News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Monday, 15 December 2008

Letting the Train Take the Strain Through the Middle of Bristol

I cannot tell you how excited I was last week to take my first journey on the Bristol Suburban Light Railway.

But I will try.

From the moment I walked down the ramp from Clifton Down Shopping Centre towards the platform to the time I alighted at Stapleton Road, I was as happy as a sandboy.

For a start, the journey was so quick. Clifton Down to Easton took 11 minutes - a journey which would have lasted nearly 40 had I taken the required two buses via the centre.

Costwise, I had to part with £1.50, which struck me as reasonable. The Severn Beach Line, on which I travelled, is awash with rumours of how easy it is to travel for free on these trains as there are no ticket machines at any of the stations between Severn Beach and Temple Meads. I suspect these urban folk tales have grown with the telling. At any rate, the lunchtime service I took had a conductor selling tickets - a bit like the old days on buses before the drivers took on that task.

The icing on the cake, however, was the experience of seeing Bristol from new and unusual angles. How many of us (gaffiti artists excluded) have felt the frisson of excitement that can only be generated by looking down onto Gloucester Road from the viaduct that crosses it at the point where it meets Cheltenham Road and Zetland Road? Or, have we noticed the extent of the allotments at Aashey Down and St Werburgh's?

The only drawback that I can see is that the trains run only once every 45-60 minutes at present. I estimated there were about 20 people in the train's two carriages as it headed inbound to Temple Meads. If the frequency of journeys were doubled and the service advertised effectively, I would think that the service could go a long way towards relieving congestion in the centre and west of the city.

Friends of the railway maintain an online presence here. Bristol West MP Stephen Williams also thinks the local service is a very good thing and has some things to say about it here.

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1 comment:

Chris Hutt said...

The big problem with the Severn Beach line is that the revenue from fares doesn't come anywhere near covering the operating costs. In financial terms it's a basket case that should be closed down, but we all fork out taxes to keep it going as a token gesture towards some public transport mythology that we all subscribe to.

In transport terms the Severn Beach line just doesn't go where people mostly want to go. It follows a serpentine route and the terminus at Temple Meads is still remote from most of the central attractions.

The line would provide a much better transport service if converted to a cycleway in which case operating costs would be negligible and users wouldn't have to worry about timetables, fares, reliability or onward connections.

But such rationality has no place in transport planning which must worship sacred cows like the Severn Beach Line even if it means failing to develop real alternatives to the car.

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