MetroWest, formerly known as the Greater Bristol Metro, is a project to improve the rail services in Bristol, England, and the surrounding region. It was first proposed at First Great Western's Stakeholder Event in March 2008. The aim of the project is to develop half-hourly services through central Bristol which will also serve the surrounding West of England region. Transport campaigning group, Transport for Greater Bristol are actively supporting the proposal, as are the four unitary authorities under the West of England Combined Authority.
Earlier plans for a metro system were promoted by then MEP Richard Cottrell in 1986 and acts of Parliament were secured. This would have used existing track, with new build through the city centre. However, the scheme folded when Advanced Transport for Avon was wound up with debts of £3.8 million.
Rail usage in the West of England doubled in the ten years between 1999 and 2009. A campaign for a Greater Bristol Metro was launched in February 2012, with plans prepared by engineering consultancy Halcrow Group. The scheme was estimated to cost £22 million at 2008/09 prices and could be completed between 2016 and 2021.
The 2012 plans included station reopening costs, estimated by Bristol City Council to be an average of £5 million each. Related estimates for reopening of the Portishead Railway and for four-tracking between Parson Street and Filton Bank were reported as approximately £50 million and £30 million respectively. It was subsequently reported that the Portishead Railway reopening would cost around £33 million.
Planning and implementation
The scheme was given the go-ahead in July 2012 as part of the City Deal, whereby local councils would be given greater control over money by the government. Councillor Tim Kent stated in September 2012 that the first part of the scheme, on the Severn Beach Line, would be delivered "next year".
An opinion piece in the Bristol Evening Post in June 2011 called for the establishment of an Integrated Transport Authority for the West of England and for progress on the metro proposal. During the Rail Priority Conference organised by the West of England Partnership in November 2011, delegates travelled on the Portishead line, the Severn Beach line and the Henbury Loop, using sections of track not currently used for passenger traffic. In early 2012, during the consultation phase for the new Great Western rail franchise, Bristol City Council and local rail user groups launched Bristol Metro 2013 to ask bidders to incorporate metro plans into their bids. Bristol MPs were lobbied in Westminster by Dawn Primarolo (MP for Bristol South) and Steve Webb (former MP for Thornbury & Yate). The Saltford Station Campaign Group and Bath and North East Somerset Council suggested in April 2012 that the reopening of Saltford station could be part funded by means other than those included in the West of England Partnership's report.
By 2015, little progress had been made on the project, with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership producing a Key Principles Report in November 2015 reiterating the aspiration to reopen lines and increased train frequencies as well as discussing future potential transport projects for the West of England region, including new rail transit based options referred to as MetroWest++. The options outlined include reopening the Thornbury Branch Line, a Yate to Bath route, the use of tram train technology, a link to the city centre and a connection to Bristol Airport. A 2015 report was produced by Arup, appointed by Bristol City Council, to analyse potential cost of electrifying both phases of MetroWest, with Arup concluding a total cost of £175 million.
Delays and cost overruns
By 2017, the planned opening date for the Portishead Line was aimed to be 2020.[failed verification] In March 2017, MetroWest reported a substantial increase in the estimated costs of Phase 1, owing to the work required to upgrade the line in the Avon Gorge to achieve the line speeds required for a half-hourly service, and to reroute road traffic away from a level crossing in Ashton Vale. The original £50 million cost estimate had increased to £145M, which was reduced to £116M by changing the planned frequency to hourly. In 2018 the local authority made a bid for funding from central government that was turned down, placing the project into uncertainty. However £31 million of funding was promised in April 2019 by Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport. The current revised date for the opening of the Portishead line is 'by 2023'. In August 2019, North Somerset Council announced it would be submitting a development consent order to the Government by the end of September, with a proposed 2023 opening being reiterated.
The MetroWest Project has two phases. MetroWest Phase One involves the reopening of the Portishead Line, and hourly services between Severn Beach and Bath Spa. MetroWest Phase Two consists of reopening the Henbury Line, with half-hourly services between Weston-super-Mare and Yate.
New rail lines
The two major components of the MetroWest project include the reopening of the Portishead Railway, with stations at Pill and Portishead; and the Henbury Line with stations at Ashley Down, Filton North and Henbury to passenger traffic with services to Bristol Temple Meads, with the two new lines expecting to generate 0.4 million passengers each per year. In April 2016, it was reported by North Somerset Times that the North Somerset Council had agreed to buy two pieces of land for the creation of the Portishead and Pill stations at the cost of £880,000.
Upgrades and new stations on existing lines
Upgrades to existing lines include the four-tracking of Filton Bank, the line from Bristol Temple Meads to Bristol Parkway, in order to separate local journeys from express and long distance trains, similar to the S-train principle. This work was completed in 2018 and will allow two trains per hour between Bristol Temple Meads and Yate, and two trains per hour from the Severn Beach Line to Bath Spa, which are expected to generate 0.25 and 0.6 million passengers per year respectively.
In 2017, £2.23 million was allocated for construction of the Portway Parkway station which had been under discussion since 2009, of which £1.67m came from the government's New Stations Fund, with additional funding coming from the West of England Combined Authority and West of England Local Enterprise Partnership. Ground surveys began in 2017, with completion originally planned for 2019; however, planning permission was not granted until March 2019. Further potential station reopenings include Ashton Gate, St Anne's Park, Saltford and Horfield.
Extensions are proposed north from Yate to Gloucester and southeast from Bath to Westbury, with WECA in talks with Network Rail to determine the necessary infrastructure. In 2016, Wiltshire Council were studying the potential of a MetroWest extension to Chippenham which would see a reopened Corsham station between Chippenham and Bath Spa.
A report produced by the West of England LEP into improving access to Bristol Airport from the city centre studied the potential of a heavy rail link to the airport, either branching from Parson Street following the A38 road, from Nailsea & Backwell, or from Yatton using the old trackbed of the Wrington Vale Light Railway. However, by 2017 it was confirmed the airport link was likely to form part of Bristol's proposed mass transit network.
Thornbury Branch Line
Suggestions were made to reopen the Thornbury Branch Line. However, in 2017 the West of England Combined Authority found there would be several challenges in delivering this proposal, as the former rail alignment into Thornbury is now occupied by an industrial estate and there is no practical routing into the town. The station would therefore have to be located on the edge of Thornbury at a significant distance from the town centre, making it less attractive to passengers. The Grovesend tunnel would also need to be reopened, with its current condition unknown, and there would be capacity constraints at Westerleigh Junction. This led to the Authority deciding not to pursue reopening the line. FOSBR continue to advocate reopening the line in the future.
- Greater Bristol
- MetroBus (Bristol)
- Transport in Bristol
- Urban rail in the United Kingdom
- Rail services in the West of England
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