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The Modern GWR

New Hope for Portishead line?

Ground clearing starts on Portishead branch

Bristol residents frequently despair at the lack of progress towards any kind of coherent rail network for the city and surrounding areas.  Indeed, Bristol’s new elected mayor is forever repeating the mantra that Bristol is a serious under-achiever among European cities.

But Bristol seems to have its slow, rather chaotic way of making progress and commuters along the madly congested road from Portishead into the city may now be getting some stress relief.  News that contractors have started cutting back vegetation from the route of the overgrown but largely intact Portishead branch track bed go together with an apparently imminent announcement of government funding to bring back passenger trains  into the town.

Things may not be quite as they seem, though,  and it never pays in Bristol to get your hopes up too quickly.  A Steam Railway article tends to push the eager reader into believing that active steps to reopening might be imminent but the BBC’s report is much more guarded, talking about an announcement about funding  ’later this year’.  An announcement ‘about’ funding is not the same as one ‘of’ funding!

The line is busy with freight traffic to and from the expanding Portbury dock but passenger trains have seldom ventured down there apart from occasional specials run by the excellent Portishead Railway Group that have been working patiently and tenaciously for its reopening for many years.

Steam has ventured down there from time to time with the Severn Valley’s 46443 in 1985 and 5029 Nunney Castle both visiting.

I wonder, though, whether it is not time for the PRG to be more proactive and look to become a TOC to run services out of Portishead?  Is it not time for them to take control of a process that has always been completely out of their hands as a pressure group?  The distinction between  public transport and heritage railway status is now getting increasingly blurred and the Swanage Railway’s successful bid for $1.4m to run scheduled trains to Swanage from Wareham is a sign of things to come, I feel sure.

Apart from anything else, the line has great tourist potential at weekends and would quickly become synergistic with other attractions around the Avon estuary in Bristol.  With steam as a weekend option while DMU’s convey commuters into the city during the week, I can see a glowing and exciting future for the line.  Could PRG not gain a foothold at the station site at Portishead that could be connected in later?  Could volunteers not start to help clearing the trackbed?  This could be a wonderful, multidimensional  community railway, rather than just an anonymous part of the FGW franchise.  Surely not an opportunity to be missed.

Anyone else got a spare Class 177 DMU for hire?

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