Bristol Rail Campaign (FoSBR) AGM 2024: Report

Bristol Rail Campaign (FoSBR) AGM - Rob Dixon's remote 'Welcome from the Chair'

Bristol Rail Campaign (FoSBR) held its Annual General Meeting at Redland Quaker Meeting House on Friday, 8th March 2024. This is a brief report. We will make the formal minutes of the AGM available shortly.

Chair’s welcome

Unfortunately Rob was not in the room due to being stricken with flu but he was able to record a video address.

Rob welcomed members, speakers and visitors to the meeting. There were 32 attendees. A Roundup of 2023 had been circulated with meeting papers.

He looked back on a year which has seen:

  • The introduction of Half-hourly Bristol-Gloucester and Bristol-Westbury services.
  • The opening of Portway Park & Ride station.
  • Good progress at Ashley Down station, which is projected to open in summer 2024; following our campaign better bus/rail interchange here and Bristol City Council finally plan to add a southbound bus stop near the station on Muller Road.
  • WECA are pursuing feasibility reports on some very welcome transport infrastructure projects, including:
    • Electrification;
    • New stations;
    • Station accessibility and interchange improvements;
    • Increased services on Severn Beach and Henbury lines;
    • MetroWest Connectivity to the south including 4-tracking to Parson Street.
  • We will continue to campaign for tram-trains as a potential way of creating a rapid transit system for Bristol with rail as the segregated spine. We are concerned that WECA rejected tram trains without consulting NR or taking future infrastructure into account.
  • Rob thanked Carol, who is standing down as Treasurer. Other members of Committee are standing for re-election.
  • In 2024 we hope to have more diverse social events and outreach opportunities – train trips, pubs, cafes, walks – many thanks to Ann for leading walks in 2023.
  • We were sad to lose Lionel, a long-standing FoSBR member, who distributed timetables, and newsletters and helped at stalls.
  • In 2024 we will leaflet to promote stations and services, eg, Redland and Stapleton Road. Sadly, strikes seem no closer to resolution but there is a risk of service cuts. Since the pandemic passenger numbers have recovered but revenue is down due to lower numbers of peak and first class commuters.
  • We have been very lucky to see service increases in the Bristol area.
  • There is great potential for rail in the West of England.

Speakers: Steve Penaluna and Tom Belletty, MetroWest Phase 1 Team

We had an informative presentation from Steve Penaluna and Tom Belletty of the MetroWest Phase 1 team about the Portishead line re-opening.

MetroWest

Steve and Tom outlined the overall MetroWest Programme. This is delivering seven new stations, five new or enhanced rail services, and improvements to Temple Meads and other stations. They reminded us that the programme constitutes a £350 million investment which is committed through to 2027/8.

Bristol Rail Campaign (FoSBR) AGM: Steve Penaluna and Tom Belletty, MetroWest Phase 1 Team presentation on Portishead Line progress
Bristol Rail Campaign (FoSBR) AGM: Steve Penaluna and Tom Belletty, MetroWest Phase 1 Team presentation on Portishead Line progress

They went on to give the background to the Portishead reopening project, starting with 9km of existing freight line and 5km of disused railway.

Planned Portishead Services

The current plans are for an hourly service using 3-car trains. Services will operate 18 hours per day from around 6am to around 11.30pm, Monday to Saturday. On Sundays trains will operate around for up to 10 hours. Journey time to Bristol Temple Meads will be 23 minutes, and trains will call at Pill, Parson Street, and Bedminster. This will provide a three trains per hour service at Bedminster and Parson Street.

Their team are currently exploring the opportunity to link the Portishead Line with the planned Henbury Line, rather than just operating a shuttle to Bristol Temple Meads.

DfT takes on the risk

Steve and Tom reminded us that the Development Consent Order process, which allowed this project to go ahead, involved 989 documents. Many of these concerned environmental issues. In 2022 the Department for Transport became the lead client for this scheme. When the full business case (which they are funding) is approved, the DfT will therefore accept the cost risk of the project.

Network Rail will deliver the railway, associated highway works and ecological work where this interfaces with the railway. North Somerset Council and WECA will deliver other work packages in support of this.

In order to reduce costs, the project will not fund a station building at Portishead. There is talk of reducing the length of the platform from 5-car to 3-car, but this is still under discussion.

North Somerset and WECA intend to submit the full business case in April 2024.

Ecological work

The Portishead Line runs through an area of extreme environmental sensitivity, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA) and RAMSAR sites. Each area has its own protected features, including bats, birds, flora and fauna. Scheme impacts from construction and operation had to take all of these features into consideration.

Whitebeams have been a particular focus. Where they have seeded in brickwork of tunnels, they need removing. However Bristol University, in collaboration with Paignton Zoo , have successfully grown over 200 whitebeams for replanting.

Local updates

Ashley Down

Tina Biggs spoke of submitting questions to WECA and Bristol City Council (BCC) meetings around the lack of bus/rail interchange at Ashley Down. BCC have finally included a southbound stop near Ashley Down station in the Muller Road consultation papers which seems to be a positive development.

Montpelier

Ann Light of the station adoption group talked of the successful campaign to raise funds for a gate and gardening tool cupboard under the steps at Montpelier station.

Redland

Now that the tenants Hamilton and Hodson have moved out, Ann spoke of concerns for Redland station’s building. The owner is ArchCo and the roof needs repairs. The platform canopy also needs repairs. Access to the station is non-ideal as it crosses private land and is poorly lit. There is a large new station totem on Redland Grove which residents were surprised by.

Should Bristol Rail Campaign be a CIO?

Tim Weekes did a short presentation on whether a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) structure would be appropriate for Bristol Rail Campaign.

He explained that a CIO is a relatively recent organisational structure, overseen by the Charity Commission, which could suit us. FoSBR is an ‘Unincorporated Organisation’, which puts limits on how we operate and increases the risks of personal legal liability.

The CIO structure creates a legal entity, protecting members from personal liability and making it easier and cheaper to obtain services such as insurance and admin software. We may also be able to claim Gift Aid on members’ subscriptions. CIO status may also improve our credibility.

This would be a big change, and potentially involve a lot of work. We have already spent some time working on a new, much more comprehensive constitution, which we would ask members to approve before applying to the Charity Commission.

This work should lay foundations to allow our campaign to grow and evolve while keeping alive the ‘soul’ and spirit of FoSBR.

The work we have done so far shows that even if we do not go ahead with this change, we need to update our current constitution as it has some important omissions.

Vote

The meeting then voted on the motion:

‘Should we take steps to set up a CIO in the name of Bristol Rail Campaign?’

The motion was carried:

For: 21
Against: 0
Abstention: 4


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