AUTHORITIES AROUND Bristol are aiming to submit a Development Consent Order for reinstating the rail link to Portishead in July. The move follows the closure of a funding gap for the scheme after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling confirmed a £31.9 million Department for Transport contribution from the Control Period 6 Enhancements Budget.

Phase 1b of the MetroWest programme comprises reopening to Portishead, with the disused 5km section between Portishead and Pill requiring reinstatement.

The 9km section from Pill to Parson Street is currently in use as the Portbury freight line but would require some upgrading for passenger services. The scheme had been reduced in scope following an earlier cost estimate being higher than anticipated, resulting in the proposed frequency being reduced from half-hourly to hourly.

Last autumn authorities had identified a £46.9 million funding gap for the MetroWest scheme, but subsequently identified a further £15 million contribution through the Economic Development Fund mechanism, with DfT now meeting the balance subject to the scheme passing successfully through the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline process.

The overall capital cost of the project is currently estimated at £116.4 million, although an update was expected at the end of June after Network Rail completed GRIP4 (single option development) work.

Once a Development Consent Order application has been submitted, the process is expected to take around 18 months.

Earlier correspondence from Mr Grayling to authorities in the West of England had asked them to consider a light rail or tram-train solution for the Portishead line.

However, authorities have ruled this out because it is believed there is little scope to reduce signalling costs, with other savings outweighed by additional costs specific to tram-train operation such as the need for a depot, stabling and costs relating to the form of traction.

However, the potential conversion of the line to tram-train operation as part of a wider network at a later date has not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, work is ongoing on Phase 1a, which comprises introduction of half-hourly services on the Severn Beach line and to Bath Spa. Current thinking envisages this enhanced service extending to Westbury, avoiding the need for a turnback facility at Bathampton, and again updated costs were due at the end of June.

A decision is planned in early 2020 to confirm the extension to Westbury, at which point detailed design work can be commissioned.

Phase 2 of MetroWest comprises a further frequency enhancement to half-hourly on the Yate to Bristol route, with a potential extension to Gloucester, along with the reintroduction of services on the Henbury line with new stations at North Filton and Henbury, as well as a new station at Ashley Down on the Filton bank.