Portishead Railway Line

Portishead to Bristol by Strail

A proposal to provide a commuter service from Portishead to Bristol in the Morning rush hour and from Bristol to Portishead in the evening rush hour.

The advantage of this system are:

  1. Cheaper than a railway. “Back of envelope” calculation shows it could be done for less than £40m. Current estimate for re-opening the railway is £116m for one train per hour; increasing to 2 trains per hour at £175m.
  2. Will provide a more extensive route than a railway. For example a route could start at the far end of Portishead and travel into central Bristol.
  3. Will not interfere with current use for Freight trains. (Currently only 10 per week.)
  4. Can be installed without interrupting freight trains or modifying the railway lines.
  5. Faster service than can be provided by train. (Shorter route).
  6. More frequent service. Current proposal is for only one train per hour.
  7. Possibility of adding an off-road cycle track 4kms shorter than present route.

The problem

During the morning rush hour a large number of people commute from Portishead to work in Bristol. The road system is inadequate to cope with the traffic. In the evening rush hour the roads are unable to cope with the numbers commuting back to Portishead. The current plan is to reopen the railway to passenger trains. Final funding of £31.9m is waiting for approval, and then a Development Consent Order will be applied for.

Providing a commuter service using STRAIL

Strail is a system of thick interlocking panels made from virgin and recycled rubber that fit between and beside railway lines. They are in use at 30,000 locations on five continents to provide level-crossings for road traffic to drive over railways. They have been in use for forty years.

My suggestion is to infill the railway line with “Strail” panels and run buses along the route. I estimate that this could be done for about £40m, but that doesn’t include the cost of buses, administration or project management.

This could offer a much better service than trains since buses wouldn’t be limited to starting and finishing at a railway station. The buses could start at the far end of Portishead and travel along Down Road or Nore Road picking up passengers along the way.

The buses then travel to Bristol and rejoin the road network at the Cumberland basin complex. There is now a bus lane along Cumberland road as part of Metro bus. (It would also be possible for the buses to join the 52 km of the new Metrobus network at this point so as to provide an integrated system.) This would take buses to Temple Meads, without going through Parson Street.

This would be fine for people who want to catch a train and can afford it. But most commuters work somewhere else. A bus could continue to Cabot Circus and on to the bus station for those who want to travel elsewhere and can’t afford trains. Next it could stop at the BRI complex and the University, both large employers. Finally it could go down Jacobs Wells Road and stop at the centre, if required.

The empty buses could travel back to Portishead on the A369, ready for another trip. In the afternoon the service reverses and buses travel from Bristol to Portishead along the railway.

Buses would have very little impact on existing infrastructure and offer a much more flexible service. The current proposal is for only one train per hour. At best that means only two trains would be available for most commuters – a total of 540 seats.

The Dock freight trains, at present two a day, could continue to use the railway when the buses aren’t running. “Strail” panels are easily removed and replaced if it is necessary to repair the railway line.

There is also the option to provide a cycle path alongside the line. A cycle path to Bristol already exists but this one would be 4kms shorter. The estimate for this is £263,000, but this doesn’t include a fence to separate it from railway line.

I have not done any market research to check if this service would be used in large enough numbers to make it viable. Before millions of pounds of taxpayers money is spent on any scheme thorough research needs to be done to ensure it will be used.

The demand predicted in the Metrowest Phase I bid, sec 3.1, is 242,945 journeys initially, and 433,529 journeys after 20 years. This means that even after twenty years years 69% of the seats will have no-one in them.

The recent IPCC report once again highlighted the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. When all fossil fuel use is included, a full bus is by far the most efficient and least polluting form of transport.* However, a nearly empty bus is the worst. This is a good reason to only run the service during the rush hours.

*Chester M.V. & Horvath, A (2009) Environmental assessment of passenger transportation should include infrastructure and supply chains Environmental Research Letters 4 2.

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