Mass Transit for Bristol and Bath: Will we fail again?

West of England Mass Transit Corridors - shortlisted options map

Bristol Rail Campaign is concerned that the West of England’s aspiration for a mass transit system for Bristol and Bath is once again in danger of being thwarted by local politics. We have been here before. Will we fail again?

A successful mass transit system must make extensive use of segregated routes if it is going to get people out of their cars. The WSP Report Mass Transit (Future4WEST) – Strategic Outline Case recognises this. It ‘seeks to achieve full segregation for the extent of the route in order to maximise potential system user benefit’.

No easy answer

There is no cheap or easy way to achieve segregation where there is no existing segregated route. The public arguments over ‘underground vs overground’ focus on the known cost of tunnelling. But they do not seem to fully consider the unknown (but probably considerable) cost of surface options. These include disruption, cost to businesses, and the political capital needed to transfer car traffic away from main roads.

We believe that the WSP Report is flawed. It cites ‘Use of ready-made corridors and/or space, where possible’ as a condition for success, yet it dismisses the use of existing rail corridors. It claims these routes have no capacity, without evidence that this has been explored in detail. There are over a dozen train stations within the report’s mass transit corridors, but the proposals make no use of these ready-made segregated routes. WECA and Network Rail have growth strategies which include adding capacity. These must be considered as segregated route options for at least some of the mass transit corridors.

Wrong to dismiss tram-trains

We believe WSP are wrong to dismiss tram-train technology, and that they did not give proper consideration to expanding capacity on existing suburban rail routes. It is possible, for example, that the Bristol-Bath corridor could be served by four-tracking parts of the existing rail line.

No options should be ruled out until fair comparisons can be made, on a corridor-by-corridor basis. These must be based on a full set of facts. Then the decision can be made based on technical and economic reasons, rather than political ones.


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