Extra £15m to be spent on planning Bristol’s new underground rail network

Construction work on the new rail network was initially due to begin this year.

An extra £15 million will be spent on planning a new travel network in Bristol including an underground rail network.

Plans for the new network were first revealed in 2017, and would see four new overground and underground lines, as well as bus routes and new train stations.

In 2018, Bristol City Council estimated it would cost £4 billion to build. Construction work on the new rail network was initially due to begin this year.

Now, Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has pledged to spend a further £15 million on the mass transit system, but declined to give details about how that money will be spent.

During his State of the City Address on 26 October, Mr Rees said: “We have continued the work to build a mass transit system that will transform the way we move around the city region. The economic and geological assessment work has been done.

“We are about to commit a further £15 million with our neighbours to take this work to the next stage. Overground and underground networks are fast, efficient, low carbon transport systems.

“They are essential for a modern, crowded city. Bristolians have waited long enough. There cannot be any U-turns, no shying away from the challenge of delivery for those who come next, be they Bristol councillors or the combined authority.

"We know what needs to happen. It’s now there for you to complete it.”

Rather than digging tunnels or buying trains, the £15 million could likely go towards paying transport consultants to write a ‘strategic outline business case’, one of a series of detailed documents needed to unlock the necessary billions in funding.

A major public consultation is also expected soon on several options for the mass transit system.

Both Bristol City Council and the West of England combined authority were asked exactly what the £15 million will be spent on, but the council did not respond to questions.

Dan Norris, West of England Metro Mayor, said he has asked to meet with ministers in the new government and would discuss the mass transit system with them.

Mr Norris said: “Of course we need better public transport across Bristol and the West of England.

"That’s why I was pleased to secure the highest per person transport settlement in the country last year which will predominantly be spent on buses.

“However, the kind of long-term government investment for a bells and whistles transport system would be around 20 times more than that.

"While inflation is sky high and we are saddled with a Tory government that crashed the economy and which is embarking on another huge round of cuts, we have to be realistic.

“I have requested meetings with the latest set of reshuffled ministers and will be seeing the Transport and Levelling Up ones soon to assess their current thinking.

"I agree with getting schemes ‘shovel ready’, which involves necessary consultation and investment concentrating on four key corridors bringing people in and out of Bristol.”

Details of how the £15 million of taxpayer money will be spent could be revealed in new reports to the West of England combined authority, at some point over the next few months.

Mr Rees did not respond to a request for an interview on the mass transit system.

Credit: Local Democracy Reporter Service/Alex Seabrook