Something was different at King’s Cross on Wednesday. Two huge Saltires were flying from the station roof in the breeze as Atholl Highlander pipers and dancers welcomed travellers. Colourful flash mob dancers promoted the Pitlochry Festival Theatre ‘Summer Holiday’ production, whilst 17 volunteers provided information on how direct train travel to the Scottish Highlands (day or overnight) was just a few steps away. Meanwhile, LNER was launching their brand new Azuma trains that will soon be providing an upgraded service to the highlands.

Sally Spaven, Chair of the Highland Main Line Community Rail Partnership said:

“The atmosphere was just wonderful with a very positive reception from the travelling public with many saying they were now inspired to visit Scotland and the Highlands by train… We also had an excellent and dedicated team who were key to engaging with over six thousand members of public, giving out thousands of goody bags with info packs and making the event such a success. We had great interest in our draw for a three day Luxury Break in the Highlands. Our social media was also buzzing with activity and many visitors sharing selfies with the Atholl Highlanders.”

“It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to bring the Highlands to King’s Cross for the day and we thank them very much. We hope we entertained the commuters and encouraged folk to visit our stunningly beautiful home.”

Roy Brown, Vice Chair said:

“Community Rail in the City is a great opportunity for us to promote our wonderful railway line to thousands of commuters and potential visitors at King’s Cross, a gateway to Scotland and the Highlands. We highlight the fantastic things there are to see and explore, and encourage people to visit by rail rather than car. As well as being a healthier, more relaxing and pleasurable way to travel, visiting the area by rail benefits the local economy, and means less traffic, noise and pollution in our communities and the Cairngorms National Park.”

The event was funded by ScotRail with generous sponsorship from: BAM Nuttall, Blair Castle and the Atholl Highlanders, Caledonian Sleeper, LNER, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Walkers of Aberlour.

The Highland Main Line Community Rail Partnership (HML CRP) joined forces with more than 30 other groups to showcase some of Britain’s most scenic train journeys and promote sustainable tourism by rail.

The group took part in ‘Community Rail in the City’, an increasingly widespread celebration aimed at developing tourism and travel for recreation on Britain’s community rail routes, encouraging thousands of passengers to explore epic landscapes, coastal scenes, and sites of historic interest.

This year’s event involved 36 community rail partnerships and groups – up from 24 groups last year – and their rail and tourism partners hosting activities at 20 mainline railway stations, including in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

Groups spoke to an estimated 75,000 people throughout the day, promoting the tourism opportunities accessible via Britain’s expanding community rail network.

Highlights of the event included a countryside scene celebrating the 70th anniversary of National Parks at Waterloo, an 18-foot replica of the Mayflower on display at London Liverpool Street, and a giant paint-by-numbers mural at Birmingham New Street.

Community rail partnerships work at grassroots level to engage local communities, help people to get the most from their railways, and promote rail as a key part of sustainable, healthy travel.

Community Rail in the City is organised by the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP), the umbrella body for community rail groups across Britain, which supports its members to work with partners to integrate rail travel into their area’s local tourism offer.

As well as helping people access more of Britain through enjoyable, environmentally friendly means, tourism by rail makes a growing and vital contribution to local economies. Rail usage in this sector has increased by 30% over the last decade, with approximately three million annual visitors using the train as part of their trip, adding £510m to the UK economy [2]. Other national organisations have recently highlighted the importance of promoting sustainable travel, with the National Parks Association issuing a report stating the need to help more people access the countryside via public transport.

ACoRP’s chief executive, Jools Townsend, said:

“This year we have more community rail partnerships and groups than ever before taking part in Community Rail in the City, working with rail industry and tourism partners to promote their lines to tens of thousands of people. Tourism by rail is great for families and holiday-makers, and for the places they visit, as it’s more sustainable and healthier than driving, helping to reduce pollution, noise, and congestion, and providing a critical boost to local economies.”

For more information, visit www.highlandmainlinecrp.co.uk/highland-fling/ and www.communityrail.org.uk.