TRANSPORT ministers have given the green light for a package of long-awaited rail improvements – the first step in making the dream of a Bristol Metro possible.
Government minister Theresa Villiers unveiled a series of improvements for the rail network around Temple Meads on a visit to the city.
Yesterday's announcement, part of a multi-billion-pound package of improvements nationwide, means two extra lines of track will be opened between Temple Meads and Filton.
The move means that a huge bottle-neck will be eased, opening the way up for increased services in and out of Bristol's main station.
There are also plans to reopen the old Digby Wyatt sheds at the side of the station – creating two new platforms in the process.
Network Rail, the firm which operates Temple Meads, has announced it wants to create a new main entrance at the station, opening into a main concourse which would run under the existing platforms.
Ms Villiers said: "This announcement is really great news for Bristol. Improving our transport system is a key part of the Government's strategy.
"We think it is vital for the region's economy that we have a transport system that works and is affordable."
The minister also confirmed that Bristol will get a direct rail link to Heathrow Airport, which will see current journey times cut by 30 minutes.
The line between the city centre and Filton was reduced from four to two tracks in the early 1980s, preventing more trains from being run and causing delays due to congestion. The widening of the track is seen as crucial for the half-hourly services to all local stations that are proposed under the Metro scheme.
A spokesman for the pressure group Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways said: "This is fantastic news. This piece of vital investment will enable half-hourly services to all local stations – the Greater Bristol Metro – something FOSBR has been campaigning for, for many years."
"We are delighted, because it will make an integrated transport system possible. When the extra tracks are laid and new services running, the train will become even more convenient for local and longer distance journeys.
"This is a victory for local campaigners, our local politicians and the public, who have lobbied long and hard for a half-hourly service."
Patrick Hallgate, who is in charge of Network Rail in the South West, said: "We are excited by these Government announcements to add to the already massive investment programme on the Western route.
"Temple Meads station is at the heart of the new Enterprise Zone and these improvements are vital in terms of opening up the city.
"The station is no longer fit for purpose and what we are trying to do is create a station suited to the needs of Bristol as it is today.
"We had suspected that these items would be included in the new investment programme but it is good to see the Government's commitment to these schemes."
The business community also welcomed the announcement.
Phil Smith, managing director of Business West, which represents the area's companies, said: "This is great news for the South West.
"Our recent survey of businesses across the West of England area found that traffic congestion was the most significant disadvantage for businesses located in the sub-region.
"Business supports the Government's strategy to provide long-term strategic investment to improve transport infrastructure, rather than simply looking at short-term fixes. We will continue to push for a modern and efficient rail system that supports growth and improves competitiveness."
James Durie, Director of Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said he was particularly pleased with the latest news.
He said: "Rail is one element of our transport infrastructure that our members constantly tell us that they want improved.
"It is fantastic news that the Secretary of State wishes the industry to undertake work to expand the capacity of the railway serving passengers to and from Bristol. "Increasing route capacity into Bristol from Filton Abbey Wood and increasing station capacity at Bristol Temple Meads by bringing back into railway use the historic station building, will be a big boost for business in this region."
Transport Secretary Justine Greening also announced yesterday that the full details of the next Great Western rail franchise will be made public by the end of the week.
PRESS RELEASE - The Post 17 July 2012