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Despite promising the project was not “dead in the water” and claiming it would open “sooner rather than later” in an interview with Bristol.Live last year, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has failed to give any financial support to the line.
Officially called MetroWest phase one, the Portishead to Bristol line is viewed as a vital to solving the congestion gridlock which hits the city and county boarder twice each day.
North Somerset Council - the lead authority for the £116million project - applied for a Department for Transport grant to help cover a £47million funding shortfall last year.
But the authority has now found out its bid was not successful and £173million pot will instead be split between three new road projects in North Devon, Yorkshire and Leicestershire.
North Somerset say it will continue to apply for government funding, but admitted there is no firm plan to cover the extra cost.
This will doubtlessly leave many questioning whether the line will ever reopen.
“Many people have been working for years to progress the MetroWest scheme and North Somerset, in particular, has been lobbying ministers to take forward the Portishead Rail connection,” Deputy Leader of North Somerset Council, Elfan Ap Rees, said.
Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport at Temple Meads (Image: Jon kent)“Indeed, government have previously recognised the benefits the scheme will bring to our area and the positive impact it will have on local people.
“We will therefore continue our discussions with ministers to progress the scheme, as they have suggested, including seeking other funding opportunities and financing options.”
West of England Combined Authority (Weca) Metro Mayor Tim Bowles appears positive the project will still go ahead.
“It is disappointing that this specific bid wasn’t successful, but the West of England Combined Authority will continue to work closely with government and Network Rail on our ambitious plans for suburban rail," he said.
It is perhaps slightly embarrassing for the Conservative Metro Mayor and Tory led North Somerset that their own party seem reluctant to invest in the scheme which it has previously lavished with promises and praise.
The HistoryThe MetroWest project has rumbled on for almost a decade with seemingly little progress made.
The scheme was taken up by Bristol and North Somerset councils in 2008 with the aim of reopening the line to provide half-hourly services between Portishead and Bristol Temple Meads.
The route needs major investment to re-lay sections of track which have been ripped up, and for a viable shared timetable to be created with the freight companies which use part of the line.
A major blow to the project came last spring when it was revealed costs for the first phase had spiraled from £58million to between £145 and £175million.
Officers went back to the drawing board and decided to scale back plans and only offer one service an hour between Bristol and Portishead to bring costs down to £116million.
The Portishead Line at PillSome £70million of the funding needed for the project has been secured from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) leaving £47million left to find.
The line was originally supposed to reopen in 2019 and last year North Somerset said work would not begin until 2020 at the earliest.
The latest blow heaps yet more uncertainty as to when the line will be up and running, if at all.
The NeedPortishead is one of the fastest growing towns in the South West. Its population has risen by more than 3,000 since 2001 and is expected to increase by a further 8,000 in the coming decade.
The A369 and M5 roads – the main commuter routes in to Bristol – are regularly congested during peak times, and when one or both are blocked it makes it almost impossible for people to drive to and from the city.
TravelWest – the umbrella organisation for Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, North Somerset Council and B&NES – estimate that the reopened line will provide a £264million boost to the local economy over the next decade.
Two new stations at Portishead and Pill are proposed under MetroWest phase one plans, and train services will also serve Parson Street, Bedminster, and Bristol Temple Meads stations.
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.
MetroWest phase two will see the Henbury Spur route reopen and improvements made to the Yate corridor. Phase two is not thought to be affected by Thursday’s funding announcement.
This article first appeared on www.bristolpost.co.uk
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