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Portishead rail line opening faces potential delay as costs soar

PUBLISHED: 05:44 07 February 2017

North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashtonsaid last year he expected construction work to begin in 2017.

North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashtonsaid last year he expected construction work to begin in 2017.

Archant

The estimated cost of reopening the Portishead railway line are spiralling and project leaders this week admitted they do not know what the final total will be, nor for certain when trains will start running.

The MetroWest project, which is being part-funded by North Somerset Council, was expected to cost £58million but recently it has become clear it will cost ‘considerably more’.

Discussions over funding are ongoing with the Department for Transport, but neither North Somerset Council nor MetroWest were willing to give assurances this week the project would be ready by the first-half of 2020 as planned.

The design phase of the project has revealed the reopening of Portishead’s link to Bristol, via Pill, is more complex than originally thought.

Ahead of West of England Joint Transport Board’s most recent meeting, papers revealed the initial £58million budget was now unrealistic.

It said: “Given the extent of the additional works needed, the cost estimated is expected to be considerably more than the previous £58million estimate.”

The Times has asked MetroWest what it means by ‘considerably more’ but it refused to put even a ballpark figure on the likely additional cost.

Its spokesman said: “As reported at the meeting of the West of England Joint Transport Board in January, the costs for phase one of the MetroWest programme are still being finalised and will be reported at the March meeting.

“We are unable to say anything until then.

“Only at that stage we will know the scope of any increase and whether there is any impact on opening dates.”

North Somerset Council, when asked if it would be willing to further contribute to the project, sent the same statement as MetroWest.

It is almost a year to the day that the project was hit by a further delay, as the Times revealed the planned reopening of the line was being pushed back to early-2020 due to issues about making tunnels wide enough.

Despite that, North Somerset Council’s leader Nigel Ashton claimed last year trains would be running by ‘late-2019’.

Regardless of whether those targets are met, Portishead Railway Group says the need for a station in the town will only increase.

Its vice-chairman Colin Howells said: “Some people on Facebook say it is a lot of money to run a train to Portishead, but it isn’t just about Portishead, it’s about Severn Beach and probably trains going to Bath.

“There’s still a need (for a station). Portishead is still a growing town.

“There are still building projects planned so it’s an increasing size.

“Travelling into and out of Portishead won’t get any easier without a major transport project like this.

“We are only going to get one crack at it, and we must make sure we do it right.”

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