Bris­tol boost

With am­bi­tious plans to over­haul pub­lic trans­port in the com­ing years, in or­der to re­solve the city’s con­ges­tion prob­lems, Bris­tol’s rail projects are tak­ing on added sig­nif­i­cance. DANIEL PUDDICOMBE re­ports

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

With am­bi­tious plans to over­haul pub­lic trans­port in the city, Bris­tol’s rail projects are tak­ing on added sig­nif­i­cance.

Last month, a ma­jor piece of the Fil­ton four-track­ing works was com­pleted, dou­bling the num­ber of lines be­tween Bris­tol’s two ma­jor sta­tions - Park­way and Tem­ple Meads. The three-week block­ade re­moved a bot­tle­neck be­tween the two sta­tions, in­creas­ing the amount of freight traf­fic that can run along the lines and cre­at­ing ex­tra space for more pas­sen­ger trains.

Ac­cord­ing to Michelle Scogings, Prin­ci­pal Pro­gramme Spon­sor at Net­work Rail, the works will “pro­vide the foun­da­tions the net­work needs un­til 2043”.

She ex­plains: “It will add div­i­dends straight­away, and is a fairly com­plex bit of work. It will pro­vide foun­da­tion. The Bris­tol area is a key part of the net­work that has ex­pe­ri­enced growth, and has as­pi­ra­tions.

“Fil­ton four-track­ing is the build­ing block to this be­cause it will add ca­pac­ity and al­low fun­ders to meet their am­bi­tions for what­ever new ser­vices they want to run. With two lines

it was a fairly busy sec­tion of rail­way, so with two ex­tra tracks it gives us the ca­pac­ity to run more trains on the net­work and im­prove the ro­bust­ness of the timeta­bles. It’s the right build­ing block to start from the bot­tom and work our way up.”

Am­bi­tion is a word that seems to go handin-hand with Bris­tol at the mo­ment.

The much-vaunted MetroWest scheme may have been de­layed and its costs bal­looned, but with the four-track­ing com­pleted a light is ap­pear­ing at the end of the tun­nel for the cross-city project, which in­cludes run­ning pas­sen­ger trains and open­ing new sta­tions on what at present are freight-only lines.

It’s easy to see why Bris­tol City Coun­cil, which is work­ing with the West of Eng­land Com­bined Au­thor­ity (the body that’s lead­ing on the MetroWest scheme), wants to see im­prove­ments.

There is cur­rently one train ev­ery two hours be­tween the city’s main sta­tion (Tem­ple Meads) and Sev­ern Beach, and one train ev­ery hour to places such as Keyn­sham and Yate. In this day and age, that’s not good enough - es­pe­cially as it’s claimed that rail us­age in the area is grow­ing year-on-year.

MetroWest aims to ad­dress those prob­lems in two core phases. Phase 1 seeks to open sta­tions at Por­tishead and Pill, dou­ble the num­ber of trains to Sev­ern Beach, and open a new sta­tion be­tween Avon­mouth and Shire­hamp­ton at Port­way Park and Ride. Phase 2 in­volves open­ing new sta­tions at Ashly Down, Hen­bury and North Fil­ton, and in­creas­ing the ser­vice pat­tern to one train an hour be­tween Tem­ple Meads and Yate.

“We have am­bi­tions to fix our trans­port net­work and look at new and emerg­ing chal­lenges,” says Mhairi Threlfall, the for­mer Bris­tol City Coun­cil Cab­i­net Mem­ber with re­spon­si­bil­ity for Trans­port and Con­nec­tiv­ity, who stepped down shortly be­fore this isue- of RAIL went to press to con­cen­trate on her ef­forts to be­com­ing an MP.

“One of the key things at the mo­ment is we need to build 105,000 new homes to solve the hous­ing cri­sis. In or­der to un­lock those new homes and to en­sure the city isn’t com­pletely grid­locked, we need to be proac­tive and re­ac­tive to the sit­u­a­tion. And rail plays a key part in that.”

She says that one of the main chal­lenges faced by MetroWest is fund­ing, and the fact that pro­mo­tors have to ad­here to Net­work Rail prac­tices: “The chal­lenge for us is Phase 1, where we had an ini­tial cost­ing of £ 58 mil­lion but that went up to £116m once we went through the GRIP pro­cesses with Net­work Rail. So the chal­lenge is the fund­ing gap.”

Threlfall says the city is mov­ing into the un­known to try and bridge that gap. It has come up with a range of mea­sures which may help it to gain ex­tra rev­enue, such as work­place park­ing levies and con­ges­tion charges, but these will take time to im­ple­ment - if they make it past the draw­ing board in the first place, with a high prob­a­bil­ity of lo­cal ob­jec­tions.

How­ever, she claims the main prob­lem is that the Gov­ern­ment is be­ing slow to re­spond to the de­sires of the group. Nor does it help that elec­tri­fi­ca­tion has been de­ferred on the

The South West is the sec­ond-least funded re­gion af­ter York­shire and Hum­ber­side, and that’s an equal­ity is­sue that needs to be chal­lenged. Mhairi Threlfall, For­mer Bris­tol City Coun­cil Cab­i­net Mem­ber with re­spon­si­bil­ity for Trans­port and Con­nec­tiv­ity

Great West­ern Main Line via Bath. “Back in June, [Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port] Chris Grayling made a state­ment be­cause we had quite a big rep­re­sen­ta­tion about elec­tri­fi­ca­tion through to Tem­ple Meads,” she says.

“It said he was still com­mit­ted to the Por­tishead line, which is the key part of Phase 1, and that he was seek­ing de­liv­ery in CP6 (Con­trol Pe­riod 6, 2019-24]. Ob­vi­ously we have an am­bi­tion to de­liver Por­tishead much sooner than that, but you have to op­er­ate within the fact that the costs have gone up. So I’d like the Gov­ern­ment to step up.”

She con­tin­ues: “It was an ex­pec­ta­tion we were go­ing to have elec­tric trains into Bris­tol. And given we’re get­ting a lot of the pain and only some of the gain, it’s frus­trat­ing.

“When that hap­pened, we had a state­ment say­ing the Gov­ern­ment had a com­mit­ment to de­liver other pro­grammes in the area, but we’ve not yet seen that come for­wards. We could have ac­cepted this if we had other ben­e­fits such as them say­ing ‘we’ll sup­port Por­tishead in the mean­time’, but in the mean­time we haven’t had any­thing and there’s still no in­di­ca­tion on Por­tishead.”

De­spite the four-track­ing work and re­cent in­vest­ments in new rolling stock, Threlfall be­moans the lack of cen­tral Gov­ern­ment fund­ing the area re­ceives in or­der to im­prove rail con­nec­tiv­ity.

“The South West is the sec­ond-least funded re­gion af­ter York­shire and Hum­ber­side, and that’s an equal­ity is­sue that needs to be chal­lenged. We need suf­fi­cient fund­ing in or­der to de­liver our am­bi­tion, but you need to have the am­bi­tion in the first place.”

An­drew Davies, Prin­ci­pal Trans­port Plan­ner at Bris­tol City Coun­cil, adds: “I think the De­part­ment for Trans­port needs to recog­nise we’re a third-party fun­der in­vest­ing in the rail net­work, and that’s the way Net­work Rail is be­ing pushed.

“As a re­gion we’ve spent a lot of time and money de­vel­op­ing these projects, and we’ve taken a lot of risk our­selves. The DfT needs to recog­nise that.”

Davies wants the first ser­vices to run to Por­tishead by 2021, but ac­knowl­edges that the next few months are key for the project, with dis­cus­sions on­go­ing about how the fund­ing gap is go­ing to be plugged.

“We’re just wait­ing for some costs to come through by the end of the year on Phase 2, which will help us out­line our busi­ness case in the spring,” he says.

“It’s key we get good con­nec­tiv­ity to the new sta­tions. We don’t want to just open ba­sic sta­tions, we want to en­sure all ar­eas are prop­erly con­nected. We re­ally need a cer­tainty it is go­ing to be funded, be­cause it is re­ally hard to de­liver these schemes if there’s a mov­able base­line.”

Paint­ing a rosier pic­ture of the MetroWest project is West of Eng­land Mayor Tim Bowles.

“Rail’s im­por­tance to the re­gion is enor­mous,” he tells RAIL.

“Top of my agenda is to help get peo­ple out of the car and use sub­ur­ban rail in­stead. MetroWest is pro­gress­ing re­ally well, and we’re look­ing to start mo­tor­ing on it be­cause it will make a real dif­fer­ence to the re­gion - it will give peo­ple a real modal shift op­por­tu­nity. It will al­low 80,000 peo­ple to use rail ser­vices, and that sort of thing will make a real dif­fer­ence to the re­gion.”

De­spite his claims that the project is well-

Fil­ton four-track­ing will add ca­pac­ity and al­low fun­ders to meet their am­bi­tions for what­ever new ser­vices they want to run.

Michelle Scogings, Prin­ci­pal Pro­gramme Spon­sor, Net­work Rail

ad­vanced and that for­mal an­nounce­ments would be made in the new year, Bowles is not yet ready to sug­gest open­ing dates: “Some of the level of this work hasn’t been seen since the rail net­works were first built. This is huge in terms of what’s in­volved, and to be pin­ning dates as to when we can be cut­ting a rib­bon is al­ways dan­ger­ous.”

Un­like his coun­cil col­leagues, Bowles does not be­moan a lack of in­vest­ment in the re­gion, telling RAIL: “When I look at the in­vest­ment we’ve re­ceived around the four-track­ing, around the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and around the sig­nalling works that’s go­ing on, there’s a huge amount of in­vest­ment that’s go­ing into the rail­ways. And there will be an aw­ful lot more.”

You might think pas­sen­gers will be sim­i­larly en­thused with the im­prove­ments be­ing pro­posed, but Rob Dixon, chair­man of the Friends of Sub­ur­ban Bris­tol Rail­ways cam­paign group, thinks oth­er­wise. The group has pro­posed a num­ber of new open­ings on the map, but he tells RAIL the group’s main aim is to “make sure promised things ac­tu­ally hap­pen, such as MetroWest and Por­tishead”.

Ex­plain­ing the rea­son­ing be­hind the calls for ac­tion on new sta­tions, Dixon says: “We’d like the Com­bined Au­thor­ity to put in more sta­tions in ar­eas that we feel aren’t wellserved, such as the north­ern fringes of the city. Fo­cus­ing on what we’ve got and mak­ing the most of the freight lines is the log­i­cal thing to do, and when Fil­ton Bank is fin­ished that will un­lock ca­pac­ity. We think the sta­tions we’ve pro­posed in ad­di­tion to the WECA study will make a real dif­fer­ence to con­ges­tion and air qual­ity.”

Dixon echoes the coun­cil’s views that Bris­tol’s rail­ways are un­der­funded com­pared with other ar­eas of the coun­try, and claims that part of the prob­lem is be­cause the lo­cals “don’t kick up enough of a fuss” com­pared with trans­port chiefs in the North.

“One of the things we’ve found is that get­ting peo­ple to­gether to ap­ply pres­sure has had some suc­cess,” he says.

“MetroWest has come about be­cause a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple were say­ing the same thing. We’ve also found that when MPs have put pres­sure on the Gov­ern­ment there have been move­ments, but more needs to be done.”

Dixon con­cludes: “I think willpower is a con­cern, but there is a lack of con­fi­dence and a be­lief that rail is dif­fi­cult. It isn’t easy, but part of the prob­lem is that his­tor­i­cally there haven’t been things like trans­port au­thor­i­ties bring­ing to­gether their own staff who can put schemes to­gether and con­trol things.”

Dis­abled users will be re­lieved to hear that the plat­forms for the new MetroWest sta­tions are be­ing de­signed to com­ply with the na­tional stan­dard height of 915mm.

Davies ex­plains: “We’ve de­signed our plat­forms to the na­tional stan­dard be­cause we know we’re still go­ing to get cas­caded rolling stock. But it mag­ni­fies the chal­lenges go­ing for­ward to of­fer step-free ac­cess when we even­tu­ally do get newer stock.”

Threlfall adds: “Ac­ces­si­bil­ity is a key part of what we want to de­liver. We’ve iden­ti­fied three sta­tions that don’t of­fer step-free ac­cess. In my mind, sta­tions should be com­mu­nity as­sets.”

But Bris­tol’s am­bi­tions aren’t just lim­ited to the MetroWest scheme. Dig be­low the sur­face and you’ll find other am­bi­tious projects in the pipe­line in and around the city, such as one to bet­ter link the city and the air­port that serves the re­gion.

Cur­rently, buses link Tem­ple Meads and the air­port. And while the bus timetable has been cre­ated to fit in with the ar­rival of lo­cal trains, Si­mon Ear­les, Plan­ning and Sus­tain­abil­ity Di­rec­tor at the air­port, be­lieves more could be done - es­pe­cially as it has am­bi­tious growth plans of its own for the com­ing years.

He tells RAIL: “There’s a gap. There’s scope to im­prove pub­lic trans­port ac­cess, and masstran­sit is the next step. There are a num­ber of air­ports around the UK that have bet­ter pub­lic trans­port ac­cess be­tween the air­ports and the main city they serve than we have.”

Stud­ies are cur­rently on­go­ing and Ear­les says more in­for­ma­tion will be made avail­able next year.

“I re­fer to my­self as modally ag­nos­tic at this stage be­cause we don’t know what the best op­tion is,” he adds.

“Ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble. The Vic­to­ri­ans built some bril­liant rail­ways, so if the de­sire is there the tech­nol­ogy is there. We need to de­cide if heavy rail is the right an­swer, or whether or not it could be a tram, or maybe Move­ment as a Ser­vice.

“The re­al­ity is that there is scope for some phas­ing - a tram could be suc­ceeded by heavy rail in the longer term. There are plenty of ex­am­ples in Europe where both tech­nolo­gies can be laid, and one can be de­liv­ered in the shorter term and one will be de­liv­ered in the longer term.”

The link could also take the form of an un­der­ground rail­way. Late last year, Bris­tol Mayor Marvin Rees sur­prised many by

As a re­gion we’ve spent a lot of time and money de­vel­op­ing these projects, and we’ve taken a lot of risk our­selves. The DfT needs to recog­nise that.

An­drew Davies, Prin­ci­pal Trans­port Plan­ner at Bris­tol City Coun­cil

an­nounc­ing he was look­ing at the fea­si­bil­ity of tun­nelling be­neath the city.

Threlfall ex­plains the think­ing be­hind what many con­sider to be a pie-in-the-sky white ele­phant: “We have to be proac­tive if we are go­ing to tackle our legacy and emerg­ing chal­lenges. In or­der to do that, we need to be think­ing about mass tran­sit and we need to be think­ing about how we move a large num­ber of peo­ple within the city.

“We’re one of the few cities in the coun­try with­out a tran­sit sys­tem. The key thing for us is go­ing through the fea­si­bil­ity study, so that by Christ­mas we can see if it is fea­si­ble, and by early next year we can start to think about how to go about with our stud­ies and go out to a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.”

Ear­les pre­vi­ously worked at Heathrow. Dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity that his cur­rent work­place be con­nected to the city by Tube, he said: “You only have to look at Bris­tol as a very con­gested city, and you would only need to bury sec­tions of a pub­lic trans­port net­work un­der­ground to see how ben­e­fi­cial that could be. We’re the gate­way to the re­gion to make it easy as pos­si­ble for peo­ple to get out of Bris­tol and visi­tors com­ing in, and we need to make it as easy as pos­si­ble for them to come in.”

Rees has stated that mass-tran­sit in some form should reach the air­port in the next decade. Ear­les says this is “em­i­nently doable”, but only if it wins sup­port from all the rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing those in cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

“It is such an ex­cit­ing time for the re­gion - we’ve been a net con­trib­u­tor and we want to con­tinue do­ing so, but it will re­quire in­vest­ment. When you com­pare us with other re­gions we’re bot­tom of the pile when it comes to in­vest­ment from the Gov­ern­ment, and that needs to change,” he con­cludes.

De­pend­ing on who you lis­ten to, some of these projects are a long way off, fairly close to com­ple­tion, or won’t hap­pen at all. How­ever, one re­cent in­no­va­tion that is now tak­ing place is the use of pas­sen­ger trains to carry freight as well as peo­ple on a daily ba­sis.

Or­gan­ised by In­ter­city Rail­Freight (ICRF) and with back­ing from the coun­cil, med­i­cal sam­ples are car­ried twice a day from Bris­tol to Lon­don on Great West­ern Rail­way High Speed Trains and In­ter­city Ex­press Trains. An elec­tric bike picks up the sam­ples and takes them to Tem­ple Meads, where they are loaded onto a wait­ing train bound for Lon­don Padding­ton.

Threlfall is a big fan, and be­lieves the use of pas­sen­ger trains to carry cargo could open up other uses for smaller sta­tions.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing from my per­spec­tive that these small sta­tions are near small busi­nesses who may not have dis­tri­bu­tion net­works, so we’re look­ing at do­ing some­thing with those sta­tions,” she says.

“You’re al­most look­ing it as a re­de­vel­op­ment at the same time. We have lots of build­ings that are as­so­ci­ated with sta­tions that aren’t be­ing used, so the project at the mo­ment is to look at how we can use sta­tions to aid freight dis­tri­bu­tion.

“There’s a lot of op­por­tu­nity, and as you’re us­ing pas­sen­ger ser­vices you don’t have the chal­lenges of pathing freight trains - you can just stick a car­riage on the end and have things that wheel in and out.”

In­ter­City Rail­Freight Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Jeff Scree­ton tells RAIL: “Bris­tol could wield a big stick and force be­havioural change by clamp­ing down on cars and vans in the city - but this pro­vides the car­rot.

“Ev­ery­one wins. Bris­tol per se gets a less con­gested and pol­luted en­vi­ron­ment, sta­tions are more se­cure and nicer places to go, freight can be car­ried more sus­tain­ably into the city, and GWR gets more pas­sen­gers for do­ing and spend­ing noth­ing.

“ICRF is also look­ing to run high-speed freight ser­vices into the for­mer waste trans­fer fa­cil­i­ties at Bar­row Road. Bris­tol Coun­cil is very keen to see this de­vel­oped - not only to fur­ther demon­strate the im­por­tant link be­tween rail and sus­tain­able last­mile trans­port, but also as a sec­ondary devel­op­ment whereby some of the land around the site forms part of its strate­gic cy­cle net­work.”

While there may be ar­gu­ments on whether or not there is suf­fi­cient fund­ing for the re­gion, there is clearly huge am­bi­tion to im­prove the re­gion’s pub­lic trans­port - and that can only be a good thing for pas­sen­gers, res­i­dents and busi­nesses in the years to come.

For some time, Bris­tol may have been seen as be­ing be­hind the curve in terms of rail de­vel­op­ments. But it is clear that all the stake­hold­ers want that to change - sooner rather than later.


Cross­Coun­try 220015 pre­pares to leave Bris­tol Tem­ple Meads on Septem­ber 6 with a ser­vice for Manch­ester Pic­cadilly.

Source: Friends of Sub­ur­ban Bris­tol Rail­ways.

Friends of Sub­ur­ban Bris­tol Rail­way’s aims for MetroWest Phase 3


On Septem­ber 6, two Great West­ern Rail­way Class 166 Tur­bos pass each other near Lawrence Hill, where Net­work Rail’s project to re­in­state 4½ miles of dou­ble track at Bris­tol’s Fil­ton Bank is in full swing.


Ap­proach­ing the site of the for­mer sta­tion at Pill on Oc­to­ber 6 2016, DB Cargo 66171 leads the 0330 Warrington Ar­p­ley Yard-Port­bury Au­to­mo­tive Ter­mi­nal freight ser­vice. MetroWest aims to re­turn pas­sen­ger ser­vices to the line by 2021.

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