Local stories have been given a voice by community rail groups on the North Downs Line to inspire more people to travel sustainably by train

Community rail partnerships and volunteers from across the south west, together with Community Rail Network and start-up tech company Window Seater, have launched a series of immersive audio travel guides to inspire people to travel by train.

Community-based partnerships and station volunteer groups working across the GWR network to engage local communities, have come together on this project, backed by the Department for Transport’s ‘First of a Kind’ innovation fund. Working with Community Rail Network, the national umbrella body for the community rail movement, and travel tech experts at Window Seater, they have for the first time collected and brought together local voices, stories and histories related to nine of the South West’s stunning railway lines, in a series of mindful, geo-located audio travel guides.

Window Seater connects rail travellers to the world outside their window, providing high quality geolocated audio stories, which link the fascinating features along the railway and beyond the stations. Not only do the guides provide an immersive, enriching experience for rail passengers, but it’s hoped they will encourage more would-be rail travellers to try the train for green, enjoyable and community-minded leisure trips.

Nine audio travel guides are available to download and explore for free from Apple and Google app stores, featuring:

Drawing on local knowledge and insights from the community rail movement, the Window Seater guides will provide people with a different way to enjoy train travel, from new passengers to frequent travellers. Highlights from some of the guides include the story of how a Cotswold market town inspired J.R.R Tolkien in Moreton-in-Marsh, the origins of the world’s first steam-powered bus service outside Cheltenham, the historic role Redhill in the North Downs played in war times and get expert tips on where to go in Bath from a local tour guide.

To listen, passengers can download the free Window Seater app from the Apple or Android app stores. Passengers then simply choose a route, grab their headphones and enjoy the journey learning about the landscape and places they move through.  The ethos behind the app is all about travelling mindfully and building a better awareness of, and connections to, the people, history and cultures through which we pass when we travel.

The app will also be used and promoted by community rail partnerships and groups in their year-round work engaging communities and encouraging and enabling wider use of rail, as a sustainable, inclusive, healthy way to get around.

The initiative was funded by the First of a Kind 2021 competition, aimed at projects that increase confidence and enhance the experience of rail travel, run by Innovate UK on behalf of Department for Transport.

Jools Townsend, chief executive of Community Rail Network, said:

“Many people don’t realise the scope for exploring Britain’s stunning landscapes, pretty villages and historic sites by rail – and making use of our wonderful, often little-known, community rail lines and stations is a great way to do this.

“We’re proud to have partnered with Window Seater and our community rail members across the South West on this innovative initiative. We hope it will inspire more people to take the train, uncover hidden gems and learn more about the communities and locations the railway takes you through, for wonderful, green, community-friendly days out and longer trips.”

Marcus Allender, Business Development Director at Window Seater, said:

“We are delighted to be working directly with the people who know the stories along the railway best – our new tech allows us to harness the passion and knowledge of these communities, increasing the quality and scalability of our guides.

“Improving customer experience, better drawing on community rail and getting people back on trains are all core goals of the government’s new Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, which this project dovetails with perfectly.”

The geolocated Window Seater guides are free to download from the Apple or Google app stores.