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11:00 - 10 October 2005
Government advisers want to concrete over the Bristol to Severn Beach railway line and turn it into a special bus route. They say the multi-million pound scheme could be a way of solving some of the city's transport problems.

It would mean tearing up 13 miles of track and laying concrete channels to guide buses that would be capable of running at up to 60mph.

The line currently carries nearly 1,000 passengers a day.

The route would be called a busway with the vehicles having small guidewheels fitted to the front of ordinary buses, which would eliminate the need for the driver to steer.

The buses could switch to roads at the end of the concrete channels.

The proposals are included within the 500 million Greater Bristol Transport Study, an ambitious 26-year blueprint for the city and its outlying areas.

The introduction of concrete channels is seen as a way of transforming under-used railway lines which rely on large government subsidies.

The Greater Bristol Transport Study, which was commissioned by the local authorities in the Bristol area, states guided buses would lead to greater frequency and shorter waiting times on the Bristol to Severn Beach route.

But any move to tear up the train tracks is likely to be met with opposition from campaigners.

The railway runs from Temple Meads through Lawrence Hill, Montpelier, Redland, Clifton Downs, Avonmouth and Severn Beach. It was opened in 1865 and was originally called the Bristol Port Railway and Pier.

Peter Tyzack, the South Gloucestershire councillor for Pilning and South Beach, said that, while he was in favour of replacing redundant railway lines, he did not believe the Bristol to Severn Beach line was under-used enough to be replaced.

He said: "This is a proposal that has happened in other parts of the country and I am not completely averse to the idea of replacing redundant train lines but I would prefer railways to be kept open and more people should be encouraged to use them.

"This track could be made to work and could be really valuable with more investment.

"The Avonmouth train service is a great treasure and it is a great shame that more people don't use it."

Members of the public are currently being asked their views of the transport proposals. Final recommendations from the study are expected by the end of the year.

Wessex Trains, which runs the railway, have stressed the plan only makes a "long- term" recommendation for a guided bus lane by 2031.

The company's franchise ends in March. Companies are competing for the right to run a larger Greater Western franchise which will initially be for seven years.

Wessex Trains' business manager Anne-Marie Delrosa said: "It does need to be heavily consulted on - obviously this would mean the closure of a rail line.

"Last year we had over 340,000 journeys on the line."

More than 50 branch lines across the UK are to become "community railways" with private donors expected to pick up the tab for maintenance.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling last year said the Government would not subsidise these lines beyond 2009 unless they attracted more passengers.

The Government has already approved a busway in Leigh, near Manchester, which will run on a disused line.

And it is also considering a busway from Cambridge to St Ives while another scheme is proposed from Luton to Dunstable in Bedfordshire.

But a Department for Transport spokesman said there was no government agenda to rip up suburban railways and replace them with bus lanes.

She said: "There is no presumption by us that guided bus lanes are the best way forward. We take all local circumstances into account."

The Evening Post reported last month on other proposals included in the Greater Bristol Transport Plan such as the building of a new ring road around south Bristol within the next 10 years, further widening of the M4 and M5 and three new park-and-ride sites.

Comment: Page 10

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