Work starts on clearing disused railway line
WORK has started on clearing part of Portishead's disused railway line.
North Somerset Council has appointed contractors to start cutting back vegetation a section of the three miles of the track it owns in the town.
The work involves cutting back vegetation to gain access to the track bed and to bridges and culverts.
The work is being done ahead of the bird nesting season, to allow surveyors to then move in and check the line and the surrounding ground.
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Inspections will also be carried out to identify any wildlife which may be living in the area and check whether there are any rare species.
North Somerset Council spokesman Richard Turner said: "These partial works need to be done now so we can establish a more detailed design of the scope and estimated cost of works that would be required on this section of the rail line, if the passenger railway project is to proceed.
"Ecology surveys have been undertaken, which have identified a range of wildlife and protected species on the land. Because of this, the clearance work is being carried out under the supervision of a qualified ecologist."
The work is expected to take several weeks to complete.
The council hopes that if Government funding is secured, passenger trains could be running from Portishead again by 2017.
North Somerset Council executive member for strategic planning and transport, Elfan Ap Rees, said: "We will not be clearing the whole line. Once the clearing work is done then we can move ahead with the next step of surveying the site."
The Department for Transport is expected to make an announcement on funding later this year.
The revival of the Portishead rail line is part of plans to create a Greater Bristol Metro network, re-opening existing track and old stations to ease congestion on the Bristol area's roads.
To reopen the line three miles of redundant track between Portishead and Portbury, purchased by North Somerset several years ago to protect it, would have to be relaid and a new station built.
A new road bridge would need to be built over the railway at Quays Avenue in Portishead, with land at Harbour Road already earmarked as a station site.
About £10 million would have to be spent on upgrading a six-mile section of the track between Portbury and Parson Street station in Bedminster, as currently it is not of a good enough standard to run passenger services.
Further work is also needed at Pill tunnel to improve drainage and lines.
If the project is successful and the line reopened, it could cut gridlock on the Portbury Hundred, the main road out of Portishead. A study in 2010 estimated that rush hour travel time from Portishead to Bristol could be cut from an hour by road to 17 minutes by train.
Brunel first proposed the line in 1839. It was built by the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company and opened in 1867. It was closed to passengers in September 1964 and freight in 1981 and lay unused, apart from occasional steam specials, until the freight line to Royal Portbury Dock reopened in 2002.