Portishead rail link plan is latest in long-running saga
In the new housing development near the old railway station in Portishead there is a length of rail and the words "Bristol & Portishead Pier & Railway Company 1867" carved in some paving.
It is a small reminder of a line that transported passengers between Portishead and Bristol for 100 years.
With the purchase this week by North Somerset Council of a three-mile section of derelict track, the prospect of trains running along the line once again has moved a step closer.
The reopening of a route first envisaged by Brunel in 1839, opened in 1867 and closed to passenger traffic in 1964, would give thousands of commuters from Portishead a realistic alternative to driving to work in Bristol.
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Currently, the only other option is taking the bus, which can take more than an hour.
If the branch line is reopened, journeys to the city will take less than 30 minutes.
A survey carried out by two Portishead councillors in December 2007 found that between 7am and 9am, 2,400 cars left Portishead on the Portbury Hundreds and 1,500 via Clapton Lane.
This number of commuters driving to Bristol every morning will only increase, as Portishead's population has more than quadrupled in size since 1960 and continues to grow.
Alan Matthews, chairman of the Portishead Railway Group, said it was a "no-brainer" why the branch line should be re-opened.
"Why is it so important? Ask all the residents of Portishead," said Mr Matthews.
"At the moment, it can take more than 40 minutes to get to the motorway in the rush hour.
"If the line was open, you could get to Bristol in less than that.
"We believe that if the line was re-opened it would be well used.
"This is a no-brainer. It obviously has to be opened.
"There are more and more people living in Portishead who work in Bristol. In fact, I would say that the majority of people living in Portishead work in Bristol, and they just can't get in very easily."
North Somerset Council appointed a team of consultants to assess the potential for the reintroduction of a passenger rail service between Bristol and Portishead.
In their report, published in June, the cost of the scheme was estimated to be between £7.7 million and £14.4m.
This includes building a new road bridge at Quays Avenue in Portishead.
Operating costs were assessed by consultants Halcrow at between £1.7m and £2.4m per year, resulting in a likely subsidy of between £400,000 to £900,000. This would be paid by North Somerset Council.
The difference in prices is due to the various options proposed.
The cheapest of these would see one train an hour calling at Portishead and Temple Meads, with track reinstatement, a new station at Portishead and a signal upgrade.
The most expensive option would see two trains an hour on the line at peak times and one in less busy periods, with trains calling at Pill, Ashton Gate, Bedminster and Parson Street, a passing loop and additional signals.
The cost of tickets was not included in the Halcrow report, but if First Great Western becomes the line operator, as expected, tickets from Portishead to Temple Meads would probably cost about the same as the fare from Bath – £8 for an adult return.
In Wales, the reopening of the Ebbw Valley Railway means passengers can make the journey from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff by train for the first time in more than 40 years.
During its first six months, it carried more than 250,000 passengers.
With 44,000 passengers a month, the trains have not only doubled the forecast of 22,000, but also smashed the 2012 target of 33,000 passengers.
The success of the Ebbw Vale line could bode well for people in Portishead.
Even in 1966, Portishead Town Council was pressing for the line to Bristol to be reopened.
More than 40 years of wanting and waiting may soon be over, but Mr Matthews thinks it could still be another four years – at the earliest – before train travel between Bristol and Portishead is once again possible.