Letter: Bristol also needs a Crossrail

The inconveniently located Bristol Temple Meads. Image: Rept0n1x/Wikipedia Commons.

Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece setting out my – entirely speculative, and in some ways fairly silly – proposal for Birmingham Crossrail. This ‘news’ got picked up by the Birmingham Mail, as you do.

It also generated a fair bit of correspondence. Since, in one email, someone had gone to the trouble of coming up with an entire proposal for Bristol Crossrail, I thought it only fair to let you see that, too.

Dear Jonn,

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you, but following your Birmingham Crossrail article I wanted to share my Bristol version.

Since the creation of the West of England Combined Authority there have been many promising signs that the area’s transport network is due to change for the better (plans for a light rail system, road improvements and reopened railway lines and stations). But I feel there is one component missing which in my opinion is the ‘missing link’ to benefit the city of Bristol and the wider region around it.

Bristol Temple Meads station is used by 11m passengers a year: however, it is located on the outskirts of the city centre. The planned enterprise zone will encourage further investment into the area around it, but important parts of the city – like the main hospital, courts, shopping and entertainment areas – are quite far from the railway station compared to other cities like Cardiff, Birmingham etc. 

This is why based on examples of other non-UK cities I have come up with an idea for our own underground commuter rail tunnel – a sort of Crossrail, if you will, like the S-Bahn tunnels in Germany.

In the picture below, you will see that my proposal comprises of a 2 mile long tunnel from Clifton Down station on the Severn Beach Line (currently served by a train every 40 minutes) to Bristol Temple Meads. There would be new underground stations by the university & museum (called Museum), cenotaph (Central Station) and the new development known as Redcliff Quarter, as well as an underground Temple Meads station. Trains would exit the tunnel onto the railway tracks at Bristol east Junction. 

Jack’s Bristol Crossrail proposal. Trains on the Severn Beach line would run via the new tunnel in orange. A second service would run in a loop via the tunnel and Montpelier. New stations are shown in maroon.

Services from Avonmouth/Severn Beach to Bath Spa (part of our future MetroWest Phase 1) could be diverted through this tunnel at a frequency of 4 trains per hour. This would bypass Redland and Montpelier stations, so to keep services at those stations, a 4 train per hour circular service could be introduced using the tunnel calling at Temple Meads, Lawrence Hill, Stapleton Road, Montpelier, Redland, Clifton Down, Museum, Central, Redcliff Quarter then back to Temple Meads.


This would provide a service of a train every 7.5 minutes in the central core. Passengers on other lines could make a quick change at Temple Meads to get into the city proper.

These new stations would make the entire inner city a 5-10 mins walk from a train station, decrease traffic, increase investment in the city centre and patronage on our railway network, and free capacity at Temple Meads for more long distance services. 

The inclusion of this tunnel would see rail passengers soar: this has been the case in cities such as Auckland, which had a similar problem before digging a rail tunnel. Value for money in Crossrail type tunnels has been found in cities similar size to Bristol including Malmö, Leipzig, and Palermo, to name a few. I see no reason why the same wouldn’t apply to a UK city.

Large rail projects always seem to be for London’s benefit, which – as the capital – does make an awful lot of sense. However previously, someone had the vision to create the underground Merseyrail tunnels in Liverpool in the 1970s, and the Tyne and Wear Metro in the 1980s. Since then, not one underground rail project outside London has been financed. I hope this will soon change.

Kind regards

    Jack Gill, Bristol

If you have an over-ambitious rail proposal for your city, why not get in touch?

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The media scumbag’s route of choice: A personal history of London’s C2 bus

A C2 bus at Parliament Hill. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

London’s C2 bus route, which runs from Parliament Hill, by Hampstead Heath, down to Conduit Street, just off Regent Street, is one of the bus routes recently earmarked for the chop. It has oft been noted that, of all the routes recently pencilled in for cancellation after a consultation late last year, it was the one most likely to survive, for the simple reason that it links liberal suburban north London with BBC Broadcasting House and Soho; it’s thus the route most likely to be used by people who can convince someone to let them report on its imminent demise.

So it would come as no surprise that former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger took to the Camden New Journal when the consultation began, arguing that it would be a disservice to the local community to discontinue a route where you can always get a seat – seemingly missing the point that the fact you can always get a seat is not a great sign of the route’s usefulness.

It wasn’t always that way. When I left university in 2000, and moved from accommodation near college to up to a rented shared house in N6, the C2 was my bus. I commuted to Soho for sixteen years: for more than a decade from flats around the Swain’s Lane roundabout, and for five years from Kentish Town. While my place of work bounced around from Golden Square to Lexington Street to Great Marlborough, it was always the most convenient way to get to, and from, work; especially given the difference between bus and tube prices.

So when it comes to the C2 I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and bought the bus pass. And by bus pass, I mean those little paper ones that still existed at the beginning of this century. Not just before contactless, but before Oyster cards.

More importantly, it was before London buses operated a single zone. There was an outer zone, and an inner zone, with different prices. To travel from one zone to another cost £1.30, meaning an all cash commute was £2.60, whereas a paper bus pass was £2.00. That made it worth your while to divert to an early opening newsagents on your way to the bus stop (GK, in my case), even if you only got two buses a day.

It’s a measure of how greatly London’s buses have improved over the last twenty years, since first brought under control of the mayoralty, that pretty much everything about this anecdotage, including the prices, seems faintly mad. But there’s more: back when I started getting that bus down to Stop N, literally at the very end of the route, the C2 used single decker buses with a single door. It’s an appalling design for use in a crowded city, which meant most of any journey was, for most passengers, spent fighting your way up and down the middle of the bus to find a seat, and then back again to get off; or – and this was more likely – fighting your way up the bus to get into standing space the driver insisted was there, before fighting your way, etc.

Such buses – and in my former life in the English Midlands I went to school on one of these buses every day – are perfectly functional where bus stops are infrequent and buses rarely standing room only. But running through Camden Town at rush hour, they’re wholly unfit for purpose.

A Citypacer. Image: RXUYDC/Wikimedia Commons.

It could have been worse. I didn’t know this at the time, but a few years before the C2 route had been run using Optare City Pacers. Those are, let us be frank, not really buses at all, but minibuses. That’s something the reveals the C2’s origins, as a hopper route to the west end largely intended for the daytime use of Gospel Oak’s pensioners in the years immediately before bus privatisation. (The C11 has a similar origin, taking the same constituency from Archway to England’s Lane.)

Once responsibility for London Buses was moved to the newly established mayoralty, things improved dramatically. Under Ken Livingstone it went double decker in 2005, and 24 hour in 2007. Under Boris Johnson it was extended from its once, and future, terminus of Conduit Street to Victoria Station, swallowing up the cancelled sections of the 8 bus; this extension was quietly disposed of a few years later, once it was clear no one would notice. (I did.)


In those years I must have taken a C2 the best part of ten thousand times; but for all the years when I wouldn’t have been able to live without the C2, times have reduced its utility, and not just for me. I’m now a 214 sort of guy: these days the top chunk of the C2 route is duplicated exactly by that other bus, which starts up in Highgate Village and, once it gets to Swain’s Lane, follows the same path until the fork of Kentish Town Road and Royal College Street, opposite the long defunct South Kentish Town tube station.

From a few hundred metres below that point, at Camden Gardens, stop C, the 88 starts. That duplicates the rest of the C2’s route, with the exception of the run down Albany Street and onto Great Portland, for much of which the C2 is the only bus.

So the C2, old friend that it is, is pretty redundant in the age of the hopper fare, which allows you to change buses without paying a second fare. That’s even more true now the C2’s otherwise un-serviced stops are being giving over to a re-routed 88, which will pick up the C2’s most northern leg, by not finishing at Camden Gardens anymore and instead going all the way to Parliament Hill Fields. Which will be nice for it.

All this, however, ignores the best reason for getting rid of the C2 (or rather for merging it with the 88, which is what’s actually happening): that first character. The letter. Who wants a bus route with a letter in front of it when even half the night buses don’t have the N anymore? It’s relic of the route’s aforementioned origins as a ‘Camdenhopper’.

That C is twenty five years past its own utility. It’s just untidy. City Metric hates that sort of thing. Get rid.