Old rail depot will service local trains, says expert
A RAIL depot at St Philip's Marsh near Bristol Temple Meads station will still have a future, despite planning permission being given for a new depot at Stoke Gifford, according to rail campaigners.
The depot at St Philip's Marsh is used to maintain and park high-speed 125 trains which operate between Paddington, the West Country and South Wales.
But these outdated diesel-powered units are due to be replaced by Hitachi-made electric trains in 2016/17 after the mainline is electrified in a £4.5 billion Government scheme.
The door to electrification was opened on Thursday when South Gloucestershire councillors gave permission for the new rail depot at Stoke Gifford to go ahead despite an outcry from residents who live nearby.
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They are worried about fumes, noise, air pollution and stray light affecting the quality of their lives.
But the councillors imposed a raft of conditions as part of the planning consent to protect the residents.
Rail campaigner Dave Redgewell, pictured, said St Philip's Marsh, where about 150 staff are based, is crucial to providing local rail services. He said a depot would still be needed to park and maintain trains which operate on local services after the new depot at Stoke Gifford is built.
He said: "Updating our stations and track is all very good but the other part of the equation is looking after the rolling stock and that's why rail depots are so important."
Next year, the franchise to operate trains on the mainline between Paddington and the West Country will be renewed.
It is currently operated by First Great Western.
Whichever company wins the franchise, then the contract would include the St Philip's Marsh depot as well as use of the Hitachi electric trains from 2016 or whenever they become available.
Hitachi will run the depot at Stoke Gifford and provide the electric trains on a daily rental to the franchisee.
The track and depots are owned by Network Rail which, in effect, means the Government.
It might come to pass at some point after the mainline is electrified that local lines also get overhead wires to run electric trains. If this happens, then the electric trains for local services would probably be based at St Philip's Marsh.
The need for the St Philip's Marsh depot might become even more crucial if electrification provides further improvements to local services such as the Henbury Loop being opened up.
Last year, the Government announced that the new franchises will run for a minimum of ten years and up to 22 years.
But train companies will have to meet tougher performance criteria to avoid being stripped of a franchise.
And companies which walk away from a franchise because it is not profitable will face bigger financial penalties.
The move has been welcomed by the rail industry, which says it will give companies more incentive to invest.
Most rail franchises are currently let for seven or eight years.
The new rail depot at Stoke Gifford will use a 44-acre triangular site near Parkway Station.
Councillors gave their consent after planning officers recommended approval.