Report on the Railfuture Severnside Annual General Meeting held at GL1, Gloucester, on 10 April 2010
Before the formal business began, members were given a Power Point presentation on the Ultra Light Rail scheme being developed by Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce and the University of Gloucestershire.
Michael Ratcliffe, Chief Executive of the Chamber, described how the project had evolved from a discussion with the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway (GWR) about how to establish a rail connection between its present southern terminus at Cheltenham Racecourse to the main line station.
Willy Ford of Travelwatch West Midlands said he had developed the idea into a proposed network linking Cheltenham with Gloucester via Gloucestershire Airport with extensions to Quedgeley and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Frank Chambers, Professor of Physical Geography at the University, reminded the meeting that the smallest conurbation in the UK with a modern tram system was Nottingham and that schemes for Bristol, Leeds and South Hampshire had been axed in recent years on grounds of cost. Smaller centres such as Cheltenham and GLoucester, with a combined population of under 250 000 stood no chance of getting light rail unless the cost of construction could be dramatically reduced.
John Dixon pointed out that funding for the Bristol tram system had been available at the time but was lost because Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council could not agree over the route. This prompted Mr Ratcliffe to say, “Do not lose windows of opportunity which may come once in a lifetime.”
All three speakers considerd catenary fed trams to be too expensive for medium sized cities. The solution was to have lightweight vehicles with a weight limit of 3 tons per axle. Trams in the UK had hitherto been based on 50 ton vehicles. The relatively heavy axle loadings of conventional trams required expensive diversion of underground utilities where street running was involved. With Ultra Light Rail (ULR) vehicles this would not be necessary because of minimal pressure on the road surface.
ULR vehicles, carrying up to 50 passengers, would be powered by hydrogen, produced from anaerobic digestion of household waste. Even if Gloucestershire met its target of recycling or composting 60% of waste by 2020, it still expected to send 150 000 tons to landfill each year.
Asked by John Franklin whether anaerobic digestion was the alternative to plans for incineration of waste, Professor Chambers replied that it most certainly was. Mr Ford added that when the cost of dealing with harmful dioxins released by incineration was taken into account, anaerobic digestion was no more expensive. An incinerator was estimated to cost £ 90 million, whereas the products of anaerobic digestion can be sold. Anaerobic digestors had been built at Montpelier, France and at Selby, Yorkshire. The latter used plant which had formerly produced citric acid. Finance for the light rail scheme might be available from the European Union inter-regional fund, which allows organisations to demonstrate technologies applicable to other member states.
John Walker asked whether ULR vehicles were similar to the Parry People Mover in use on the Stourbridge Town Branch. Mr Ford replied that the PPM was a heavier vehicle with a flywheel and it was less fuel efficient than ULR.
Referring to the extent of the proposed ULR system, Mr Ford said Phase 1 would be Cheltenham Racecourse to Lansdown, to be followed by rapid transit between Cheltenham and Gloucester centres. Later extensions would be from Gloucester to Quedgeley via Tuffley and via the Gloucester Quays retail complex. The Stratford extension would involve ULR vehicles running over the preserved GWR when its own trains were not running. John Franklin asked where the sections not on former railway lines would be routed. mr Ford said bus lanes could be utilised as would the Golden Valley bypass which passes the airport. Mr Ratcliffe said that Mr Mark Boyce, President of Gloucestershire Chamber of Commerce, was very supportive of ULR in Gloucester and had suggested routes for the system.
Professor Chambers noed that the three local MPs supported ULR and had met with Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to put the case for the scheme. Tony Lloyd asked whether the project needed an Integrated Transport Authority to get it going. Mr Ford replied that he hoped organisations such as the Light Rail Transit Association and Railfuture would promote it.
Asked whether diversion of main line trains would be possible over the Stratford extension, the panel thought not. Mr Ford said the ex Great Western route through Cheltenham had suffered from instability in its formation which made it unsuitable for modern freight trains and he had suggested to Network Rail the rebuilding of the Evesham-Ashchurch line as a future diversionary route.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING BUSINESS
15 members were present and John Walker was in the chair.
1. Apologies were received from three members.
2. Minutes of the previous AGM held on 24 April 2009 were accepted.
Stephen Wade asked that the Minutes of the current AGM be circulated soon after it was held. Nigel Bray replied that this would involve sending out another Newsletter to nearly 100 addresses at a cost of over £50 in postage and photocopying. For this reason Branch Newsletters were produced only when meetings were called.
3. Chairman’s Report
John Walker referred to the need for improved rail infrastructure in Bristol, notably the restoration of four tracks over Filton Bank, although he wondered whether the bridge at Stapleton Road was fit for two additionl tracks. Tony Lloyd commented that Great Western electrification was one of the driving forces for quadrupling, which nearly everyone supported.
John said he had asked Network Rail whether steam charter trains would be allowed to run on the GW main line after electrification. The consensus view was that they would continue to do so as on the East Coast and West Coast main lines. A discussion followed as to whether the UK rail system could ever become 100% electric. John noted that the promoters of the proposed new nuclear power stations at Hinckley Point had expressed an interest in sponsoring train services to take construction workers to Williton via the West Somerset Railway.
4. Secretary’s Report
Nigel Bray said he sent responses on behaf of the Branch to five major consultation exercises. The House of Commons South West Regional Committee had invited comments on transport in the Region. He had given some robust answers to the question of whether the Region was doing enough to promote environmentally friedly transport and was pleased that the Branch response was printed in full in the Committee’s Report which was published in February. Noting that the Regional Committee was composed entirely of Labour MPs, he considered that this put pressure groups at a disadvantage. Anne Lock advised that Conservatives and Liberal democrats had refused to join it.
Nigel referred also to the Consultation for the Network Rail Draft GW Route Utilisation Strategy. The final version, launched on 30 March, was a definite improvement and seemed to accept the need for additional track capacity within Bristol. nevertheless it was clear that manyrail projects had yet to secure the necessary funding. John Walker noted that NR had misrepresented the case for Portishead reopening by claiming the track needed to be upgraded for 60 mph running. George Bailey suggested that there was scope to expedite reopenings by Section 106 funding for new housing development, as was being proposed for Tavistock. Anne Lock mentioned that the Strategic Health Authority’s evidence to the SW Rgional Committee had stressed the health benefits from investing in public transport. She wondered whether the Authority could make the same point to NR.
More effort needed to go into the Portishead campaign because of a recent crazy proposal to convert the line west of Pill into a guided busway. Tony Lloyd suggested a future Branch meeting in Bristol should emphasise the importance of re-opening the line. There was also a need to investigate the true cost of guided bus systems. Stephen Wade pointed out that rubber traction on concrete used more energy than steel wheels on steel rails. Anne Lock said she believed the West of England Partnership wanted the South Bristol Link Road built and for guided buses to run over it in order to present the scheme as pro-public transport. John Dixon referred to a report in the Bristol Evening Post that Junction 19 ( linking Portishead with the M5 ) was to be rebuilt at a greater cost than that required to reopen the Portishead line.
5. Treasurer’s Report
Tony Lloyd advised that the Branch had added about £ 200 to its reserves and currently had a balance of £ 1 592. Guidelines for Branch Treasurers advised against Branches holding more than two years’ expendidture in reserve. He invited ideas from the floor on how to spend these growing resources. Stephen Wade suggested investing in a meeting focussed on a speciic theme such as railway v guided busway. Tony considered that the Committee neede to meet face to face, nt only via teleconferences, to work on a campaign leaflet.
6. Election of Officers
The following were elected en bloc:
Co-Chairmen John Walker and David Redgewell
Secretary Nigel Bray
Treasurer Tony Lloyd
Media Spokesman Bruce Williamson
George Bailey North Somerset Railway
Julie Boston Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways
John Dixon Portishead Railway Group
Gerard Duddridge representing Somerset
Anne Lock Corsham Station Campaign
After much discussion it was resolved that in future all existing Committee members would be required to confirm prior to the AGM whether they wished to seek re-election.
7. Any Other Business
7.1 Stephen Wade referred to a proposal to revive the Sharpness branch line for passenger and freight services, using rolling stock which had been stored at Long Marston. Eric Barbery said he understood the intended freight traffic to be coal imported from South Wales.
7.2 Anne Lock circulated a flyer from Go! Co-operative, a mutually owned company proposing to run trains between Oxford and Weymouth via Swindon and Westbury under Open Access rules for train operators.