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Portishead railway reopening hangs in the balance as MetroWest project soars £100m over budget

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 March 2017 | UPDATED: 06:09 09 March 2017

North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton believes construction work will begin in 2017.

North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton believes construction work will begin in 2017.

Archant

The future of Portishead’s railway reopening is in jeopardy, after it was revealed the project may not open until 2021 as costs have spiralled to more than £100million more than its original budget.

How could the project now be delivered?

MetroWest and North Somerset Council are advising the West of England’s Joint Transport Board to split the phase one project into three stages – A, B and C. If the board accepts their recommendation and appropriate funding is found, the stages will be progressed as follows:

A - Carrying out service improvements to the Severn Beach branch line and Bristol-Bath corridor.

B – Reopening the Portishead railway line to provide an hourly service between Portishead and Bristol Temple Meads, with trains running at 30mph.

C – Reopening the Portishead railway line to full capacity, meaning trains will run every half hour at 50mph.

The first phase of the MetroWest project - which is being partially funded by North Somerset Council – would see trains run half-hourly between Portishead and Bristol with the existing railway station at Pill reopened. The project would also include improvements to the Severn Beach branch line service and upgrading stations and services between Bristol Temple Meads and Bath.

It was initially expected to cost £58million when it was first announced, but the Times reported in January the cost was likely to be ‘considerably more’. The total cost of implementing phase one is now believed to be between £145-175million and has been deemed unaffordable by the team implementing it.

At a press briefing in Bristol yesterday (Wednesday), representatives from North Somerset and MetroWest announced the project’s fate would be sealed at the next meeting of the West of England Joint Transport Board on March 17.

MetroWest and the council are now urging the board to approve splitting the project into three stages – the second of which (stage B) would see trains run to Portishead once an hour in 2021 – in an attempt to reduce costs. The first stage (A) would see improvements made to connections between Bristol and Bath and the Severn Beach branch line, while the third stage (C) would eventually see trains run to Portishead every half an hour as originally promised.

According to MetroWest, the project’s initial estimated cost of £58million has risen by so much because the full impact of works needed to run trains through Avon Gorge every half an hour had been underestimated. The organisation claims running trains at 50mph through the Gorge – which is needed for a half-hourly service – is more expensive and difficult to implement than running them at 30mph once an hour, as this is the speed currently in place along the existing Portbury freight line.

The council’s director of development and environment, David Carter, said: “The process we are suggesting and recommending is to look at stages A and B as they would significantly reduce the cost.

“We believe the work will be done and it will still be delivered in 2021, assuming the funding can be found.

“Stages A and B will still need to attract additional funding, but we believe there will be a significant reduction for A and B compared to C. However, until we have done the work, it is difficult to say exactly what that is.

“We are working with Network Rail and the Department for Transport to close that funding gap.”

For a full reaction to the announcement, pick up a copy of next week’s Times.

1 comment

  • People in Portishead doubted me when I said the new station would never be built near the Waitrose land. After all, the Portishead Railway Group couldn't bear the prospect either insisting it would go there. I and other realists were sadly proved right. I also said the railway would never return to Portishead land but there may be a chance it will go on Portbury land. But again most said I was wrong, I would love to be proved wrong especially when I look romantically at the old photo of my late dad Peter Stonestreet with one of his best mates working at Portishead Railway. But watching the BBC news tonight, even Points West was unsurprised with the news. So much so, it was not shown until 15 mins into the programme, even after some obscure bloke in the Forest of Dean who locked himself in his security van!! Why did one Prodem member ask Portishead Town Council what they were going to do to support the railway at Wednesday's council meeting? It is out of their power and control. As it has always been. It will never come back to Portishead. Sad and disappointing though that is.

    Report this comment

    Annette Hennessy

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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