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Author Topic: Portishead Line reopening for passengers - ongoing discussion  (Read 316621 times)
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« Reply #960 on: June 07, 2022, 01:48:30 pm »

FoSBR» (Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways - site) met Liam Fox (on Teams) this afternoon for an update on Portishead.

He seems pretty upbeat.

He believes that the funding gap caused by the DfT» (Department for Transport - about)'s decision to delay the DCO (Driver Controlled Operation) for further environmental review will soon be closed - we won't have to wait until February 2023 for an announcement.

FoSBR had heard rumours that funding of the train sets for this line was part of the problem, but Fox denies this. He also denies that WECA» (West of England Combined Authority - about) has in any way contributed to delays. The problem has been over-cautiousness at the DfT, who were worried about the potential for a Judicial Review.

Fox also reiterated his point about levelling up: Portishead is struggling to fill job vacancies, and this line would allow people from Bristol to access these jobs.
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« Reply #961 on: June 07, 2022, 03:27:26 pm »

Interesting that we're now getting commuting "in reverse direction". Must be good news for peak hour trains (thinking nationally, assuming Portishead isn't an isolated example).
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« Reply #962 on: June 14, 2022, 07:31:59 am »

Liam Fox MP (Member of Parliament) will raise the issue of portishead line in  the house of commons today (Tuesday 14 June) not sure of the time though.
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« Reply #963 on: June 14, 2022, 09:22:04 am »

It's an adjourment debate...these are ususually 30 minutes at the very end of the day with the proposer of the motion, a minister to reply and very few MPs (Member of Parliament) in attendance. This will be the 3rd such debate on this subject since he described Portishead as 'the longest cul de sac in Europe'
way way way back in 2005!
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« Reply #964 on: June 14, 2022, 07:40:52 pm »

Just watched the debate. Liam Fox set out the case extremely clearly quoting lots of figures about the various delays, all laid at the Dft's door.
He could not have tried harder to ask for the final push to get the project over the line. He quoted that the Sos was minded to approve the DCO (Driver Controlled Operation), as all the environmental objections had been overcome. He could issue that DCO just as soon as he is assured the funding gap is closed and well before the 19th February 2023.
Liam Fox was supported by Karin Smyth the Labour MP (Member of Parliament) for Bristol South, and John Penrose the WSM MP. He made a compelling case for pointing out that the neighbouring Bristol constituencies have unemployment rates above 4.5% but Portishead has plenty of job opportunities just waiting to be taken. However with a poor bus service of one bus every 30 minutes which all too often becomes one bus an hour, and a car taking 50 minutes via Junction 19 of the M5 on a good day, a reliable train service is a necessity.
I would encourage everyone who can, to attend the meeting in Pill on Saturday 18th at 1115 under the viaduct between Underbanks and Watch House lane, to demonstrate our frustration with the continuing delays, and to show just how much this railway is needed.
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« Reply #965 on: June 14, 2022, 08:03:40 pm »

This seems as relevant a place for this news items as any. From Wanted in Rome:
Quote
Rome reopens Vigna Clara train station after 32 years
13 Jun, 2022

Vigna Clara train station, which connects north Rome to the rest of the city, reopened to trains on Monday morning for the first time in 32 years.

Built for the 1990 World Cup and used for only eight days, the station will now have a total of 18 daily services, active from Monday to Saturday.

The first train leaves Vigna Clara at 07.42 and the last train departs just after 22.00, with no trains running on Sundays and public holidays.

Trains will arrive in Valle Aurelia in nine minutes, giving those who live in north Rome quick access to the Metro A line.

Within 13 minutes the trains from Vigna Clara will arrive at S. Pietro station which offers buses into the historic centre.

It takes 25 minutes to reach the final destination, Ostiense, offering access to Metro B as well as other trains and buses.

Several trains - the 07.42, the 08.35 and the 22.05 - also reach Trastevere station directly, with a 20-minute journey time.

The reopening of Vigna Clara has been broadly welcomed by residents in north Rome however there has already been criticism over the lack of parking facilities and calls for the timetable to be expanded.
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« Reply #966 on: June 15, 2022, 08:13:19 am »

Here is the Hansard report of the debate. Worth a read to get the most up to date picture.


Dr Liam Fox
(North Somerset) (
Here we go again. Portishead railway has become something of a perennial favourite of those Members who flock to the Chamber to hear these important issues debated, but I will recap for those who have not caught up on the politics of the saga.

The story so far is that we had a Labour Government, for whom our project met all the criteria—environmental, transport and economic—yet no progress was made. We had a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government, for whom the project met all the criteria and very little progress was made. We now have a Conservative Government and more progress has been made, but much too slowly.

Why do we need the Portishead rail link at all? Because congestion across the region costs £300 million a year and causes major delays every day, particularly at junction 19 of the M5. Traffic queueing times are increasing and are predicted to grow by 74% by 2036. The alternative to this programme would be a major new bridge, which would cost a minimum of £250 million —and we all know how these numbers get inflated—and would not be deliverable until 2030 at the earliest, for which we can read “not in our lifetime.” Alternatively, Portishead and its line would be open by 2025.

The environmental cost of the increased traffic congestion is considerable, so improved rail transport will clearly have enormous benefits, but that is by no means all. When looking at the Government’s levelling-up agenda, we have to recognise that there are areas within affluent parts of our country that are themselves much poorer. North Somerset, as a constituency and as a district, is extremely affluent, but it is not uniformly affluent. Pill in my constituency has a high index of deprivation, and it will have a station on the new line.

The question of growth and jobs is one of the main issues for the railway line. Portishead is a centre of innovation and creativity with numerous successful and burgeoning small businesses, but labour is at a premium in my constituency. Unemployment is at 1.6%, compared with the national average of 3.8%. The rate in neighbouring constituencies is: Bristol East, 4.4%; Bristol South, 4.3%; and Bristol West, 4%. They are all above the national average.

The line is not just about improving the convenience for people who live in Portishead and work in Bristol; it is also about giving people in those areas of higher unemployment access to areas where they can build businesses, provide new jobs and be hugely involved in the Government’s efforts to increase economic activity.

Karin Smyth
(Bristol South) (Lab)

I am disappointed to be debating this subject again, but I am pleased to support the right hon. Gentleman. Reopening the passenger line both ways is important, as he says, but opening new stations near Parson Street and Bedminster in Bristol South is crucial to pursuing low-carbon forms of transport and to supporting the new housing that is coming forward. I am keen to work with him in the interests of the entire Bristol and North Somerset area, and I urge the Government to do more.



Dr Fox

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who makes a very good point, which augments what I was saying. Housing is being built in Bedminster, for example. Where are people going to go to work? We need high-income, good-quality jobs. The businesses we have in Portishead—the spin-offs from avionics, for example—provide those kinds of jobs. The problem is: how do we get people in those areas of high unemployment and where the new housing is going to be built to where the jobs are? The danger at the moment is that not only are we unable to do that, but companies are unable to grow because of the restrictions on labour availability, they move to somewhere else and we lose the wealth from our region.

As ever, it all comes down to money. In 2017, the scheme budget was set at £116 million, assuming a line opening date of December 2021 and excluding a new requirement to fund operational costs. Following three separate Department for Transport-directed delays to the development consent order approval—one of which we debated here only last November—the pandemic, and unprecedented inflationary and market pressures, the revised forecast at completion was £210 million in December 2021. Following cost mitigations amounting to £47 million, the latest forecast sits at £163 million. After further increased regional budget contributions, that leaves a funding gap of £26.82 million, comprising £15.58 million in capital and £11.24 million in revenue, which we have requested the DFT (Department for Transport) to cover.

Just in case anyone has forgotten our debate in November, I remind them that I said then:

“A six-month delay, as suggested by the Secretary of State’s office, would have a potentially devastating impact. It is important that we understand whether this six-month figure was simply plucked out of the air and whether a shorter delay would deal with any reservations from the Department.”

That mattered a great deal to us. I also said:

“It has been assessed that the impact on cost beyond 14 January 2022 will be in the order of an additional £13 million at minimum”.
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« Reply #967 on: June 15, 2022, 08:23:48 am »


Dr Liam Fox
(North Somerset) (Con)
Part 2

I warned in November that the extra six-month delay for what I believe was an unjustified environmental assessment, or other similar delay, would put pressure on the partners in the project, who simply would not be able to find extra money of that order.

What am I asking the Minister for tonight? First, I am seeking agreement to an additional £15.58 million—that is the capital funding provision. Secondly, I am asking for agreement to implement the previously proposed governance structure, with the DFT (Department for Transport) taking on the client role. If that is not agreeable, incidentally, the funding gap increases by another £14 million. Thirdly, I am asking for agreement to work with North Somerset Council and the West of England Combined Authority to find a solution to fund the forecast additional MetroWest 1 operating subsidy cost of £11.24 million, recognising that North Somerset Council, a small unitary authority, and WECA» (West of England Combined Authority - about) have no funding streams for additional revenue.

The Minister recently indicated that there would be no more money in the Department, but the latest ministerial position ignores key cost drivers that have arisen in the interim period, since 2017, which are largely outside the control of the project team. Those include unbudgeted operational costs; requirements and inflationary costs, linked to associated programme delays, arising from the Toggle showing location ofColumn 266Department’s development consent order—that adds £28 million; DFT-led changes to the project procurement strategy, which add £6.1 million; market price increases, which are outside the control of the Government and add £39.5 million; and of course the pandemic, which adds an estimated £4.8 million.

Those numbers are tiny when we are talking about projects such as HS2 (The next High Speed line(s)). Let me remind my hon. Friend the Minister about the benefits that the project will bring that fall within the full aims of Government policy. It will significantly reduce travel time from Bristol to Portishead to 23 minutes, compared with 60 minutes-plus—on a good day—by bus and an optimistic 50 minutes-plus by car, and greatly improve people’s access to employment and services, as I outlined. It will bring more than 50,000 people in Portishead and Pill into the direct catchment area of a railway station for the first time in more than 60 years.

Regeneration of our railways has been a key aim of the Government. This project will deliver 1.2 million additional rail journeys and £7 million of revenue within 15 years of opening. It will produce benefits to the regional economy of £43 million gross value added per annum. It will remove 13 million car kilometres annually by 2041. It will bring new employment opportunities regionally and bring the benefits of economic growth to Portishead and wider North Somerset. There will be sustained environmental benefits, and the major improvement in travel to work times will bring associated personal quality of life and community benefits. What is not to like about this project?

One more push from my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues and we can get this project across the line. What could give our region a better boost in this time of uncertainty than to put all the worries behind us, once and for all? I look to my hon. Friend for the push.

7.11pm
The Minister of State, Department for Transport
(Wendy Morton)
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) on securing this debate on the future of Portishead railway. He has been a passionate advocate of reopening the railway from Bristol to Portishead for many years—since long before I became the Rail Minister. I recognise that the project has strong support in his constituency and I am grateful to him for setting out its benefits this evening, as well as some of the challenges.

John Penrose
(Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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The Minister is right to congratulate our right hon. Friend, my neighbour and co-MP (Member of Parliament) for north Somerset, but it is not just his constituency that is affected. Right next door in my constituency, many people are in favour of the project, not only because of the reductions in the environmental impact of all those trips to and from Bristol, but because of the levelling-up impact, particularly on less well-off places such as Pill and others in our area.

Wendy Morton
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I hear my hon. Friend’s comments and recognise that the project runs beyond the boundaries of the North Somerset constituency.

The proposal is now part of MetroWest, a third-party metropolitan rail programme promoted by West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset Council. The Government have already committed funding Toggle showing location ofColumn 267support of £31.9 million to close the funding gap for the project to reopen the Portishead line to passengers, and a further request from the joint promoters for £15.6 million of additional funding was recently received. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset that the case is being carefully considered by the Government. The Department will continue to work closely with WECA, NSC and Network Rail counterparts on the approval process for the scheme’s full business case.

I want it to be clear that I fully recognise that the scheme is of great importance to my right hon. Friend’s constituents and to the wider Greater Bristol area. The congestion on the A369 between Bristol and Portishead, with journey times of about an hour in peak periods, is a barrier to travel. Reintroducing a rail connection would bring the communities of Portishead and Bristol closer together, improving work opportunities for local residents and for leisure and tourism. It would also bring people closer to the rest of the country.

The funding is subject to the granting of a development consent order, which is a statutory requirement, and a satisfactory full business case. The full business case will also need to progress through my Department’s rail network enhancement pipeline approval process, a framework by which all publicly funded rail enhancements are considered.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, with regard to the scheme’s development consent order, the Secretary of State issued a “minded to approve” decision on the 19 April. This sets out that the Secretary of State is minded to make the order, subject to receiving further information and evidence regarding the costs and funding of the project, with the reasons for that set out in the letter. The Secretary of State has requested that this information be provided by 30 November. To allow sufficient time for this information to be provided and for the Secretary of State to consider it, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), issued a written ministerial statement on 19 April extending the deadline for the DCO (Driver Controlled Operation) application to 19 February 2023. Should satisfactory information be provided ahead of November, the Secretary of State will look to issue a final decision on the DCO application as soon as possible and ahead of the February 2023 deadline.

It is important to note that I am not involved in the decision on this application, but I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand that this is still a live application under consideration in my Department. I am therefore unable to take part in any discussion on the pros and cons of the development consent order itself, to ensure that the process is correctly followed and remains fair to all parties.

I must also stress that the development consent order process is a statutory requirement under the Planning Act 2008. The process for considering an application must follow the legislative requirements, and the Secretary of State can request any further information that he considers necessary to allow him to undertake this consideration and to fulfil his statutory duties.

More broadly, with regard to the Government’s commitment to rail schemes, we have committed to levelling up the country, and reconnecting communities to the railway is central to that ambition.



Karin Smyth
I have been a Member of Parliament for only seven years. I do not recall, off the top of my head, how many Ministers I and the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) have appeared before on this very issue. A range of reasons have always been given as to why this is not happening. Last year, we understood that there were some environmental questions to be answered. I gently say to the Minister and her officials that each time a new Conservative Minister comes to the House with a new range of hoops to jump through and a new range of excuses as to why our part of the country does not have this commitment, which we long believed we had, the worse it is for the Conservative party.

Wendy Morton

As I set out earlier, I can assure the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend that the Department —this Government—will continue to work closely with the West of England Combined Authority, with North Somerset Council and with Network Rail counterparts on the approval process for the scheme’s full business case. I give that commitment this evening.

Dr Fox

As Secretary of State, I was rather too fond of saying to my officials that the difference between a doctor and a civil servant was that, for a doctor, a good outcome was that the patient got better, and for a civil servant, a good outcome was that the patient was treated for a very long time. It seems to me that we are in one of these examples where the process is almost becoming an end in itself. We actually need results. I entirely understand the point that my hon. Friend is making about the DCO and the fact that she cannot comment on it, but what we need is a decision to be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. We need a real railway for real jobs and for real environmental benefits. I understand the financial constraints and would not be calling for greater overall spending, but within the budget that exists in the Department for Transport we must have movement, because the delay that we are facing is becoming intolerable.

Wendy Morton

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying, but obviously there is a process that I and the Department must go through.

When it comes to the Government’s commitment to rail, I gently remind colleagues in the Chamber that, as part of our levelling-up agenda, in January 2020 the Government pledged £500 million for the restoring your railway programme, to deliver on our manifesto commitment to start reopening lines and stations. That investment is about reconnecting communities across the country, regenerating local economies and improving access to jobs, homes and education.

We reopened the Dartmoor line in November last year, restoring passenger services between Exeter and Okehampton for the first time in 50 years. That has been a great success, with passenger journeys double the anticipated level. In May this year the service frequency on the Dartmoor line was doubled so that passengers now have an hourly service. That followed further infrastructure work that has delivered an improved journey time of around 35 minutes between Okehampton and Exeter St David’s. The line opened two years ahead of schedule and significantly under its approved budget.Toggle showing location ofColumn 269

The Government also announced, in January 2021, £34 million of funding to progress plans to reopen the Northumberland line to passenger services between Ashington and Newcastle, with six new stations and a service of two trains an hour by the end of 2023. I gently say to the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) that those are some strong examples of this Government’s commitment to investing in the railways.

The Government also recognise the importance of the Greater Bristol area as one of the UK (United Kingdom)’s most productive and fastest growing city regions, which is why we continue to make significant investments there. For example, on Friday 10 June funding of £95 million for phase 1 of the Bristol Temple quarter regeneration programme was announced. That investment will transform access to Bristol Temple Meads station, delivering new and improved station entrances to the north, south and east, with related transport interchange and active travel provision. The new entrances will make it much easier to reach the station from the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods, and the eastern entrance will connect to the Temple quarter—one of the largest urban regeneration sites in Europe and soon to be home to the University of Bristol’s enterprise campus.

That project will complement wider investment in the regional and national rail network already being made, and the Temple Meads station upgrade will unlock transport to south Wales and the south-west of England, significantly increasing passenger capacity and improving connectivity between Bristol, Cardiff and London. This work is complemented by the recent refurbishment work at Bristol Temple Meads station, which will provide better passenger facilities and improved accessibility.Toggle showing location ofColumn 270

The Government also invested £132 million in the remodelling of the railway in the Temple Meads area, which was the largest enhancement project on the Great Western route in 2021. That work will mean more regular and reliable trains with more seats coming through the station. The new railway layout is also a key enabler of the MetroWest scheme, which is allowing new local services that improve connectivity between Bristol and its neighbouring communities, enabling people across the south-west and south Wales to benefit. A new parkway station at Portway on the MetroWest line towards Severn Beach, which received £1.7 million of backing from my Department’s new stations fund, is also being built. The station will serve both the adjacent park-and-ride site and local residents, and is expected to open in December this year.

To conclude, the Government are committed to improving rail in the wider Bristol area as part of the levelling up of the west of England. I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset set out this evening, and we will continue to support the West of England Combined Authority and North Somerset Council to develop their business case for the reopening of the railway between Bristol and Portishead. We fully acknowledge and appreciate the importance of this project to his constituency.
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« Reply #968 on: June 17, 2022, 10:55:55 pm »

Ahead of tomorrow's gathering at Pill in support of the Portishead line (details here) Liam Fox has given us the following statement:

Quote
As you know, for over 20 years I have campaigned tirelessly to see Portishead’s railway restored. I believe we are within touching distance now as I set out in the Commons last week. For a relatively small sum of money from the Dept of Transport we can bring environmental, transport and economic gains not only to the people of Portishead but to our wider area. It can and should be a real win-win. Thank you to all of you who have kept faith and given your support.

Hope to see some of you there!
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« Reply #969 on: June 20, 2022, 03:10:05 pm »

We had a decent turnout on Saturday at Pill, including representatives from Transport for Greater Bristol, North Somerset Council, Portishead Railway Group, the Green Party and other local groups.

North Somerset MP (Member of Parliament) Liam Fox and Bristol South MP Karin Smith sent us messages of encouragement, showing that this project is supported right across the political spectrum.



Some of us came by bus, some came by bike. Some walked there. Some drove. Tina Biggs sailed across from Shirehampton! It would have been so much easier to get there by TRAIN!



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« Reply #970 on: June 28, 2022, 08:56:08 am »

One minute we are being told by Liam Fox that all the environmental issues have been sorted, and the draft DCO (Driver Controlled Operation) says the SoS is 'minded to approve' once the funding is found....

And then we get this ....

Portishead rail line's future uncertain as questions raised over funding and inflation
The government is 'very nervous' about environmental issues, according to the metro mayor

Future plans to reopen the Portishead railway line remain uncertain as questions are raised over funding and inflation.

The railway line, which closed to passengers six decades ago, was due to reopen in 2024 as part of a multi-million pound scheme to improve public transport in the region. But delays due to environmental issues and skyrocketing inflation have caused concerns over its costs.


The government is “very nervous” about environmental issues surrounding the reopening, and is considering putting more money forward to get the project underway, according to Dan Norris, the metro mayor of the West of Englan

Little can happen until that extra government funding comes, he told a scrutiny committee at the West of England combined authority on June 27. Similar schemes have been dropped due to inflation, which reduces how much the government can get for its money.

He said: “The government is contemplating giving additional funding to get us over the line, but they’re requiring some money from North Somerset and the combined authority as well. I’m not actually certain that I’ve got that money, but I’m very keen to find what I can.

“There has been a delay. I think the issue has been the government is concerned and very anxious about a judicial review, very nervous. There are issues on environmental grounds—I think those fears are groundless—but it has caused delay, and with rampant inflation, that reduces the purchasing power of the money that was previously agreed.”

Portishead has grown rapidly in recent years and suffers from serious congestion on local roads. The town’s passenger station closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts, and was due to reopen in December 2024 as part of the major MetroWest project. It’s unclear exactly what environmental issues are causing the delays.


The MetroWest project, part of the West of England combined authority, will also include a new train station at Pill, and train services upgraded on the Severn Beach line and between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.

Mr Norris added: “Where we’re at now is we’re waiting for the government to come up with that money, and then I will do what I can. The reality of inflation is going to be that they’re going to cut some schemes. But I don’t think they’re contemplating that for the Portishead line.

“I do get people sometimes say to me they’re concerned this investment, strictly outside the combined authority area, is going to cost significant sums of money, which is true. But my view is that actually they’re quite a lot of jobs in North Somerset that Bristol could benefit from. So it’s in Bristol’s interests too.


“I’m very much behind it, but it depends how much it costs. We’re prepared to find what we reasonably can. But we’re now waiting to see if the government will put in what they said they would. It’s so hard to know, but it’s probably OK, probably. Until that money comes from the government, there’s no movement.”

So, just who do we believe?
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« Reply #971 on: June 29, 2022, 10:13:05 am »

BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page) this morning - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-61965807

Quote
Portishead to Bristol railway line reopening looking uncertain, mayor says

Somewhat a repeat of the previous post here
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« Reply #972 on: June 29, 2022, 03:09:57 pm »

BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page) this morning - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-61965807

Quote
Portishead to Bristol railway line reopening looking uncertain, mayor says

Somewhat a repeat of the previous post here

The LDR service can lead to identical reports on BBC, Bristol Post, Bristol World and Bristol 24/7. Presumably this happens in other areas too.

Incidentally (talking of LDRs), Mayor Marvin Rees has allegedly banned an LDR from his press briefings (for asking the wrong kind of questions) and in consequence these organs, together with local ITV news, no longer attend them... 
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This forum is provided by a customer of Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western), and the views expressed are those of the individual posters concerned. Visit www.gwr.com for the official Great Western Railway website. Please contact the administrators of this site if you feel that the content provided by one of our posters contravenes our posting rules (email link). Forum hosted by Well House Consultants

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