MP Liam Fox signals high hopes for Portishead rail line return
THE clearest sign yet that Portishead is to get its long-awaited rail link within the next four years has come from a former Government minister.
Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative MP for North Somerset, has revealed he is more hopeful than ever before that the rail line to Portishead will reopen by 2017.
The former Defence Secretary said he has been talking to government ministers and said he is more "upbeat than on any previous time" about the prospect of seeing trains running to Portishead once again.
The move has come just weeks after Network Rail, the organisation which operates train tracks across the country, said that the line is a part of its business plan for the next five years.
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Dr Fox took part in a meeting with Transport Minister Simon Burns along with rail campaigners from North Somerset.
He said: "We were all very optimistic following the information that the Minister was able to give us.
" I hope that we will now see trains running in 2017 and expect that we will get a definitive announcement on dates and funding in Parliament before the summer recess."
Dr Fox went on to say that the efforts of Portishead Railway Group, North Somerset Council and the hundreds of local residents have helped in the campaign to get the line reinstated.
Bristol's new mayor has also been pushing for the line to be reopened as part of the plans for the Bristol Metro scheme. George Ferguson wants the rail network in the Bristol area to link up with the new Rapid Transit Network system.
People living in Portishead have been campaigning for more than a decade to get the line reopened to passenger trains.
Money would have to be spent on upgrading the six-mile section of the track from Portbury Dock as it is not of a good enough standard to run passenger services.
The track is currently only used by freight trains which carry coal and cars from Royal Portbury Dock to locations across the country.
The track was reopened in the 1990s to freight and is capable of taking trains at speeds of up to 30mph, while passenger trains operate at speeds of up to 60mph.
The existing track could be used, but major realignment work would be needed and some new lines would have to be laid. Further work will also have to be carried at the Pill tunnel to improve drainage and lines.
Long-time transport campaigner David Redgewell said: "I would say that the signs coming out of central Government and the Ministry of Transport are looking very promising at the moment.
"This is a key part of the Bristol Metro and something we have been campaigning for for a very long time. As I said, all the signals are looking very promising at the moment."
There is some concern that the process will be held up by the uncertainty surrounding the bidding for the rail franchise. The bidding was put on hold following the scandal surrounding the West Coast Main Line and major mistakes made at the Department for Transport. The issue was supposed to be settled in March but there are suggestions that First Great Western, which currently operates the franchise, will carry on for another two years.
A spokesperson for the rail operator said: "We are very pleased that the support for Bristol Metro continues to gain support and momentum from the Government.
"We are continuing to work with all the authorities to move the plans forward."
The first phase of the long-awaited Greater Bristol Metro is expected to be opened in 2017 and would include the reopening of the Portishead line to passenger services and half-hourly trains on the Severn Beach line.
Phase Two of the Metro, which will provide local train services in the Bristol area, is not likely to be completed until 2018/21.
It includes half-hourly services to Yate and provides new services on the Henbury line.