Council leader's claim is a distortion of the facts
I N LAST Monday's Evening Post the leader of Bristol City Council, Councillor Barbara Janke said that the council has not invested in rail schemes because they require expensive investment.
This is a distortion of the facts. It is simply not true that all rail projects or investments are expensive. Our councils do not appear to have considered even the simple things that they can do. They have not even drawn up a Rail Plan, which all councils with Integrated Transport Authorities have.
Leaving aside the arguments around Bus Rapid Transit, which we believe is inferior to rail-based rapid transit, the fact is that there are rail schemes that our councils could invest in which would not cost "hundreds of millions of pounds". Mrs Janke has clearly forgotten that her council is investing £200,000 a year in the Severn Beach line which has led to an improved service and an 80% rise in passenger numbers. A similar investment could be made to improve the service to other stations, such as across the city between Bedminster and Parson Street, Filton Abbeywood and Bristol Parkway.. By improving signs at stations and bus stops they would turn local stations into interchanges and integrate bus and train services. They could also build a new station at Portway on the Severn Beach line to link up with the park and ride, or conduct a study into the reopening of the Henbury line (which will be surrounded by new houses in the future).
It is true that some other improvements – but not all – require new infrastructure, which has been neglected for too long, notably returning the line between Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway (known as Filton Bank) to four tracks. This will be expensive but Network Rail have said that it is necessary and have shown that it would be cost effective. Additionally, as Network Rail have said, Electrification and its associated resignalling provides a unique opportunity to look at infrastructure and service improvements.
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As Mrs Janke must know, such things are the responsibility of Network Rail. To say that money would have to be found by local ratepayers is simply not the case. Along with our local MPs, our councils must put pressure on the government to ensure that Network Rail is allowed to proceed with increasing the number of tracks on Filton Bank. As Councillor Janke implies, it is the key to future improvements. We hope that this will be achieved, allowing our councils to build new stations such as at Ashley Hill. Councillor Janke has also forgotten that the West of England Partnership have proposed the reopening of the railway line to Portishead. They state on their website that this will cost £38 million, which compares well with the cost of the South Bristol Link road and is a fraction of the cost of the Bus Rapid Transit schemes.
Other councils have included rail schemes in the current bid for funding. Our local councils could have included the Portishead rail scheme. We hope that our councils will use the opportunity to apply for funding from other sources for the Portishead line, and that they will also invest in 'easy win' schemes to improve services on existing lines and integration between rail and bus. The West of England Partnership have CHOSEN not to prioritise rail, unlike other councils, for whom the supposed cost does not seem to be an issue.
As the Evening Post reported other councils have chosen to spend money on opening new rail stations.
In West Yorkshire 22 new stations have been opened on existing rail lines and in Liverpool they have opened 16.
As well as opening a tram line, Nottingham City and County Councils have reopened and invested in improvements on the Robin Hood Line.
Unlike Bristol, where train services are not even mentioned on the council's website or newspaper, Nottingham councillors and transport officers put their energy into involving the public, holding celebrations as the improvements progressed.
Mrs Janke says that one of the skills that councillors possess is knowledge and an understanding of what is practical. However it seems that councillors may not be in possession of all the facts about rail. It often appears that they and some officers are guilty of a "can't do" attitude when it comes to rail. Rather than saying "it is too expensive and it can't be done" councillors and officers should be looking at how other councils are achieving rail successes. We suggest councillors visit Nottingham and other cities. Nottingham City Council has made FOSBR members welcome and we are sure they would be happy to receive Councillor Janke and her colleagues. We hope that councillors will also meet local campaigners to consider what is practical before drawing up a Rail Plan.
Brendan Biggs, Christina Biggs, Julie Boston, Rob Dixon, Anthony Lloyd, Teresa McGill
(Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways)