We need to embrace Rail and plan for the future

Earlier today the West of England Combined Authority voted to approve the last £11m needed to pay for the reopening of the Henbury Rail line (part of the MetroWest rail programme). This much needed addition to Bristol’s transport infrastructure is long overdue and when it opens in 2021 will most welcome.

We are reminded daily of the levels of congestion that the sub region suffers from. If we are to solve this conundrum then, as I have long advocated, we need to actively embrace an ambitious rail strategy for the wider Bristol conurbation.

The MetroWest Programme remains the single most important integrated transport infrastructure project in our region. Its objectives to increase connectivity, reduce car dependency and congestion as well as tackling environmental pollution are, if anything, even more critical today than when first included in Joint Local Transport Plans.

MetroWest Phase 1 and 2 is rightly regarded as a priority for the Combined Authority (and North Somerset Council) if we are to cater for or support the delivery of 105,500 new homes and 82,500 new jobs as part of the WoE Joint Spatial Plan.

For us, the re-opening of the Henbury Line – and not just a spur – has become something of a personal crusade. The growing burden placed on the road network in north Bristol dictates that the money will simply have to be found to create an attractive public transport alternative to the car.

The plan to run an hourly service to new stations at Ashley Down, North Filton, Henbury and increasing the frequency of trains going out to Yate represents a major improvement in provision. However, I continue to believe that the formal assessment of potential passenger numbers on this route is greatly underestimated.

We need to be looking at when we can fully restore the Henbury Loop with new stations at Chittening and Horfield. And revisit the options for an Ashton Gate station and what could be achieved at St Annes. There is so much untapped possibilities in our suburban rail, potential that could do a great deal in allowing the sub region to adapt to the transport challenges ahead.

After decades of underinvestment and neglect in our railways, we are truly on the verge of entering a new age of rail. We must not falter now or allow momentum and political will to stall.