Students can contribute a huge amount to local and regional railways. With imagination and close partnership working with your local university, you can develop projects that will provide fresh ideas and energetic volunteers. The students themselves will also benefit through:
- new skills and experience for their CV
- an improved perception of students within the community
- Physical exercise and a chance to explore beyond the confines of the city
It’s also important to remember that students are significant rail users too. Listen to their views and help them to develop rail habits that can last a lifetime.
Students as market researchers
Students from RWTH Aachen University uncovered strong public support for a new station at Richterich, with 80% of the residents that they surveyed eager to be involved in planning the new facilities.
10 students consulted 660 local residents through face-to-face interviews and online surveys during July 2013. They asked what level of participation people wanted to have in the new station project, as well as their preferences regarding destinations and the choice between the North and South variants of the plan. They reported their results at an international student masterclass. Read more.
Student as volunteers
The Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership has been running student volunteering opportunities with Plymouth University Students’ Union for more than a decade. The Rural Stations Project allows students to get out of the city and engage in gardening and improvement works at small stations.
The work has a community benefit as it not only raises awareness of local stations and branch lines, but also serves to improve the conditions for the travelling public by tackling issues such as graffiti and anti-social behaviour at stations. Read more.
Re-imagining Penhoët station
Design students have helped to re-design a station in Pays de la Loire that up until now has been viewed by passengers as isolated and at night potentially intimidating.
As part of the Citizens’ Rail project, a competition was held between students from Nantes Design School. Nine designs were created and were showcased at a public exhibition attended by 170 people. The “Tuyau Toi” concept was selected by regional and city elected representatives as the design to take forward. Read more about designing station improvements with students.
Students from Burnley College have “adopted” Burnley Central station (read more about station adoption). The agricultural students maintain planters at the station using plants they have grown at college. Each cohort of students works on the project for one year, and then passes the station on to the year group below them.
In reward for the college’s efforts, signage promoting the institution has been installed underneath the station running in boards. Read more.
Researching the views of students
An innovative community engagement project is underway in Aachen to “hunt out” the views of students about their station. The “Dear Hunter” project features a pair of architects living in containers next to Aachen West station to immerse themselves in the life of the neighbourhood and track down people’s views. Funded through the Interreg IV A Dear Euregio project, their findings will be reported back to Aachen City Council and will help to inform the development of the station and the surrounding university quarter. Read more.
Incentivising students to use the train
Parkstad Limburg (Netherlands)
Encouraging students to commute to university by train has many benefits, from reducing parking problems on campus, to reducing traffic in the wider area, to creating positive public transport habits among young people. Dutch regional authority Parkstad Limburg offers a student ticket for students living in Parkstad Limburg and studying in nearby Aachen across the border in Germany. The ticket provides enrolled students with free bus and train travel between the two regions around the clock, seven days a week, for an entire semester.
The first of these saw geography, tourism, design and civil engineering students from four countries come together in Heerlen (Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany) in 2013 for a two-day workshop to generate ideas for improvements to two local stations. In 2015, a second masterclass was held in Preston (UK), this time focusing on rail marketing. The events provided a raft of new ideas for the sector. Why not consider holding your own local version?
How to make it happen
Students’ Unions are a brilliant resource at universities. Here you will find staff whose job it is to encourage students to volunteer or get involved with local projects and organisations. They can give you a lot of guidance.
Within the Students’ Union you will also find information about societies that the students run. You will find a list of groups which range from Abseiling to Zoological societies and everything in between. Depending on your project, you will be sure to find a group that will be interested.
Be aware of the short academic timetable and the pressure of exams. There is no point approaching students in May about a project in August. They will be in the middle of exams in May and most will have gone home for the summer or left by mid-June.
Students get bombarded with marketing messages every day. To win their attention use snappy language, eye-catching visuals and unusual concepts. For example, check out the Australian Dumb ways to Die rail safety campaign.
Think outside the box in terms of project ideas and disciplines. For example, the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership worked with illustration students to create a children’s book about a time travelling train – read more.
As well as engaging students in your projects, encourage them to become more regular rail users by promoting discounts, for example the UK’s 16-25 Railcard.
If you have your own case studies, resources or ideas to contribute to this (or any other) section of the toolkit, please add a comment to the foot of this article.
Alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 1752 584777 to speak to our lead partner, the Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership.
More from the toolkit
Improve existing stations
– Early consultation
– Designing with students
– Art and gardening projects
– Community-focused buildings
New uses for station buildings
Creating new stations
More trains, better stations
Attracting more users
Involving citizens and stakeholders
People with disabilities