Campaigners say Portishead will soon be the
biggest town in England without a railway link. They have
started a new group to battle for the return of trains - and
yesterday they explained to Chris Roe why they won't give up
AS a student in the late 1950s, Roger Sainsbury used to take
the train from Bristol to Portishead to go to
In those days, services
ran straight from the city and were a valuable way of getting
about for the coastal town's 7,000 residents.
years later, after retiring as Bishop of Barking and returning
to Portishead, Bishop Sainsbury once again finds himself
thinking about the railway.
But now the three miles of
tracks that form Portishead's branch line stand idle, as they
have since Dr Beeching's axe fell on the service in
Apart from the birds and squirrels there is
silence on the route. Yet in the decades since the last train
pulled away from Portishead station, the population of the
town has more than doubled, to about 17,000.
residents are on the way, as one of the West's biggest
house-building schemes adds 3,500 homes and takes the
population to about 25,000 over the next five
Although the town has notorious rush-hour
traffic jams - and was dubbed "the most overcrowded cul-desac
in Britain" by local MP Liam Fox - the railway stands
The situation frustrates Bishop Sainsbury and
many others in the town. "Obviously there is a greater need
now for the railway than there was when we used to travel in
Portishead is a much bigger place, and is still
growing, " he said.
"I think it would be a good thing
for Bristol to get the line in as well as Portishead - Bristol
is increasingly getting choked up with traffic and if the
railway was there it would help."
His belief in the
railway as a solution to local traffic chaos and a greener way
of travelling have led the Bishop to join the new Portishead
Railway Group, which hopes to highlight the argument for a
return to rail.
Born last month after a merger of two
long-standing pro-railway groups in Portishead, the PRG has a
head of steam behind it. In the summer an impressive
1,500-signature petition from locals and supporters called for
Bristol City and North Somerset councils to take another look
at reopening the line.
The group's new press officer is
Matt Skidmore, a proud Bristolian, who believes the railway
would bring a great deal of benefit.
"Portishead is one
of the fastestexpanding towns in the region, " he said. "A lot
of people were promised when they moved into the area that a
railway would be going back in. In fact developers have been
required to put away money to build some of the
There is one route in and out of Portishead
at the moment, which gets very busy. Also, increasingly, there
is a business argument - some of the biggest firms in
Portishead have been complaining.
"We have had lots of
setbacks, but we are not going to give on this. We are
absolutely determined to see this through. We won't go
"It is a commonsense argument and I can't see an
argument against it."
So why hasn't the track
Hopes rose four years ago when the £21million
Parson Street to Royal Portbury Dock link, via Pill, was
reopened. It meant that only three miles of rails need to be
relaid to link Portishead to Pill, and then connect to
But spirits fell again in 2003 when the
Strategic Rail Authority announced there would be no money for
the Portishead project, as part of wider project
Another blow came this year in the recent
Greater Bristol Transport Study, which is backing a bus-based
rapid transport scheme to link Portishead with Bristol,
instead of rail. Critics say more buses would cause extra
tailbacks on the congested Portbury Hundred to the
Ultimately money for the project, roughly estimated
to cost at least £7million, would have to come from the
Department for Transport.
A chink of light was offered
yesterday when the Department told the Western Daily Press it
would be happy to consider plans for reopening the line - in
First a business case and feasibility study
would need to be prepared by North Somerset Council, then it
would go before operators Network Rail, and finally to the
"At the moment there is nothing on the table, "
said a spokesman for the Department. "The local authority
would have to make an official request."
pitfalls could include capacity at Parson Street junction and
Bristol Temple Meads, he added.
"If it got as far as us
we would definitely consider it, " he said. "The stronger the
business case, the better."
Yesterday, however, North
Somerset Council said a previous business case had been
rejected by Government and no new one is being
It seems the railway campaigners still have
some way to go before they see the first locomotive
triumphantly pull to a halt in Portishead.
But they are
determined their dreams haven't hit the buffers. Their case
will only strengthen, they believe, as Portishead's grows to
become North Somerset's second biggest town after