Campaigners have claimed a dedicated bus lane between Bristol and Portishead would be £100million cheaper than reopening the railway.
Barry Cash from the Portishead Busway Campaign predicts the long-awaited £116million project to restore the train line would increase carbon emissions by nearly 1,000 tonnes a year and be a “climate change disaster”.
He said a busway would offer a better service to passengers and could be delivered for just £10million – but North Somerset Council leader Don Davies said he had underestimated the costs for the “ludicrous” idea.
In a letter to transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, Mr Cash wrote: “Reopening the railway may have made sense 20 years ago but since then we have spent £80million on the Greater Bristol bus network and £230million on Metrobus.
“Fortunately, there is a solution. Not only will this reduce greenhouse gas emissions but it will provide better for the public and save over £100million of public money.
“A rough estimate suggests a bus service could be set up for under £10million.
“This would save £106million plus the £55million needed to increase to two trains per hour.
“All that’s needed to increase the frequency of the bus service is another bus and driver.
“All the economic benefits claimed for the railway will be achieved just as well by providing a bus service. In fact because the bus will provide a better service the economic benefits may well be greater.”
The former Liberal Democrat councillor in Bristol said buses could run on the disused railway between Portishead and junction 19 of the M5, before coming off at junction 18 and using the existing priority lanes for the Portway and Metrobus to get to Temple Meads, or elsewhere in Bristol.
He said the estimated 30-minute travel time would be seven minutes slower than by train if the line reopened, but much better than an hour by car.
Councillor Davies said the idea was not well thought out: “The bridge clearances aren’t big enough for double-decker buses.
“Buses are heavy. You’d have to create a road. That’s not going to be cheap.
“What happens if there are buses going both ways? You’d need passing places.”
He said there would be resistance from the government against creating new access onto junction 19 and joining the Metrobus network would not be straightforward.
The Department for Transport ruled out a previous version of Mr Cash’s idea in 2019, with a spokesperson saying: “Changing the scheme from rail is not something under consideration given the funding is now in place.”
The long-awaited plans to reopen the railway line were delayed by a further six months in October after the DfT cited ‘environmental reasons’ which needed further consultation.
Councillor Davies said if the council does not hear back imminently there will be a 12-month delay to work starting that will prove expensive as construction costs are rising steeply.
Credit: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service