Henbury and Portishead rail lines to re-open within 5 years
Thursday, January 26, 2012
TRAINS could be running on the Portishead railway line again within five years.
That is the view of a rail industry insider who says plans to reopen the line from Bristol Temple Meads to the North Somerset town are already at an advanced stage.
The expert, who has asked to remain anonymous, believes the reopening of both the Portishead and Henbury Loop lines will be included in the new franchise agreement for the Great Western rail network.
This means the rail operator which takes over the running of the franchise next year will be obliged to run trains on both lines to meet the terms of their contract.
It is understood Portishead's railway station would be built on the site of the former station yard next door to the town's Waitrose supermarket.
The only major stumbling block is Quays Avenue, a road which intersects the line just before it reaches the proposed station. It is understood this could be overcome by either creating a level crossing or building a road bridge.
The terms of the Great Western franchise will be published in April or May.
The railway industry insider said the Department for Transport was responsible for choosing whether or not the reopening of the line should be included as part of the franchise agreement.
He said the Government was keen to see a rail operator bear the cost of reopening the line, rather than see it met by the public purse.
The insider said planning for reopening of the line was carried out years ago – right down to working out a timetable for the Portishead service. But he said a question mark had always remained over who would foot the bill for the project.
He said: "We firmly believe the Portishead and Henbury lines will be returned into the new franchise agreement. It's the Government's intention that the franchisee funds the reopening.
"In April or May, when the main invitation tender document is published, there will be an awful lot more detail.
"I've seen documents about the Portishead line for the last three years, including a full timetable. The problem has always been government departments arguing over who will pay for it.
"There's a lot of work going on behind the scenes trying to get these projects through.
"Reopening the Portishead line is easy to do. It would be a massive success and it would be a bonus for Bristol.
"The tracks are still there and the only issue would be crossing Quays Avenue. From the railway point of view, we don't like having level crossings. The best approach might be a bridge."
As well as the Portishead and Henbury lines, the source said he believed Henbury and Hallen stations would reopen, two extra lines of track would be added at Filton Bank by 2018, and a half-hourly Bristol Metro service would run between Yate and Weston-super- Mare.
He said a shuttle rail service could be set up between Henbury station and the Mall at Cribbs Causeway.
The insider said: "I can see this happening, especially with all the traffic that builds up around Cribbs Causeway at weekends. With the airfield shutting, it will allow some sort of transport link to be built – that would be desirable.
"Saltford has a very good case for reopening – we know people are seriously looking at that, and Ashley Hill as well."
Earlier this month, the Evening Post reported that Bristol City Council had joined forces with local transport groups to campaign to bring a metro rail service to the city.
The ambition of Bristol Metro 2013 is to run trains to local stations – including reopened ones – from Temple Meads every 30 minutes.
Those behind the campaign want whichever company that takes over the running of the Great Western rail network next year to include the improvements to local services.
Until March, the government is carrying out consultations on what the new 15-year franchise should include.
Campaigners want to convince transport companies that are likely to go for the franchise to include the Bristol Metro in their bid, and to convince the government that local improvements should be included in their list of requirements for the successful bidder.
First Great Western has already announced its intention to re-bid for the franchise, despite calling time on the existing contract early last year. In the process it avoided having to pay £800 million to the government thanks to a get-out clause included in their original 10-year deal.
There are dozens of other rail operators across the country that could potentially bid for the franchise but the list of bidders is not due to be revealed until May.
Last month North Somerset MP Liam Fox said he believed work on the Portishead passenger rail link could begin by 2015.
His optimism stemmed from a meeting he attended alongside North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton with Transport Minister Norman Baker at Westminster.
Passenger services from Portishead to Bristol were cut in 1964, although the line to Portbury Dock reopened in 2002 for freight trains only.