Being situated just a stone’s throw away from the station, I regularly see Intercity Express Trains going in and out of Temple Meads from the Combined Authority offices. It was only two and a half years ago that these services were first introduced and yet they have so quickly become an everyday sight and symbol of our region. And, with the new timetables introduced last December, an even quicker link into London and other cities.
I look forward to a time when my MetroWest suburban rail plans are fully implemented and residents won’t be able to remember a time before Portishead was connected by rail to Bristol or before communities such as Henbury or North Filton had stations. The West of England Combined Authority has been investing heavily to progress these plans, and they are well under way.
A year ago, it wasn’t even certain that we would win the Government’s commitment and funding to re-open the railway to Portishead and Pill. And yet now, thanks to the Combined Authority and working closely with our partner councils, we know that this project will be going ahead. At the end of last year, the Development Consent Order application was accepted by the Planning Inspectorate for examination, a process which will be ongoing over the next year or so.
That’s not the only good news on our railways that the work of the Combined Authority has brought to our region. I was thrilled at last month’s announcement by the Prime Minister of investment to upgrade Bristol East Junction. My team and I have worked closely with Network Rail and the Government to secure the commitments we need. This is a real boost for our region and a vital step in in realising the full MetroWest network with new destinations and services to make getting around the West of England easier, cleaner and more reliable.
On the Severn Beach line, we’re planning direct services to Bath and Westbury, re-opening the Henbury line and more frequent services to Yate. We will also be opening new train stations in Portishead, Henbury, Ashley Down, North Filton, Portway, Pill, and Charfield, with plans for more. This will give 80,000 more people direct access to the rail network and 180,000 will have better services to and from existing stations.
The Prime Minister’s announcement also means that we can get on with building a new Eastern Entrance into Temple Meads, funded through the Combined Authority, simultaneously to the Junction upgrade work. This will save money and inconvenience to passengers to make sure Temple Meads is a fitting gateway to the West of England.
Further to the improvements at Temple Meads, we will also be improving access to eight other stations across the region thanks to the Combined Authority’s successful bid to the Government’s “Access for All” fund. This investment will deliver improvements such as accessible access, new waiting areas and better signage. As part of my vision for inclusive growth, it is crucial that all our residents will be able to access the new services which will come with MetroWest.
Building new stations and railway lines is not a quick process, but we are well underway with gaining the necessary approvals and I hope for construction to begin as soon as possible. Along with the investment we are making in buses and walking and cycling infrastructure, I see railways as a vital part of the West of England’s public transport offer helping to reduce both congestion and our carbon emissions. I am ambitious to be a leading region when it comes to delivering large-scale rail infrastructure projects and am excited for the time when these new stations, railway lines and services become as much an everyday part of daily life in the region as the new Intercity Express Trains.