We would like to bring your attention to the appalling situation at Pilning railway station on the South Wales Main Line. As you are probably aware, Pilning was a major transport hub for bringing farm produce from the South West to London, and for providing transport links to and from Wales via the Severn tunnel. However, the prosperity of Pilning station suffered a setback with the opening of the Severn Bridge. Years of neglect and decay followed: in 1987 the station’s lighting was dismantled and not replaced, meaning that from then on only services operating during daylight hours could stop at the station. In 2006, with the introduction of the new franchise, Pilning’s service was cut to “one a day in each direction”. In 1990 a local resident Jonathan King started a campaign to bring the service back to the station. His campaign was picked up by other organisations, such as Railfuture and Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways (FOSBR), who have been highlighting the need for improved rail links at Severnside for years, trying to put Pilning in the picture. Pilning Station Group was set up to represent users of Pilning Station, who were dismayed by the controversial demolition of the station footbridge in 2016, which met with significant local protests, but still resulted in the closure of the westbound platform and reduced the station’s service to “one direction only”.
Severnside desperately needs improvements to its public transport networks. There are major developments taking place in the vicinity of Pilning station (the expansion of Severnside Enterprise Area, opening of the Wave leisure facility, etc.), and the local infrastructure is already at a breaking point. This is demonstrated by the Eastbound traffic on both motorways – the M48 and M4 – being at a standstill each morning. Having a Park & Ride facility just off the M49 J1 (due to be completed in December 2019) could significantly alleviate the congestion on the roads that run through our villages and reduce the amount of poisonous gases released into the atmosphere.
However, all attempts of reinstating a good passenger service at Pilning have been repeatedly dismissed by the Department for Transport, Network Rail, GWR and their predecessors. The latest situation is such that GWR refuse any improvements to the service referencing the commitments set out by the DfT. The DfT can see no reason why these commitments should be reviewed, because there is already another railway station (Severn Beach) 3 miles away by road / 1.6 miles as the crow flies, even though this other station is on a different line and does not satisfy the needs of the fast-growing industrial area. And of course, even though they heavily contributed to Pilning station reaching the current dilapidated state, Network Rail now claim that the decision to make improvements to the station is “beyond their gift”. The frame of mind demonstrated by these three organisations resulted in West of England Combined Authority omitting Pilning station from their draft Joint Local Transport Plan stating that “despite being conveniently linked to […] rail routes”, accessing the area (ASEA) by public transport is “not realistic” (page 65).
We find the railway authorities’ attitude towards Pilning station, as well as the residents, leisure travellers and businesses of Severnside, not only disheartening, but also highly arrogant and hypocritical.
Our case for Pilning station can be viewed on the website –www.pilningstation.uk. We hope that the Review team will find time to read through the evidence we collected and made publicly available. I also attach the most recent correspondence between Jack Lopresti MP, the DfT, GWR, and Network Rail that demonstrates the aforementioned attitude.
We anticipate that the Williams Rail Review will contribute towards ending the era of hypocrisy, lack of accountability and greed in the sector, which, in our opinion, are the three main factors that stop the industry from providing better services to the people of Severnside.
Olga Taylor – Chair of Pilning Station Group
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