Deal means Portishead to Bristol rail line will open in 2026
- Credit: Archant
The railway line between Portishead and Bristol will reopen in 2026 as inflation and years of delays have caused costs to increase by £35 million.
Two new train stations will be built, at Portishead and Pill, running services to Bristol Temple Meads, on the railway line which closed to passengers in 1964.
The project has been on the cards for more than a decade, recently facing delays due to environmental regulations.
Last month, West of England mayor Dan Norris hinted the project’s future was uncertain, as the initial £116 million earmarked in 2017 was now not enough to pay for the whole works.
But Mr Norris and local transport bosses have now agreed a “historic” deal for extra funding, at a West of England combined authority (Weca) meeting on Friday (July 29).
Reopening the Portishead line is an “incredibly important and staggeringly complex project”, according to North Somerset Council leader Steve Bridger.
He said: “It’s become more complex given what we have all experienced in the last couple of years. The initial budget of £116 million was secured in 2017 — that’s a long time ago. We could have all thrown in the towel a long time ago, but we haven’t. This is a big moment in the project.”
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Costs for the project have rapidly increased recently, due to skyrocketing inflation, and are now expected to total £163 million.
To get the scheme over the line, millions of extra funding had to be found. North Somerset Council and Weca will both chip in an extra £10 million each, while the Department for Transport will contribute an additional £15 million and agree to cover any future risk of increasing costs due to inflation.
The plans will see 9 kilometres of freight-only track converted to passenger use, and 5km of disused track reopened. Also included in the project, called MetroWest1, are plans for more frequent trains running on both the Severn Beach line which stops at Easton, Montpelier, Clifton and Avonmouth; and the Westbury line which stops at Bath Spa, Trowbridge and Westbury.
Extra services on the Severn Beach line began December last year, and more regular services on the Westbury line will begin from May next year.
Two problems with the plans, raised by transport campaigners, are the lack of a station building at Portishead, and the length of the platform reduced from five carriages to three.
Campaigners said potential train passengers would be put off from having to wait without cover on rainy days, or from being unable to board a three-carriage train at busy times.
Plans under discussion include getting a local cafe chain to help fund a platform building.
David Chillistone, of the Portishead Railway Group, said: “With the imperative to move more and more of the travelling public onto mass transport — a move which will surely become only more urgent — it’s a false economy to remove the station building at Portishead and to reduce the platform lengths from five cars to three cars. Rail passengers need to know that they can rely on the service being available, not run the risk of being unable to board or getting soaked through while waiting for a train.”
But reopening the line is hoped to cut congestion on the M5 and the A369, and bring more than 50,000 people much closer to a train station. It’s expected to mean 1.2 million extra rail journeys and £7 million revenue by 2041.
Future plans further down the line include opening a new train station at Ashton Gate stadium, which is poorly served by public transport.
Network Rail will carry out most of the work to reopen the line, with North Somerset Council and Weca responsible for some parts including highways work and cutting back plants.
It’s not yet clear when construction work will begin, but the next stage should be preparing a business case with full details of the project.
Metro mayor Dan Norris said: “Today we now have all the funding we need to finish off the design stages and actually do the building and construction work for the reopening of this important railway line.
"It’s been a long time coming, the line closed when I was just four years old, and I have no doubt there will still be some challenges still to come. This could be a historic milestone, but we’ve been here before, and we have to make sure this now happens.”