Bristol and Bath must be the two cities with the worst local rail services. Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and so many others have amazing suburban train services. Cities like Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield have tram networks as well. All that Bristol has is the Severn Beach Line, serving the west and north west of the city plus a couple of stations in Bedminster on the line to Weston. Bath has local stations on the main line at Oldfield Park and Freshford. That’s it. Pathetic. No wonder only 2% of people commute to work by train, lower than anywhere else.
Plans have come and gone for the last 30 years. I remember the idea of the Avon Metro. While I was an Avon county councillor we had worked up plans for new trams, with the routes called the West Way. I still have the promotional brochures. The fragmentation of local government in 1996 killed the plan. We’ve never had the big regional transport authority, like Transport for London or Mersey Rail, which makes possible the planning for local passenger services. That will change on 4th May with the election of the new Metro Mayor to head up a new regional West of England combined authority. The Metro Mayor will be able to thrash out a transport plan for Bristol, Bath and the towns and villages of North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
Delivering rail improvements is much harder than enhancing bus services. There are lots of agencies with fingers in the railway pie. As Metro Mayor I would have to convince the Department of Transport, their agency Network Rail and the various private rail service providers. I would also have to bring on board our neighbours in Wiltshire and other counties. But there are some obvious quick wins.
There are also some trickier projects. Here are some of my ideas:
• Open new local stations. The early priorities will be new stations on existing passenger lines that currently operate diesel trains. In Bristol these would be the old Ashley Hill station, between Stapleton Road and Filton Abbey Wood plus a park and ride on the Severn Beach Line as it abuts the Portway, taking traffic from the M5. In South Gloucestershire the front runner is Charfield, on the line between Yate and Gloucester. A dedicated bus would have to link with the nearby town of Wotton under Edge. Between Bath and Bristol I want to re-open Saltford station.
• Opening more local stations on existing lines depends on one very big factor – getting rail electrification back on schedule. Early on in my Mayoralty I would put together a deputation of MPs and business leaders to meet with the Secretary of State for Transport, who threw a spanner in the electrification works in 2016. This is not just about the London services from Bristol Temple Meads and Bath. Electrification of the main lines and some local lines would enable faster local electric trains. This would allow the timetable to be flexed to permit opening extra stations, for instance at St Anne’s and Winterbourne.
• New services on current lines. A direct link between Clifton and Bath would be very popular, with both commuters and tourists. Yate is a very popular station but the trains are overcrowded at peak times and there is only one train an hour. Extra carriages and twice hourly services would benefit Yate and Chipping Sodbury.
• New services on old lines. The line to Portishead must be re-opened. The town has seen a huge increase in residents, with many new homes. The road into Bristol is seriously congested. The rail line exists to the Port of Bristol and could easily take passenger services. I would work with North Somerset to secure the investment.
• The freight line across north Bristol, through Henbury, could also be opened up to passenger services. Stations along this route would serve the huge number of new homes being built adjacent to the old Filton Airfield. If the Port’s needs can be addressed then it could be possible to have a Bristol Circle Line, running services via the Severn Beach Line and Filton Bank.
• Commission a feasibility study on a rail link for Thornbury. The town is scheduled to have many new houses. The A38 and M5 are already under pressure. There is a rail line running from Yate to Tytherington Quarry. There is obvious potential for a passenger service into Bristol, where many residents will work.
• Commission a feasibility study into a tram link to Bristol Airport. The airport is badly served by roads and buses are often delayed in the Bristol built up area. The rail line between Bristol and Weston is not far away. The contours of the land make it difficult for a traditional rail spur, from Long Ashton. However, trams can cope with more severe gradients than trains and this could be a solution.
• Work with Wiltshire to make the case for new stations at Corsham, Box and Royal Wotton Bassett. Enhanced rail services in Wiltshire would greatly relieve car traffic pressure on east Bath. I will be publishing a full manifesto at the end of March and in the meantime would welcome feedback and other ideas for how we can get a more extensive local rail network.