Ian Sesnan

Researching opportunities to integrate heritage/private railways into national rail networks to enable urgent affordable expansion of local public transport.
Roger Harrabin

Focus of work

There appear to be many cases where UK heritage/independent railways could provide public transport between communities. So far only limited steps have been taken towards either public transport services being provided on heritage lines and/or heritage services extending onto national rail lines. There is now government funding towards ideas development and feasibility work. However, there is no national, local, regional, or strategic policy approach to delivery. No organisation is responsible for driving this, each case is proposed on a one-off basis, with seemingly no formal transfer of knowledge and experience between cases.

Some routes might never be viable but others would seem to be suitable, perhaps with intermediate technologies, or as a result of new government commissioning arrangements. There are many mixed views and responses to proposals as they sporadically arise, usually leading to the proposals being dropped as “too difficult”. There seems to be a knowledge and/or understanding gap between those promoting such schemes; voluntary/community organisations that currently hold/operate these assets, and other key stakeholders (such as Network Rail, local authorities, consultants, and funders). This research seeks to understand and document the principal barriers as perceived by stakeholders and recommend if, and how, these barriers could be approached.


The research is impacting a number of Heritage Railways thinking through the barriers and solutions with them. As findings are produced the research should for the first time show the common barriers as well as unique/rare barriers. Importantly solutions to the barriers can be shared between protagonists empowering them to approach decision makers/funders in different ways. Equally lessons for decision-makers will be passed on. Findings may help some railways to realise the extent of the difficulties that they face and cause them to query if they are pursuing viable/useful objectives. This would be useful as scarce resource of volunteer time/energy need to be applied smartly. It is likely that there will be an emphasis on encouraging genuine transport focussed partnership working locally and for the DfT possibly an earlier and lower cost intervention to enable sifting of schemes before funding applications are made.

The research should lead to a better understanding of what different terms mean, for example “public transport” is widely assumed to mean commuter transport or 7 day a week all day services. However, it is becoming clear that public transport, serving specific markets at specific times/days may be just as valid – and certainly more likely to be sustainable.


Ian started campaigning on pedestrian issues, at 19 he campaigned, with others, for an aqueduct over the new Edinburgh by-pass (even though the canal was impassable elsewhere). The aqueduct was built and now Edinburgh and Glasgow are linked again by navigable waterways. A theme throughout Ian’s campaigning is to recognise the power of negative thinking which needs to be painstakingly overcome by community belief and action. He became the first Director of Friends of the Earth (Scotland) then worked for FOE in London, subsequently serving on the board. He served as Principal Officers for 16 years in local government managing research, information, public safety and then South Bank regeneration.

Ian read Town and Country Planning at Newcastle University; MA (Urban Regeneration) and PhD (Evaluation of regeneration programmes) at Westminster University. He established a regeneration consultancy working mainly on community and church projects dealing with governance, social enterprise, heritage and evaluation.. He has long involvement in railway preservation/development, was a board member and chair of Wensleydale Railway. His interest in this fellowship relates to why with over 100 UK heritage railways none has sustainably been able to run or accommodate public transport. Ian is a Trustee of the Inland Waterways Association.

Share This