SPEAKER'S CORNER: Bristol's rail strategy needs some joined-up thinking
THE coalition government has announced a 4.1 per cent rail fare rise in England from January 2014. Part of that is to cover inflation, but the rest is meant to fund investment in rail projects. In Bristol, the mayor is considering a 50p-per-journey fare rise at peak times on the subsidised Severn Beach line services along with a hike in season ticket prices in order to reduce the subsidy that Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils pay towards this line.
However, instead of extra revenue being used to reduce existing subsidies, we believe that any additional income should be directed towards helping to fund the Greater Bristol Metro (now called MetroWest).
The whole of the Metro project is being facilitated by the Intercity Electrification Project, which will see electric trains running between London, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea via both Bristol Parkway and Bath Spa. As part of this project the route between Temple Meads and Filton Abbey Wood will be doubled to four tracks, thereby allowing a lot more trains to run in and out of the city and also enabling fast trains to overtake slower local services. We will see miles of new electric overhead wiring and complete resignalling of the city region, as well as the rebuilding of large parts of Bristol Temple Meads, including new platforms.
MetroWest, which has been kick-started by £81 million from the Department for Transport under the City Deal, involves reopening the Portishead line with frequent services calling at Pill, Ashton Gate, Parson Street, Bedminster and Temple Meads and through services to Keynsham, Oldfield Park and Bath (optionally extended to Trowbridge and Frome or Warminster). The plan also envisages new stations at Saltford and Bathampton.
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Phase two of MetroWest (which we want to see in the Government's 2014-to-2019 expenditure plan) will bring back passenger services on the line from Filton to Henbury and Avonmouth. This will mean new stations at Filton North (serving BAE) and Henbury (providing an easy jumping off point for the shuttle bus to Cribbs Causeway). Other station possibilities are at Charlton (serving the new housing springing up between Southmead and Patchway) and at Hallen or Chittening. This phase of the Metro should also see the opening of a new station around Ashley Hill/Horfield.
The third phase of the Metro (to be realised over the next ten years) will include significant improvements to cross-city routes from Taunton and Weston-super-Mare to Yate, Gloucester and Cheltenham. There are new stations planned for Corsham, Royal Wootton Bassett, Charfield (for Wotton-under-Edge) and Stonehouse (London Road).
Of course we welcome the DfT and the Welsh Government's investment in the electrification of the mainline through Bristol to South Wales. But, sadly, the City Region, through its new Transport Board, has so far been unable to capitalise on this to make the case for the electrification of the local rail lines. That would bring MetroWest to another level and would allow the replacement of the refurbished 40-year-old diesel trains which currently operate First Great Western's local passenger services.
It is particularly unfortunate that the Bristol region is only just developing its transport board when such an important project is already under way. In South Wales, the Welsh Government and the regional transport boards are funding local electrification of the suburban rail lines around Cardiff and Newport, and major integration/interchanges with the local bus network. This means South Wales is getting a first-class integrated urban transport network. In Bristol and Bath it is time for the transport trades unions, Business West and the railway lobby and passenger groups to come together with one voice to demand that we get a local transport board capable of delivering the same kind of service and infrastructure for our region.
We would like to see such steep fare increases (in a very difficult economic climate) offset by new investment in local stations including disabled access to Parson Street, Lawrence Hill, Stapleton Road and Patchway. We are looking to the mayor and the West of England Partnership (representing the city region's local authorities) to work together with First Great Western and Network Rail to push these improvements forward, along with the building of a new station for Shirehampton/Portway park-and-ride. Restoration and a new use needs to be found for Avonmouth station building in collaboration with Severnside Community Rail Partnership. The building is currently threatened with being demolished and replaced with a bus-stop-style passenger shelter.
We live in the most congested city region in Western Europe and we need to make radical changes to the way the region's transport works. Local public transport must become much more attractive in every way – frequency, routes and transport modes. This cannot be achieved by putting up fares. We must use local taxation, as other regions do, to subsidise all kinds of local transport.