Conservative Leader Councillor Mark Weston has responded positively to the rail report produced by Sir Peter Hendy, which comprehensively re-examines and updates the cost estimates for Network Rail’s ambitious £38 billion enhanced infrastructure programme.

Last summer, the Secretary of State for Transport announced the need for these proposals to be reviewed and re-planned in the light of growing budgetary pressures, delays (electrification of the Great Western Mainline), and borrowing restrictions.

The outcome of which – “Report from Sir Peter Hendy to the Secretary of State for Transport on the replanning of Network Rail’s Investment Programme” was published on 25th November 2015.

Headline conclusions of this review, which the Government has already indicated it is minded to accept in full, include:  the vast majority of projects to go ahead for delivery by 2019; no infrastructure schemes are to be cancelled (although some may be delayed in order to keep within a tight funding envelope; Network Rail is asked to find £1.8 billion to fill a financial shortfall through the sale of some of its non-core assets.

In January, The Department for Transport put this matter out for wider consultation and invited responses to be received by Friday, 18th March.

Cllr Weston (Henbury & Brentry) said:  “Overall, this is a very impressive piece of work and contains a lot of positive good news for those of us who have been working hard for a transformation in local rail.

“It is particularly heartening that the Government has signalled its commitment to this form of travel.

“After decades of neglect and underinvestment, this is a huge and complex modernisation programme, backed with a big budget.

“However, it is also important to pressurise ministers on some of the projects not yet detailed in the body of the Hendy report.  For example, we want reassurance around some of the remodelling schemes; the future development of the Henbury Loop; provision for building extra stations; an extension of electrification to replace antiquated track; and the importance of maintaining accessibility to any station lost from Network Rail’s property portfolio.

“Bristol’s suburban rail network desperately needs all of these listed improvements to be realised if we are genuinely to achieve a sea change in travel and herald what may be called a new age of the train.”