A further £35.5 million has been committed towards reopening the line to Portishead, which authorities say should help plug a funding gap.
A Development Consent Order application for the scheme was submitted in 2019, but twice a decision has been postponed. The most recent postponement came with the suggestion that funding for the programme was not secure, with the Department for Transport setting a new deadline for a decision of February 2023.
To plug this gap, the West of England Combined Authority has secured £15.5 million from Government along with £10 million apiece from its own resources and from North Somerset Council. West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris said: ‘This cash will allow us to conclude the final design work and then start the building and construction work in earnest.’ He urged for a decision on the DCO to be made as soon as possible, adding: ‘Inflation is going through the roof and every day’s delay adds more cost. I will be chasing the Secretary of State to accelerate this process as much as possible.’
Reopening to Portishead is part of the MetroWest scheme to improve local services around Bristol. The reopening involves upgrading of the Portbury Dock freight line as far as Pill and reinstatement of the 5km from Pill to Portishead, plus new stations at Portishead and Pill. The proposed service is 20 trains per day on Mondays to Saturdays at a broadly hourly frequency but with an additional train in the morning and evening peak. It had been hoped passenger services would start in 2024, but the delay to the DCO is likely to have set this back.
The first MetroWest enhancement to frequency on the Severn Beach branch has already been delivered, with further frequency improvements to Westbury and Gloucester due to follow, along with a new service to a new station at Henbury on a freight-only line.