The Bristol to Portbury railway line where the track splits at Pill (Image: PAUL GILLIS/Western Daily Press)
Preparations are being made to appoint contractors to carry out the work to construct the new Portishead railway line. North Somerset Council says the next ‘major step’ in bringing the re-opening of the railway to fruition is to prepare the documents for the invitation to tender for the design and build contract and issue it to the market. It is anticipated that the invitation to tender will be issued by June and a formal tender process is expected to be completed by December. This will tie in with the decision on the Development and Consent Order - currently under examination.
The design and build contract for the railway is due to be awarded to the successful contractor in January 2022. The next steps for the re-opening of the railway were rubber stamped at a meeting of the council - including a decision to spend £7.39 million on the technical work for the scheme in the coming financial year.
A council spokesman said: “This funding will progress technical work feeding into the Full Business Case, including completion of Development Consent Order process (DCO) and to commence the detailed design.”
The DCO seeks consent to start work on re-opening the defunct section of the line from Portishead. The order also seeks to gain environmental consent to undertake work to the existing freight railway through Avon Gorge and obtain powers for the compulsory acquisition of land. Relaunching train services from Portishead with new stations at Portishead and Pill is a key part of the MetroWest programme of transport improvements across the region being led by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and North Somerset Council. There has been a great deal of uncertainty about the scheme over the years - mainly due to the spiralling cost of the project.
Alongside the Portishead line, phase one of the project includes running half-hourly trains on the Severn Beach Line and to Keynsham and Bath Spa. Work on construction of the Portishead to Bristol line was due to start in April 2022 with the first train expected out of Portishead in March 2024. These dates are now being reconsidered due to the impacts of Covid 19. It is estimated the scheme will mean 181,000 fewer car trips in its opening year increasing to 278,000 car trips by 2036. Other benefits will mean 958,980 passenger trips by rail in the opening year increasing to 1,295,103 passenger trips by 2036. The scheme will also bring more than 50,000 people within the immediate catchment area of the two new stations at Portishead and Pill and provide better access to employment and educational opportunities.
Timeline for the Re-opening of the Portishead Rail Link
1. 2012 and 2013
West of England Rail studies establish the case for MetroWest – then called the Greater Bristol Metro
2. December 2012
Joint Transport Executive Committee endorses going ahead with MetroWest Phase 1, which includes plans to re-open the Portishead Railway Line
3. March 2013
Joint Transport Board agrees prioritised City Deal (now Local Growth Fund) funding for MetroWest Phase 1
4. March 2014
West of England Local Enterprise Partnership Strategic Economic Plan includes MetroWest as a priority
5. Summer 2014
Consultation on location for Portishead Railway Station
6. September 2014
Preliminary Business Case endorsed at £58 million
7. Spring 2015
Location of Portishead Railway Station agreed – site at Quays Avenue agreed
Development consent order stage one consultation
8. Spring 2016
Consultation on alternative access for Ashton Vale Trading Estate
9. Summer 2016
Development consent order for new Portishead rail link delayed from being submitted due to technicalities in designing track through Avon Gorge
10. Winter 2017
Report to West of England Local Enterprise Partnership warns the re-opening of railway line will cost ‘substantially more’ than £58 million
11. Summer 2018
Central Government refused to fund the scheme, as the Department for Transport revealed its bid had failed. People living in North Somerset hit out at the scheme, saying they believed it 'will never happen'.
North Somerset Council then pumped another £1.4million into the scheme, saying it had every confidence it would reopen.
12. Spring 2019
The opening of the line was secured, after the Government agreed millions in funding.
13. Summer 2019
North Somerset Council agrees to submit a Development Consent Order (DCO) application to the Planning Inspectorate for the £116m project.
The DCO application seeks powers to build and operate the disused section of railway from Portishead to Pill, gain environmental consent to undertake works to the existing freight railway through the Avon Gorge and obtain powers for the compulsory acquisition of land.
14. September 2019
North Somerset Council says the DCO will be submitted to the government by the end of September
15. November 2020
A decision on the DCO is now expected from the secretary of state by December 2021 - after a delay in the examination process caused by the Covid-19 pandemic
It is estimated that more than 500 permanent and temporary jobs will be created during the construction of the rail line and that the scheme will bring an additional £284 million into the local economy during its first 10 years.