as live music and Santa Specials on more lightly-used trains; guided walks between stations using the train service; and establishing general environmental
improvements such as community art and station gardens involving the community, often through local schools.
In the years following the establishment of the Penistone Line Partnership other CRPs were formed; early examples included Esk Valley (Middlesbrough – Whitby), Bittern Line (Norwich – Cromer – Sheringham), Hope Valley (intermediate stations served by Manchester – Sheffield stopping trains) and branch lines in Essex (Southminster, Clacton/Walton and Harwich).
In parallel with this development the nationalised British Rail was being privatised through the mechanism of franchising. A number of local railway managers in both the national and heritage (preserved) sectors saw this as an opportunity to establish microfranchises (small units operating one or two closely linked services) and had established a small membership organisation, ‘Community Railways’. When the government rejected the concept of microfranchising many of its proponents turned their attention to marketing franchises, which had much in common with the developing CRPs.
The Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership, formed in 1991, is probably the oldest rail partnership in Britain but it was established primarily as a marketing franchise rather than a CRP. Based within Plymouth University, it sought to promote the value of branch line railways in supporting the largely tourist-based economies of the towns they served. A similar later example based in Bristol University sought to achieve the same recognition for the Bristol – Weymouth line.
In 1998 ‘Community Railways’ decided to embrace the three separate strands – ex-microfranchisees, marketing partnerships and community rail partnerships - and re-named the organisation Community Rail Partnerships, which was the forerunner of the nationally-recognised and funded Association of Community Rail Partnerships, established in 2000.
Station friends/Station Adoption
Many smaller stations have been supported by local voluntary groups for many years.
The first groups were in diverse locations such as Penmere in Cornwall, Dolau in Wales and Handforth in Cheshire.
The concept has been formalised by many train operating companies which operate Station Adoption schemes.
Station "friends" groups care for their local station in various ways such as planting flower beds and litter clearance. Many of them actively promote the train service by printing and distributing timetable leaflets, maintaining community noticeboards at their station, and operating websites.