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February 28, 2012

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

February 5, 2012

'How We Can Win' - BADACA Meeting with Unite the Resistance - Monday 6th February



'How We Can Win' - BADACA Meeting with Unite the Resistance - Monday 6th February

Speakers: Mark Serwotka (PCS General Secretary), Jayne Taylor (Unite The Union), David Wilshire (CWU)
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: The Council House, College Green, Bristol, BS1 5TR

February 4, 2012

Old rail depot will service local trains, says expert

Bristol Evening Post: 4 February 2012

A rail depot at St Philip's Marsh near Bristol Temple Meads station will still have a future, despite planning permission being given for a new depot at Stoke Gifford, according to rail campaigners.

The depot at St Philip's Marsh is used to maintain and park high-speed 125 trains which operate between Paddington, the West Country and South Wales.

But these outdated diesel-powered units are due to be replaced by Hitachi-made electric trains in 2016/17 after the mainline is electrified in a £4.5 billion Government scheme.

The door to electrification was opened on Thursday when South Gloucestershire councillors gave permission for the new rail depot at Stoke Gifford to go ahead despite an outcry from residents who live nearby.

They are worried about fumes, noise, air pollution and stray light affecting the quality of their lives.

But the councillors imposed a raft of conditions as part of the planning consent to protect the residents.

Rail campaigner Dave Redgewell, pictured, said St Philip's Marsh, where about 150 staff are based, is crucial to providing local rail services. He said a depot would still be needed to park and maintain trains which operate on local services after the new depot at Stoke Gifford is built.

He said: "Updating our stations and track is all very good but the other part of the equation is looking after the rolling stock and that's why rail depots are so important."

Next year, the franchise to operate trains on the mainline between Paddington and the West Country will be renewed.

It is currently operated by First Great Western.

Whichever company wins the franchise, then the contract would include the St Philip's Marsh depot as well as use of the Hitachi electric trains from 2016 or whenever they become available.

Hitachi will run the depot at Stoke Gifford and provide the electric trains on a daily rental to the franchisee.

The track and depots are owned by Network Rail which, in effect, means the Government.

It might come to pass at some point after the mainline is electrified that local lines also get overhead wires to run electric trains. If this happens, then the electric trains for local services would probably be based at St Philip's Marsh.

The need for the St Philip's Marsh depot might become even more crucial if electrification provides further improvements to local services such as the Henbury Loop being opened up.

Last year, the Government announced that the new franchises will run for a minimum of ten years and up to 22 years.

But train companies will have to meet tougher performance criteria to avoid being stripped of a franchise.

And companies which walk away from a franchise because it is not profitable will face bigger financial penalties.

The move has been welcomed by the rail industry, which says it will give companies more incentive to invest.

Most rail franchises are currently let for seven or eight years.

The new rail depot at Stoke Gifford will use a 44-acre triangular site near Parkway Station.

Councillors gave their consent after planning officers recommended approval.

Link to Bristol Evening Post site

February 3, 2012

New rail depot wins approval

Bristol Evening Post: 03 February 2012
Protesters outside the South Gloucestershire Council offices in Thornbury ahead of the public planning meeting over the rail depot at Stoke Gifford Picture: Jon Kent

A CONTROVERSIAL rail depot at Stoke Gifford has been given approval – opening the door to electrification of the main line between Bristol and London.

Rail campaigners welcomed the decision, which they said would create jobs and help improve local rail services in the greater Bristol area. But angry residents who live near the 44-acre site claimed the new depot would ruin their lives.

South Gloucestershire councillors decided at a planning committee in Thornbury yesterday to give planning consent, with 11 votes in favour and one abstention, after a debate which lasted nearly two hours.

They imposed a raft of conditions in order to protect nearby residents from the impact of the new depot.

But afterwards Lesley Cox, one of the residents, said: "I am appalled because the evidence on which the debate was based was flawed.

Another resident, Heather Moseley, said: "We're disappointed but not surprised. The general feeling was that it was a done deal.

"We feel the residents' misgivings were dismissed and we were sacrificed in order to knock 15 minutes off the travel time between Bristol and London."

Transport campaigner Dave Redgewell said: "This is very good news for Bristol's economy.

"It's going to create jobs, protect existing railway employees and it will have the knock on effect of more local rail services.

"If this had not gone ahead, then it would have put back electrification of the main line for many years."

The rail depot, on a triangular patch of land near Parkway Station, will include a maintenance shed and sidings to park the new electric trains when they become operational in 2016/17. Work is expected to start later this summer, ready for testing trains by the middle of 2015.

The planning application was submitted by Hitachi Rail (Europe) which wants to run the electric trains on the Government-funded scheme, which will cost a total of £4.5 billion.

Andy Barr, Hitachi's head of maintenance, told councillors they had addressed the environmental issues to ensure that there would be "no noticeable impact" from the depot.

The sidings would have overhead wires to power the trains, which do not have to be uncoupled or shunted around. Some "biomode" trains do have diesel engines but these would only be switched on for testing purposes inside the maintenance shed.

Residents were worried about stray light keeping them awake at night but councillors were told that most of the lighting would be on waist-high posts because of the danger of dazzling train drivers on the nearby main line.

Ms Cox said South Gloucestershire Council had a reputation for allowing anything green to be concreted over and councillors had a duty to protect residents from industrial development near their homes.

She said: "If this site had not been available, then Hitachi would have had to go elsewhere.

"We feel this site happens to be cheap and convenient for them, but ruinous to us."

Planning officer Helen O'Connor spelt out to councillors how a raft of conditions would be imposed to lessen the impact of the depot.

She said experts were satisfied the new depot would not create noise above acceptable limits.

Cabinet councillor Brian Allinson, who is in charge of the council's transport and planning departments as well as representing Stoke Gifford ward, said he addressed the meeting wearing two hats.

He said he understood both sides because he appreciated the concerns of residents, yet saw the benefits of the new electric trains.

"I would urge the committee to take on board their concerns and if minded to approve, then toughen up some of the conditions," he said.

Keith Cranney (Con, Stoke Gifford) said when they first heard about the plans, they were very impressed but the residents thought the depot would be a blot on the landscape.

He said: "We want to see Hitachi go the extra mile to ensure the residents are protected, both now and in the future."

Among the extra conditions imposed were measures to be taken to prevent squeaky wheels on the tracks and a ban on other types of trains using the depot without further planning permission.

Mr Barr was asked if he would set up a liaison group so that Hitachi could meet with residents to discuss their concerns on a regular basis and he replied that it was his intention to do so.

Link to Bristol Evening Post site

Engine derails on West Coast main line at Bletchley

BBC News: 3 February 2012

A freight train engine has derailed on the West Coast main line at Bletchley leaving no services running between London Euston and Milton Keynes.

There are major delays for rail passengers with London Midland, Southern and Virgin rail services all affected.

London Midland has advised passengers not to travel as all lines are blocked.

However, tickets are being accepted on Chiltern, East Midlands and First Capital Connect services.

Network Rail had initially hoped two of the four lines would be cleared by "early" afternoon, but at 15:30 GMT work was still continuing to repair damage to the tracks.

Driver injured

The Freightliner engine, being operated on behalf of Virgin trains, derailed at Bletchley south junction shortly before 02:30 GMT.

The driver was the only person on board and is being treated for injuries.

The engine was not pulling any freight or carriages.

The engine is upright but blocking the line, and damage to the running tracks and overhead power lines has been reported.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is conducting an investigation.

Robin Gisby, from Network Rail, said that although they hoped to clear two of the lines later, services would still be affected.

"It is likely that severe disruption will continue for the remainder of the day as we work to repair the more significant damage," he said.

"Unfortunately there is quite substantial damage to the tracks and overhead lines."

Engine 'on loan'

Southern services are only running between Croydon and Watford Junction, Virgin and London Midland services are not running south of Milton Keynes, but London Midland is running between Bletchley and Bedford.

Nicola Moss, from London Midland, said: "We do strongly advise passengers not to travel if at all possible.

"But anybody who can get to Bedford for First Capital Connect services or over to Wellingborough for East Midlands Trains services or west to Aylesbury for Chiltern Railway Services, can use our tickets on those trains.

"Network Rail and the freight company are working really hard to get the line clear but that is unlikely to be before lunch time."

A spokesperson from Virgin Trains said the engine was on loan to the company in order to haul some of its older trains.

Passengers are being advised to consult National Rail Enquiries if they intend to travel.

Link to BBC News site

Link to BBC News site video

Thousands of commuters left in cold after Bletchley derailment

Metro: 3 February 2012 by Matthew Champion

Thousands of commuters found themselves unable to get to London after a freight train derailed overnight on one of the country's busiest lines.

The Virgin Trains electric locomotive came off the tracks on the West Coast main line at Bletchley in Buckinghamshire in the early hours with the driver, the only person on-board the train, sustaining minor injuries.

The Milton Keynes to London Euston line was completely closed until 3.40pm on Friday, when Network Rail announced the opening of two out of four lines.

'2 of the 4 lines now open at #Bletchley! Well done to @networkrailstaff for achieving this in such short notice,' National Rail Enquiries' Twitter account tweeted.

London Midland, Southern and Virgin Trains all advised passengers to seek alternative routes while the line was being cleared.

Although the line is now partially open, speed restrictions remain in place while engineers evaluate why the freight train came off the tracks.

'We still advise passengers to avoid travelling to/from London if possible and are extremely sorry for the obvious inconvenience,' London Midland said on its website.

British Transport police meanwhile have urged people to avoid Euston station altogether if they can due to overcrowding.

The disruption is expected to continue into the weekend as well, as heavy-lifting equipment needed to restore the train to the tracks cannot be called in until the cause of the crash is established.

Passengers face double disruption from the threat of heavy snow this weekend across England, with temperatures plummeting on Friday.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail managing director, commented: 'Unfortunately there is quite substantial damage to the tracks and overhead lines following this morning’s incident.

'Our engineers have been on site since the small hours to assist investigators and are now carrying out repairs to the tracks and overhead lines which have been damaged.'

Link to Metro site

February 2, 2012

Government power to curb Network Rail bonuses 'limited'

BBC News: 2 February 2012

The UK transport minister has told MPs that the government's powers to prevent bonuses at Network Rail are "limited".

It comes as Network Rail's chief executive is under pressure to reject a potential £340,000 bonus.

Former Labour transport minister Tom Harris has tabled a motion calling on Sir David Higgins to turn down any payment.

Network Rail confirmed a meeting would be held later this month to decide on the structure of the bonus scheme.

Mr Harris, a Glasgow MP, also wants other directors at the firm to reject bonuses of more than £200,000.

Sir David's annual salary is £560,000, with other directors at Network Rail (NR) earning £338,000.

In the Commons motion, signed by 27 other MPs from his party, Mr Harris said Network Rail had been "found by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to be in breach of its licence and that, according to the ORR, 'major asset failures, congested routes and poor management of track condition' contributed to poor performance of the UK rail network in 2011".

Following the ORR's ruling in December last year, Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "We have been repeatedly clear that bonuses should only be awarded for exceptional performance.

"Passengers would be extremely surprised if NR attempted to award bonuses next year in the light of this action by the ORR."

But UK Transport Minister Norman Baker told MPs that the government's powers to prevent bonuses at Network Rail were "extremely limited".

Speaking during a Commons debate, Mr Baker said ministers recognised the concerns about Network Rail's governance - and said the government looked to the Office of Rail Regulation to hold the company to account.

He added: "We expect bonuses to be dealt with responsibly and sensibly by Network Rail."

Mr Harris's motion claimed that National Rail's members, at their meeting on 10 February, would be asked to confirm annual bonuses for directors "equivalent to 60% of their annual salary, resulting in a £340,000 bonus for its chief executive".

The motion calls on the company's directors "to reject these bonuses".

Teenager deaths

But a Network Rail spokesman said "no decision has been made on bonuses" and the meeting would "decide the shape of a scheme".

He added: "That does not mean a bonus will be paid. It will decide on a mechanism.

"Just like any other private company, the final decision will by made by the remuneration committee."

On Tuesday, Network Rail admitted health and safety breaches over the deaths of two teenagers killed at a level crossing.

Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were hit by a train in 2005 as they crossed the tracks at Elsenham station footpath crossing in Essex.

The firm also faces prosecution over the 2007 Grayrigg train crash in Cumbria in which one passenger died.

Link to BBC News site

February 1, 2012

Local transport bodies 'a step closer'

Bristol Evening Post: 1 February 2012

MINISTERS are to hand control of major transport schemes to local bodies – boosting hopes of a regional authority for Greater Bristol.

Campaigners say a transport authority covering the city and surrounding area is needed to sort out longstanding problems.

Yesterday the government said all schemes costing more than £5 million would be devolved to "local transport bodies" from 2015.

They would be expected to have the same boundaries as Local Enterprise Partnerships, the business-led groups in charge of economic growth which have replaced axed regional development agencies.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening, said the organisations could decide on new roads, public transport schemes, better pedestrian routes, and new railway stations.

She said: "These proposals could hand real power to communities so they can make locally accountable decisions on what transport improvements are needed in their area."

Link to Bristol Evening Post site