Campaigners call for quick railway action
SUPPORTERS of the Severn Beach railway line are urging the council to act quickly in negotiating a new contract that will ensure the future of the service.
The council's contract with First Great Western, which runs trains on the line, comes to an end in April.
Discussions over a new contract are due to take place this month, but campaign group Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways (FOSBR) is concerned that if the council doesn't secure it soon, the Severn Beach service could revert to 2008 levels, when there were fewer trains and none on Sundays.
Gary Hopkins, the council's executive member for transport, said he had discussed and agreed improvements with FOSBR three months ago.
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He guaranteed that the service would continue, and said he hoped the number of individual train services would rise.
Yesterday, members of FOSBR went to Clifton Down railway station to read statements of support from MPs and councillors to passengers. They also called for half-hourly cross-city services and for more trains to be run in the evening. FOSBR campaigner Dr Christine Biggs said: "It takes a long time to draw up train timetables.
"Without forward planning, the service could go back to how it was two years ago while they negotiate.
"The latest data shows that the demand for the service, especially from commuters, is huge and rising.
"We want to see a deal struck soon, and in the interests of passengers."
Figures from the Severnside Community Rail Partnership show a 25 per cent increase in passenger numbers over the last year, up from 2,252 journeys a day in June 2009 to 2,818 journeys a day this June.
The partnership also found that since improvements two years ago – in which the council funded a second train to provide services every 40 minutes – there has been a 60 per cent rise in ticket sales.
FOSBR says the improved Severn Beach service has had a positive impact on traffic congestion and reducing fumes, and credits the council with the rise in passenger numbers.
But it is keen to see increased trains in the evening as part of the new contract. Dr Biggs said: "A train is needed in the big gap between the 20.34 and 22.16 departures from Temple Meads, especially for passengers returning from destinations beyond Bristol. We need a later last train so that people can use the line for an evening out in the city."
Mr Hopkins said the council had a duty to get the best deal for the taxpayer, but that it would be signed in plenty of time. He said: "The service will be at least as frequent and hopefully will increase, and we need to know what the cost of that will actually be."
He also said he agreed with FOSBR campaigners that if there was a more reliable and frequent evening service, the line would be used by even more passengers.
He said: "At the moment there is a gap in the middle of the evening and late on.
"If there is confidence that it will run all the way through the evening, people will have confidence to use the Severn Beach line."
Ellie Banks, a First Great Western spokeswoman, said: "We are in negotiations with Bristol City Council regarding our contract and the services we run in the Severn Beach area. We're pleased with the growth in passenger figures along the line and it is quite possible that there may be more services added in the near future."