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Bristol's metro is not as far off track as you might think

By The Bristol Post  |  Posted: June 30, 2011

How Bristol’s suburban rail network could look

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IT'S time Greater Bristol had a transport system fit for the 21st century.

Most experts believe the key to this is railways, and our map shows a bold vision for the future.

It illustrates how more than a dozen disused stations could be brought back into use, creating a suburban rail network that fully connects Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath.

The success of the Severn Beach line shows what can be done when investment is made in local rail – 20 per cent increases in passengers and more carriages.

And if the local rail network was developed in the same way, there would be more stations with more frequent services, more passengers and potentially cheaper fares.

But the only way this could come about is through an Integrated Transport Authority and today the Evening Post is calling for one to be set up.

An ITA is a body with more control over local transport, the ability to set fares and to ensure passengers enjoy a service that is fit for purpose.

However, it would need the four local authorities in the former Avon area to work more closely than they have been able to, allowing them to co-ordinate rail, bus and even ferry services much more effectively.

Up until now, three of those four local authorities have said no to the formation of an ITA.

But we believe the time has come for the councils to put aside old rivalries.

We believe it is time for them to work together to develop the kind of local transport network that the Greater Bristol area deserves.

It would lead to the long-awaited re-opening of the Portishead line, which has been closed to passenger trains since 1964.

Railway stations across Greater Bristol that have been disused for more than half a century could be given new life, from Ashton Gate to Thornbury, St Anne's Park to Henbury.

Of the proposed stations on our map, only Portway Park and Ride would be entirely new.

The rest have all previously had stations although, in most cases, little remains of them.

Re-opened stations would not necessarily need the original buildings.

The track is already there and, in some cases, all that would be needed is a new platform.

In others, where the original platforms are in place, simple shelters would be enough.

An ITA would be able to provide new rolling stock, so Greater Bristol would no longer have to put up with "hand-me-down" carriages from other cities.

Ian Crawford, of the Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance, believes rail is the route to improvements that will benefit the whole region.

He said: "Bristol has a chance to set up a European-class public transport system fit for the 21st century, a chance that will never come again.

"A massive increase in usage followed Bristol council's modest investment in the Avonmouth line.

"Just imagine what could be achieved by a full exploitation of the local network by Bristol and its neighbours. Quicker journeys. Less pollution.

"The least ambitious scheme frees enough space for a diesel cross-city service stopping at Parson Street, Bedminster, Temple Meads, Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road every quarter of an hour: a jam-buster from Portishead or Weston to Parkway via Avonmouth or Ashley Hill.

"A really ambitious scheme provides a minimum half-hourly electrified service to every station in and around the city.

"The message to councillors and their advisers in and around Bristol is 'grab it or lose it – this is a great opportunity'."

All this will take money, of course, and that is where an ITA's real strength lies.

One body would give us a louder voice when it came to securing money from government – essentially a champion for Greater Bristol transport.

Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have all benefited from ITAs, and it's about time Bristol sat at the same table.

It's not just rail that would benefit but buses too.

An ITA would own and run bus stations, stops and shelters. It could buy or lease new buses as it needed.

Campaigners say that if Bristol had an ITA, we would not have ended up with Bristol City Council's current bus crisis and £2.2 million of service cuts. Transport campaign groups have long called for an ITA to sort out many of the problems Greater Bristol faces, from service cuts and congestion to high fares and unreliable services.

Bristol transport campaigner Dave Redgewell said: "ITAs have lobby groups in Parliament but we don't play at that level.

"With the recent cuts, we've gone from running public transport that was beginning to approach what they've got in Leeds. Now we're at the level of Southampton or Plymouth. We're becoming a second-division player.

"Transport is about economics. We need to bid as a European city.

"If you have a third-world transport system, you won't get investment.

"We've got huge steps to make and it won't happen with four fragmented local authorities."

The long called-for transport interchange at Plot 6, the land next to Bristol Temple Meads, could also become a reality with an ITA.

There would also be better access for people planning their journeys, with a one-stop website explaining all of the transport options in the region.

And to tie all of this together would be a London Oyster-style travel card.

Efforts to introduce smartcards to Greater Bristol have so far been fragmented at best.

Having one body in charge would give us a better chance of creating a simple, straightforward card that could be used on every form of public transport in the region – saving not only time but money.

We won't pretend there isn't a cost to all this. ITAs involve a small increase in council tax, like the fire service or police.

But the money an ITA could bring in from central government would more than offset this.

And we would no longer need four sets of transport officers with four directors of transport.

Politicians of all colours recognise the benefits of an ITA.

MPs like Kerry McCarthy, Stephen Williams and Dawn Primarolo have long called for an ITA for the area, and Charlotte Leslie has now joined them.

Bristol city councillors from all parties also feel it is the best way of sorting out local transport.

Ultimately, it is about working together for a common goal, something the major transport operators in the region recognise. First Great Western and First Bus both support an ITA for the benefits it could bring passengers.

First South West and Wales regional manager Justin Davies said: "To be truly effective, the ITA should be seen as more than just a new political structure.

"Instead, it should help focus attention on delivering better facilities and capital schemes that make a real difference to local people, while also tackling the things that hinder progress, like congestion and car dependency.

"It should have cross party representation and take a holistic approach considering the needs of all those people who travel in and out of Bristol – for work and pleasure."

Campaigners want it. MPs want it. Councillors want it. Businesses want it. Transport operators want it. And, most importantly, residents want it.

So Let's Get Moving.

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  • jamie1984  |  July 02 2011, 12:35AM

    Wishful hoping tho getting the 4 authorities to create a ITA is near impossible with how they stand Bristol best hope is having its borders being rewritten and BANES (Bath) which out of the 3 others will share Urbanisation goals! The other 2 may as well go back to there pre 1972 counties or create a single county of Greater Bristol & Bath (& Bath being important) 2 cities too near will not work out particularly with naming and rivalry but likely both want the same things. Bristol and Bath should really be working for ALL of us!

  • joning  |  July 01 2011, 12:17PM

    @ Erinaceus Very good point, quite agree. Although I would say as a son of the Toon now in southern climbs, Tyneside has had the Metro for 30 years and it's recent regeneration has nowt to do with it.

  • Utopian_Dream  |  July 01 2011, 11:54AM

    2 things spring to mind: 1. Bristol has one of the worst congestion levels in the whole of the UK 2. Bristol has one of the worst public transport infrastructures in the UK.... I wonder if this is just a coincidence?

  • LordClifton  |  July 01 2011, 10:47AM

    unlike the number 8 and 9 bus these "artist's impression of how Bristol's transport system could look in 40 years time" stories come along with unfailing sentimental regularity.

  • a_juk  |  July 01 2011, 10:45AM

    We also need faster lighter trains, and probably an optional terminus at Clifton, also this doesn't solve the problem of BTM being so far from the centre, IMAO the line through Redcliffe to Spike Island should never have been built on, what were they thinking?

  • pollyxxx  |  July 01 2011, 8:26AM

    Oh My GOD NOT THIS OLD CHESTNUT AGAIN...........................

  • Mark434343  |  June 30 2011, 8:57PM

    Wow Bobob3, what an amazingly selfish attitude you have there.... You're council tax shouldnt be spent on this because you dont need it? You appreciate the good rail service you have where you live but dont feel others should get the same. I'd like to stop paying for services you use that I don't need if thats okay... Not that I expect it to happen but well done to the Evening Post for such a sensible suggestion.

  • ashleyvale  |  June 30 2011, 8:51PM

    FromMendip - I totally agree with you. Bristol has been seriously held back by the pumped-up parish councillors of North and South Dibley.

  • FromMendip  |  June 30 2011, 8:17PM

    Bristol (and I mean physical Bristol as opposed to municipal Bristol) misses out on so many things because it's run by four local authorities that rarely agree on anything. Municipal Bristol has a population of about 420,000 but physically joined to it to the north and east is another urban sprawl called South Gloucestershire with bits of North Somerset and B&NES also part of the contiguous urban area with a total population of around 200,000. All this should be in municipal Bristol which would then remove much of the petty, parochial bickering between local councillors that is the main bar to anything being achieved in so many things within Greater Bristol. The rest could go back to historic Gloucestershire and Somerset which worked so well for centuries with Bristol, albeit an enlarged Bristol, straddling the gap between the two. Lack of an ITA is an important example. Bristol wants one but the other three councils don't, apparently on the spurious grounds (at least in the case of Cllr ap Rees of North Somerset) that such a body would bring a disproportionate benefit to Bristol at the expense of his and the other two councils.

  • Tim_M  |  June 30 2011, 6:41PM

    A nice aspiration. Greater Bristol does need an ITA. However, a heavy rail-based system is never going to solve all of Bristol's transport problems or needs, since coverage isn't good enough, and never will be (no stations anywhere in the city centre area) unless someone starts digging some tunnels (not going to happen). And 30-minute frequency? That's not European standard, that's a joke. Frequency needs to be enough that you can just go to a station and know you'll be served within an acceptable timeframe. During the day that's 10 minutes at most. On weekends or late at night 20 minutes would suffice. No one is going to wait for (worst case scenario) 30 minutes for a local connection. Trams and underground metro systems are "European standard" btw.