Give back our link

 

Louise Callaghan - Western Daily Press 22 July 2005

 

CAMPAIGNERS yesterday vowed to step up their battle to reopen a vital railway link and save Portishead from its tag as the West's biggest cul‑de‑sac. Popular support is firmly behind the bid to bring back the Portishead‑ Bristol line to serve residents in the region's fastest‑growing community.

 

The rail link is seen by many as the best answer to the town's gridlocked roads, which face extra pressure from 4,000 new homes being built locally. Commuters suffer long waits to get on to the M5 twice a day and residents argue the situation will only get worse unless train services resume.

 

A petition of 1,500 names backing the bid was handed to Bristol City Council last week and will go to North Somerset Council in four days' time.

 

It was co‑ordinated by the Portishead Heritage Rail Project and co-chairmen Matt Skidmore and Roger Sainsbury, the former Bishop of Barking, who yesterday called for action. “The people of Portishead are crying out for this and it would help Bristol as well, reducing traffic to football matches and concerts," said Mr Skidmore.

 

Bishop Sainsbury was a Portishead resident in the 1960s when the line was still running and hopes to see trains serving the town once again. “There is a very strong feeling that Portishead has become a cul‑de‑sac," he said. "It could also dissuade industry from moving into the town be­cause of bad links. Also, we feel the line would be attractive to tourists. Obviously, it has got to be economically viable and that is where people are asking questions. But we feel strongly that such a growing town needs its rail link back."

 

He added that he would be happy in theory for a light rail link, similar to London's Dockland Light Railway though the most popular idea is for a standard service running between Portishead and Severn Beach.

 

Jean Lord, chairman of Portishead Town Council, will present the petition to North Somerset on Tuesday. She said: "It makes sense as we have got only three miles of track between us and the refurbished line into Portbury. It would give us a badly needed alternative form of transport.

 

Passenger services on the Portishead‑Bristol line were axed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts. Freight services stopped in 1981. Fresh hopes for the line, which is still intact though overgrown, were born in 2001 with the opening of the Portbury Dock‑Bristol freight line. But they were scuppered in 2003 when the Strategic Rail Authority cut grants for local train services. Now authors of the Local Transport Plan have included reopening the line in a draft of their report, although it is unlikely before 2011.