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FAQs   Re-opening the Portishead line – some Frequently Asked Questions

MetroWest, created in 2013 by the 4 Councils that used to be Avon (CUBA), links together all Bristol's rail services, to deliver two reopened passenger lines, Portishead and Henbury, half hourly train services across the West of England and up to ten new stations. Reopening the Portishead line is the key project in MetroWest Phase 1.

The four West of England councils have spent about £22 million on the project so far (April 2021) and the full £116.4 million budget has been secured from devolved local growth funds, the Department for Transport and the four councils' own money.

In 2002, Quays Avenue cut off the final 400 metres of the line. The station, bus interchange and drop off car park will be where the Quays Avenue/Phoenix Way roundabout currently is, with Quays Avenue diverted westwards around it to a new roundabout. There will be a 400 metre walkway with parking along the old track bed from the station site to Waitrose.  

The preferred option was to operate trains of four carriages every half an hour at peak times and hourly off-peak, from Portishead to Bristol Temple Meads calling at Pill with a 17 minute journey time. This was revised in April 2018 to an hourly service approx, 18-20 trains per day with a 23 minute journey time.

GRIP is Governance for Railway Investment Projects – Network Rail’s project management system. All railway infrastructure projects have to follow this eight stage process. The Portishead line reached GRIP 3 in 2010 as a single line. This has been redone for the whole MetroWest project and GRIP 4 is currently underway. The complexity and breadth of this work is illustrated by the Portishead line’s inclusion in the London Crossrail timetabling!

A Development Consent Order is the means of obtaining the planning powers to build and operate developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. It replaces other consents such as planning permission and compulsory purchase orders.

Reopening the Portishead line is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project because part of the track fell out of Network Rail use. The DCO is a lengthy statutory process, with numerous public consultations, taking several years to complete. It is a massive undertaking to prepare – 27,000 pages. The Planning Inspectorate completed the examination stage in April 2021 and will announce the DCO decision later this year.  

The cycle access was allowed using temporary way-leaves, which can be revoked by Network Rail whenever they wish to operate the railway. The docks crossing was approved as a temporary crossing, with a planning condition for the docks to construct an over bridge when the line is rebuilt.

About 380 parking spaces will be provided at Portishead (90 more than the Nailsea & Backwell station car park). Work on pricing and managing parking on local roads is part of the DCO/GRIP process work.

There are three locations where unofficial paths cross the track. These are not Rights of Way, but are so widely used that the Council has given them a proper surface whilst labelling them as temporary paths. When the line reopens a single footbridge with ramps near Trinity School will replace all these crossings.

As Phase 1B of the MetroWest project, trains should be running on the Portishead line by early 2024.

The trains will be the same as those now used on the Severn Beach line – Class 160 or 165 units. These will be transferred from elsewhere in the UK and will be either three or four carriage trains initially, with a top speed of 90 mph and a capacity of 286 seats plus 91 standing.

Platforms etc. will be future-proofed to allow for five carriage trains if/when demand requires.

Good question! Re-opening any railway line is not simple. There is a mountain of political, financial, legal, geographical, planning, transport strategy, engineering, environmental, technical and risk issues that have to be dealt with. All have to move forward in unison to deliver a working railway.

Engineering for MetroWest has to interlink with other major rail projects such as electrification, the four tracking of Filton Bank, Bristol East junction signalling and the new Intercity trains.

North Somerset Council (NSC) and WECA (Bristol, BANES and S. Gloucestershire) must also move forward in unison. Since 2013 the formation of MetroWest means that they are all moving together with real momentum, with legal agreements in place to ensure this continues. NSC are the project sponsor for the key Phase 1B Portishead line project, WECA for the Phase 1A Severn Beach & Bath enhancements.

The DCO took considerably longer to prepare than expected, due mainly to the complexity of the numerous environmental impact assessments, including Flood Risk and the new IROPI (Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest) process. The completed DCO is 27,000 pages in length!

The total budget, which was £56 million then leapt to £145-175 million in 2017, was revised down to an independently verified cost of £116.4 million. An indication of how the costs add up was provided in the 2017 GRIP 3 report.

The project is securely funded as follows and about £20 million has been spent to get this far:

Local Growth Fund   £27.3 million

Economic Development Fund  £26.1 million

WECA & 4 local Councils  £31.1 million

Dept. for Transport RNEP  £31.9 million

Three business cases are required before construction can start, two of which have been completed:

Preliminary Business Case

Approved 12 September 2014 after 12 months’ work and confirms:

Outline Business Case  

The colossal cost changes and complexity of the environmental assessment and Avon Gorge works delayed completion until late 2018.

Full Business Case

This will be required after the DCO is complete and before construction can start, comprising:

Bristol 30%  BANES 15%  South Gloucs 5% North Somerset 50%

As we know, these risks have already delayed things at times! However, they are unlikely to stop the project and actually create a strong financial spur for the four councils to ensure the project is delivered.

The track is regularly cleared to a 10 metre width to access the infrastructure along the line.

GRIP 3 was completed in March 2017. The report revealed an astonishing increase in cost, up to £170 million, which triggered a review of the entire project. This resulted in a simplified proposal, delivering one train per hour at a cost of £116.4 million, for which funding is fully in place and secure. The project is proceeding on that basis, but upgrading to two trains per hour can still be being carried out in the future.

The DCO was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in December 2019 and completed the examination stage in April 2021. Technical work continues with Network Rail and further expenditure of up to £6.1 million in 2020 and 2021 will cover legal, land, environmental and technical rail work to address questions and work required during the Planning Inspectorate's six stage DCO process.

£7 million of highways and civil engineering work will also be procured during 2020/21, so that this work is ready to proceed as and when the DCO process is completed. This is also needed for the Full Business Case approval, which will follow as soon as the DCO is approved.

When will construction start?

What are the main benefits of the MetroWest project?

Full details about all the above and links to supporting documents that can be downloaded are available elsewhere on this website.

Peter Maliphant

Membership Secretary

19 April 2021

 Updated April 2021