Ambitious plans for an underground rail system in Bristol have taken a small step forward, after the West of England Combined Authority acknowledged the merits of the case and agreed to investigate it further.
Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees has long championed the idea and the combined authority’s agreement that “tunnels may be needed in the city” is an important step towards making this a reality.
The committee will now seek to gain firmer data on issues of cost, dates and milestones for the proposed project. Of these, cost may be the biggest potential stumbling block, as political opponents have said the £4 billion price tag for the system could prove too high for it to go ahead.
Mr Rees supports the idea of a tunnelled system as a means of taking cars off the road without the counterproductive step of using up any surface space in the cramped city centre.
He said he hoped a “planned programme of work with clear indications of those dates, costs and milestones, with a clear commitment to the financing set against it” would be ready for presentation at the committee’s next meeting in April.
A cost of £4 billion would be higher than that for some other proposed underground schemes outside London that have not gone ahead. This included the estimated £2.5 billion bill for a second circle line on the Glasgow Subway, which was proposed in 2007 but, like every other scheme to extend the system since it was originally opened in 1896, came to nothing.
However, the existing Subway is entirely underground, as would have been the second circle. This is not what is proposed in Bristol, with Mr Rees’ plan incorporating overground running in the suburbs.
This would make it much more like the Tyne and Wear Metro, which has nine underground stations in tunnels under the centres of Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, but surface running using old heavy rail lines serving the other 51 stops.
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