Portishead rail link 'will take six years'
A railway link to Portishead could take six years to build – and the cost could be almost double the highest previous estimate, it has emerged.
Network Rail, which is in charge of the country's railway lines, says it will take "five or six" years to bring the line linking the North Somerset town to Bristol, which last took regular passenger trains in 1964, back into service.
And it says it will need to raise money from outside backers – who still need to be found – to help foot the bill for the scheme, now an estimated £28 million.
The Post understands the extra costs include upgrading signalling and other infrastructure on parts of the line which currently only take freight trains.
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Alan Matthews, chairman of the campaigning Portishead Rail Group, told the Post there was massive enthusiasm for the scheme to go ahead.
But both he and spokesmen from Network Rail, which would be in charge of converting the route to take passenger trains, warned that the cost could be much higher than originally expected.
A feasibility study into the scheme is currently under way and is due to be published this summer. Included in the study is a discussion of which stations the Portishead services will stop at in Bristol, apart from Temple Meads.
The outcomes of the study will then need to be carefully looked at before a decision on which scheme is best is taken in 2010.
Alan Matthews, chairman of the Portishead Rail Group, said: "If you ask anybody who lives in Portishead they will tell you that they want an alternative way of getting out of the town.
"We believe that an awful lot of people would use a train, especially if it only took half an hour to get into Bristol, rather than the 90 minutes it takes on the roads during rush hour.
"The capital costs are being looked at at the moment.
"We had a figure of £9m but others have suggested somewhere between £7m and £15m.
"Conversations I have had give the impression that it's going to cost something like £28m.
"Network Rail seem very keen to get it going, subject to capacity at Temple Meads and on the surrounding lines.
"The West of England Partnership [a group set up by the former Avon councils to work together on policies affecting them all] has put something forward to the Government and it's top of the list to do by 2014, which is roughly in line with what Network Rail are saying.
"We would obviously like to have something done sooner but there are a lot of hurdles to get over first."
Network Rail spokesman Mike Gallop said: "We are looking at the scheme at the moment but there is a lot of work still to be done.
"It's something we want to do, something which we think would work but there will need to be third-party funding for the project and that will take a lot of work.
"I would say it could take about five or six years but it's going to be a lot more expensive than people think."
Funding for the scheme would come from the Government and from developers but would need to be bid for in a competition against other transport schemes in the Greater Bristol area.
But there remains plenty of support for the project among the politicians.
City council cabinet member for transport Jon Rogers said: "This is a great project, which needs to happen soon.
"It's good that funds have been identified in the regional funding allocation.
"It fits in well with our Bristol metro plans, we are pleased to work with colleagues in North Somerset, and all political parties across the spectrum agree that this is a good thing for the area."
Elfan Ap Rees, his counterpart at North Somerset Council, said earlier this year that the re-opening of the line for passenger services would play a large role in improving the transport infrastructure and promoting safe and sustainable travel.
In August last year North Somerset Council bought a three-mile section of defunct track on the line, to safeguard its future.