First Great Western chartered a one off train journey around Bristol on Friday 4th November as part of the Rail Priority Conference 2011. The train travelled on the city’s old train tracks, some of which have not been used to carry passengers for over half a century. Guests on board the two carriage diesel train travelled along the Portishead line, sections of the Avonmouth line, and around the Henbury loop. Passengers included Colin Medus, Head of Highways and Transport for North Somerset Council and Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of First Great Western.
Julian Crow, First Great Western Manager forWestern Englandhighlighted the importance of the event as a way to reinvigorate the campaign for the Greater Bristol Metro Scheme, saying ‘This event today will hopefully demonstrate the potential effectiveness of these lines.’
This scheme was first proposed in 2008 and involves both the restoration of old lines, as well as the creation of new stations, to improve the transport links between Greater Bristol and the city centre.
The journey was an attempt to demonstrate that the unused passenger lines are not a million miles away from being usable, as well as boosting awareness for the plans. Supporters of the scheme feel strongly about the need for the implementation of these plans for several reasons.
It is felt that a wider reaching public transport system would take the pressure off the often congested city centre roads, as well as improve Bristol’s environmental sustainability.
Supporters also point to the overcrowding of current train services. Currently passengers occasionally are unable to board due the popularity of the service – unsurprising given that rail travel in the West of England has increased by 65% in the past five years.
Despite these incentives, progress has been sporadic: during the week of the event, a further setback occurred when a funding bid of £43 million for the Portishead line works was rejected. According to Medus this was due to a lack of evidence that the project would directly lead to new jobs in the area. While those involved are still hopeful that progress can be made and the proposed scheme remains a key part of the Joint Local Transport Plan 3 2011 to 2026, it seems that it is going to be a longer process than pioneers may have hoped.