Portishead railway line is cleared
By Carol_Deacon | Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 09:15
WORK has started on clearing part of Portishead's disused railway line - nearly 50 years after passenger trains last used the route.
Overgrown vegetation is removed from the tracks
North Somerset Council has appointed contractors to start cutting back vegetation a section of the three miles of the track it owns in the town.
The work involves cutting back vegetation to gain access to the track bed and to bridges and culverts.
The work is being done ahead of the nesting season to allow surveyors to then move in and check the line and the surrounding ground.
Inspections will also be carried out to identify any wildlife which may be living in the area and whether there are any rare species.
North Somerset Council spokesman, Richard Turner, said; "Work started at the end of February on the partial vegetation clearance of the disused section of the Portishead to Bristol railway.
"These partial works need to be done now so we can establish a more detailed design of the scope and estimated cost of works that would be required on this section of the rail line, if the passenger railway project is to proceed.
"Ecology surveys have been undertaken which have identified a range of wildlife and protected species on the land.
"Because of this the clearance work is being carried out under the supervision of a qualified ecologist."
The work is expected to take several weeks to complete and is likely to overlap the bird nesting season.
As a result an ecologist will remain on site to ensure that the clearance works avoid nesting birds and other protected species
It is hoped that if Government funding is agreed for the project trains could be running out of Portishead again by 2017.
North Somerset Council executive member for strategic planning and transport, Councillor Elfan Ap Rees, said: "We will not be clearing the whole line.
"Once the clearing work is done then we can move ahead with the next step of surveying the site.
"We are continuing to progress with the opening of the Portishead railway and are continuing to look at reducing costs to ensure any opening comes in within the proposed budget."
The Department for Transport is expected to make an announcement on funding later this year.
The Portishead rail line is expected to be opened in 2017 as part of the long-awaited plans to create the Greater Bristol Metro - re-opening existing track and old stations to ease congestion on the road network in the Bristol area.
The work to re-open the town's railway would include re-laying the three miles of redundant track between Portishead and Portbury - purchased by North Somerset several years ago to protect it - and building a new station.
A new road bridge would be built over the railway at Quays Avenue in Portishead and a station would have to be built in land already earmarked at Harbour Road.
Money would also have to be spent on upgrading the six mile section of the track between Portbury Dock as currently it is not of a good enough standard to run passenger services.
Further work is also needed at Pill tunnel to improve the drainage and lines to allow passenger trains through there safely.
If the project is successful and the line re-opened, it could mean an end to the gridlock often seen on the Portbury Hundred - the main route out of Portishead.
A study in 2010 showed that travel time from Portishead would be 17 minutes compared to an hour by road during peak times.
Brunel first proposed the line in 1839 but it was actually built by the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company and opened on April 18 1867.
It was laid as a single line broad gauge branch running from Bristol to Portishead.
The line was closed to passenger traffic in September 1964 and freight in 1981 and lay unused apart from the occasional steam specials.