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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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.