North Somerset MP Liam Fox has said he believes work on the Portishead passenger rail link could begin by 2015.
The Conservative MP said that a string of recent high-profile Government announcements, including Bristol’s new rapid transit scheme, had pushed the project up the queue.
This had made a “fundamental difference” to the prospect of bringing the line linking the North Somerset town to Bristol, which last took regular passenger trains in 1964, back into service, he said.
Dr Fox said: “For the first time in a long time, we now have a reasonable hope that we will see building begin on the Portishead rail link before the end of 2015. It’s very good news. People have worked long and hard for this, and I think that we know have a realistic chance of success in a reasonable time frame.”
His optimism stems from a meeting he attended alongside North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton with Transport Minister Norman Baker at Westminster.
He said: “Nigel and I met Norman Baker, and he was very clear. Because the Government is giving greater priority to capital projects, medium-sized projects will be pushed further up the agenda. So we will be able to be considered in 2013. We got the strong impression from the minister that the Government would look strongly on the Portishead case.
“We said we would go away and try to build a consensus and a more detailed business case.”
Mr Baker said that as no bid for the Portishead link had been submitted by May 2010, “the shutters had come down” for it to be among the next tranche of projects to be considered.
But he added: “It was a constructive meeting, and I am probably sympathetic to what they are saying. I agree we need to find a way to deal with these medium sized rail schemes – I quite agree with that.”
Last weekend Dr Fox met representatives of the Portishead Rail group, and councillor Ashton, at his North Somerset home. They agreed to prepare a “prospectus” to present to private companies to persuade them to invest.
Passenger train services from Portishead to Bristol were cut in 1964, although the line to Portbury Dock was reopened in 2002 for freight trains only.
But the goods line is mainly single track and in order to accommodate both freight and passenger trains in both directions there would need to be major works to upgrade existing track and complete the line into Portishead town centre.
It is hoped that the bid will be able to lever in private cash by involving the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership.
Campaigners intend to finalise their case by the time the Great Western rail franchise is put out to tender, hoping it will be incorporated into the new package.