Major blow for rail link funding in Portishead
PLANS to reopen Portishead’s desperately needed rail link have received a major blow – after a bid for £43 million of government funding for the project was turned down.
North Somerset Council learned this week that its multi-million-pound bid to the government’s Regional Growth Fund for cash to open the defunct rail link had been refused.
It had been hoped – if the bid was successful – to get passenger trains running out of Portishead from as early as 2015.
Council leaders have said that, although the news the bid had been unsuccessful was a blow, it in no way meant the end of the road for the railway reopening project.
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And they said they still plan to bid for cash for the scheme from future Major Transport Programmes or any replacement programmes promoted by the government.
The authority will continue to work with Network Rail on its Guide to Rail Investment Project (GRIP) studies on the feasibility of reopening the railway and look at other possible funding streams. North Somerset Council deputy leader Councillor Elfan Ap Rees said: “Admittedly this is a blow to our plans to reopen the rail link. But it is a setback and it is certainly not the end of the road.
“We knew it was only an outside chance of us getting the funding from the growth fund. If we had been successful it would have meant we could have got rail services running out of Portishead more quickly.
“However we will be continuing to work with Network Rail to look at alternative funding streams.
“The local transport fund is currently fully subscribed and we will be looking to make a bid for funding at the next round of allocations, which will probably take place next year with the money possibly coming available around 2014.
“As a council we are still very much committed to reopening the Portishead rail link.”
It is estimated that the total cost of reopening the rail link would be around £50 million.
A further £4.8 million needed for the project would be funded from council resources and planning agreement money earmarked from developments in Portishead.
Studies have revealed that if the line was to open, trains could travel between Portishead and Temple Meads in Bristol in 17 minutes – slashing the current journey time by car.
Members of the Gordano Councils Transport Group, which was set up to campaign for the reopening of the railway, said they were ‘deeply disappointed’ at the news.
Group founder and Portishead councillor David Pasley said: “I am deeply disappointed this bid for funding has been turned down.
“Portishead has grown massively over the years and is due to grow by a further 40 per cent by 2015.
“Good transport in and out of the town are essential and should have been put in place before all the new developments were allowed.
“It is now important that all other funding streams are explored for this project.
“There is strong public and commercial support for the reopening of the rail link out of Portishead.”
The work to reopen the railway would include re-laying the three miles of redundant track between Portishead and Portbury and building a new station.
A new road bridge would be built over the railway at Quays Avenue in Portishead and a station would have to be built on land already earmarked at Harbour Road.
Money would also have to be spent on upgrading the six-mile section of the track between Portbury Dock as currently 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 around the country.
The track, which was reopened in the 1990s, 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 is also needed at Pill tunnel to improve the drainage and lines to allow passenger trains through there safely.
The reopening of the railway would mean an end to the gridlock often seen on the Portbury Hundred – the main route out of Portishead.
Brunel first proposed the line in 1839 but it was actually built by the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company and opened on April 18 1867.
It was laid as a single line broad gauge branch running from Bristol to Portishead.
The line was closed to passenger traffic in September 1964 and freight in 1981 and lay unused apart from the occasional steam specials.
Among the funding options for further exploration are the re-letting of the Great Western franchise from 2013 and the proposed recently announced Local Transport Consortiums. The council will make the case for the scheme with the Department for Transport to identify a funding package to take the scheme forward.
The next major milestones for the scheme are to compile a detailed scheme business case, to commence GRIP stage 4 with Network Rail and to pursue planning consents to build and operate the rail line.
Despite the government’s refusal over the Portishead rail link, there was some success locally in yesterday’s funding announcement.
Airbus said Filton and the wider aerospace community would benefit after it was given cash to underpin its engineering operations in the region.
The company would not reveal the size of the grant, and said technical details were still being finalised.
Mark Stewart, general manager of the Filton site, said: “This announcement is very good news for Airbus which reinforces the position of Filton as the jewel in the crown of UK aviation engineering.
“By investing in engineering skills we will maintain our position as a world leader in aviation excellence.”
Meanwhile, City of Bristol College was part of a South West consortium that secured more than £1.25m to train people in green technologies.
It is hoped that the cash will help create more than 500 jobs across the region by tapping into the government’s carbon reduction targets.