Campaign launched for a Greater Bristol Metro.
Bristol Evening Post: February 23, 2012
Bristolians are being asked to get on board with a campaign to transform local rail services in the region.
Greater Bristol Metro Rail aims to bring former stations back into use, increase frequency of services and secure greater investment in branch rail services.
It’s the brainchild of the four former Avon authorities, who are working with transport campaigners to lobby the government throughout 2012.
The campaign website was officially launched yesterday, and a petition is due to be started soon.
There are four key aspects to the campaign; more trains, more often; reopening disused stations; reopening the Portishead rail line and four tracking along a section of the local railway line.
The four councils – Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset – want all of these included in the new Great Western rail franchise when it is appointed next year.
The government is currently consulting on what changes should be made to the Great Western rail franchise and the campaign will aim to have local rail improvements as part of the new contract.
Councillors believe they can prove that spending money on local rail pays for itself, pointing to the huge increase in passengers on the Severn Beach line since the service was increased.
The campaign will need to prove their is local support for better rail, and that people will be willing to use trains more often if the service is upgraded.
So councillors want businesses, MPs and the general public to write to the Department for Transport and join the fight for better local rail in Greater Bristol.
Bristol City Council’s executive member for transport Tim Kent says he wants people to demonstrate their passion for local rail.
He said: “The long-term aspiration is ensuring at every station there is a train every 30 minutes or better.
“At the moment there can be a two- hour gap between trains. We want a turn up and go service.
“We will be working up a business case. There has been a 90 per cent growth on the Severn Beach line in the last seven or eight years, that’s phenomenal. Local rail can pay for itself.”
Key stations to reopen include Portishead, Ashley Hill and Horfield, Mr Kent says.
Each would cost a different amount but the council has estimated an average of £5 million.
Reopening the Portishead railway would cost around £50 million more and providing four tracks between Parsons Street and Filton Bank could be around £30 million.
Originally there were four tracks on the route but two were removed, so the campaign wants them replaced.
It is essential if rail operators want to run more trains. At the moment the stretch between Temple Meads and Filton Bank is one of the most congested in the country.
The key question is where will the money come from.
Mr Kent said: “There are opportunities, and whoever gets the franchise should invest in the network.
“We have major scheme money for the Bus Rapid Transit but there is a new pot in 2015. A large proportion of that could be put into rail between 2015 and 2020.”
Campaigners have been fighting to re-open the Portishead railway line to passenger trains for years, but so far without success.
Mr Kent said: “We have seen a massive expansion of the population in Portishead. If we want to have sustainable transport we need to use the rail link we have.
“We think there is a real chance. Everyone is talking about rail locally and in government. It adds up economically and environmentally.”
South Gloucestershire Council’s executive member for transport Brian Allinson says the Greater Bristol Metro will also benefit people living outside of the city.
He said: “With the possible development of Filton Airfield the Henbury Loop will be important.
“Wherever people can, we want them to contact their MPs, their councillors and people of influence to explain how important it is to get Greater Bristol moving.”
Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance is one of a number of groups backing the initiative.
Although it’s fair to say many of these improvements have been wanted for years, the group believes now is the right time for success.
Spokesman Ian Crawford said: “We’re supporting the campaign and we’re pleased the city council has led on it and managed to get some of the West of England Partnership on board. We’re now starting to face the same way.
“We see the key part of the campaign as the Great Western rail franchise and the response to the DfT.
“We will be lobbying all our local MPs in March to get them in support.”
Consultation on the franchise runs until the end of March, with a shortlist of potential bidders due to be released later this year.
Once this shortlist is announced the campaign will switch focus to the bidding companies, to convince them to include local rail upgrades as part of their bid to government.
For more on the campaign, go to greaterbristolrail.com