Predictions that the restored Portishead Rail Link could chop commuting times into Bristol down to just 17 minutes will be music to residents’ ears.
Queueing on the A369 Portbury Hundred can take at least an hour and more in and out of the town – and residents are counting the days until they have a rail-based alternative.
The long awaited link isn’t expected to open until late in 2019 – a mind-boggling delay considering the trackbed is already laid. Recent reports have also questioned the costs of the programme.
Apparently the passenger route must satisfy a range of 'environmental sensitivities' as it negotiates the Avon Gorge - and this has put the brakes on what appears to the bystander to be a fairly straightforward transport proposition. It was after all a passenger line before and how can small passenger trains be of concern that the freight trains already running along this line?
Given the extended delays to what is an existing trackbed, just imagine how long it would take to restore the remaining rail lines which once linked our city to its surrounding districts.
We can only speculate the commuting time saved if you could still climb on a train at the once magnificent Mangotsfield Station to travel in just about any direction you wanted - rather than climb into the car for the daily grind up and down the Avon Ring Road.
This set us thinking how the rest of the city would have benefitted if only Doctor Beeching’s notorious cutbacks had been shunted off onto a siding back in the 1960s - leaving our enviable rail transport network intact.
Back then there was a myriad of railway lines heading out of the city to every point of the compass.
In addition to the surviving Great Western Railway mainline, the Midland line ran east to Bath’s Green Park Station, with stop-offs at St Philips, Fishponds, Staple Hill, Mangotsfield, Warmley, Bitton and Kelston.
Further south the Bristol and North Somerset Railway line ran to Paulton with stations at Brislington, Whitchurch Halt, Pensford and Clutton.
Residents of these long lost stops could have expected to be in town in a fraction of the time it takes to drive today.
In addition, they could travel in the knowledge their local house prices had risen in direct proportion to the convenience of their commuting distance to Bristol.
Of course, none of this will ever happen - unless the city experiences a seismic shift in our personal transport choices that is.
Portishead will eventually enjoy commuting times our grandparents would have taken for granted.
But their counterparts in Warmley and Pensford, Staple Hill and Clutton, will have to join the queues on the A37, A36, A38 and A4, along with around nine tenths of the local commuting population.
Hindsight shows Doctor Beeching’s cuts to our railway system to be short-sighted in the extreme, but how will future generations judge our efforts to solve the commuting problem?
Will our link roads and ring roads, metrobuses and rush-hour hard shoulders make any more sense in fifty years’ time than Doctor Beechings recommendations do now?
*A study in 2010 showed that travel time from Portishead would be 17 minutes compared to an hour by road during peak times.