Pilning Station is on the South Wales Main Line, to the west of Patchway, about 2.5km from the English portal of the Severn Tunnel. It currently has a minimal service, but nearby development means it could once again become a very useful transport hub.
Pilning has a particularly rich railway history, involving two station sites and multiple closures and re-openings.
Station opens at Pilning on the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway (BSWUR). The railway runs from Bristol Temple Meads to New Passage on the banks of the Severn, from where passengers transfer onto a ferry to cross the river into Wales.
Station re-sited a short distance away at Pilning High Level when the Severn Tunnel opens. The new station opens with the first passenger services through the tunnel on 1 December 1886. The original Pilning (Low Level) closes.
GWR build a new freight branch via Pilning Low Level to Avonmouth.
GWR introduce a Motorail service through the Severn Tunnel, operating between Pilning High Level and Severn Tunnel Junction. Vehicles are loaded onto special wagons attached to passenger trains.
Original station (Pilning Low Level) re-opens as the line from Pilning to Severn Beach (now a popular seaside resort) is upgraded to passenger traffic. The line from Avonmouth to Severn Beach was upgraded in 1922.
Pilning Low Level closes when passenger services between Pilning and Severn Beach are withdrawn. Freight movements between Pilning and Avonmouth continue until 1968.
Pilning High Level Motorail services cease when Severn Bridge opens allowing direct road travel between Bristol and South Wales.
Pilning High Level station reverts to the name Pilning.
Pilning service declines from 20 trains per day to 2 trains per day.
Pilning service further reduced to 2 trains per week.
Because of electrification being carried out from London to Cardiff, some bridges along the route have to be raised or replaced to permit sufficient clearance above the overhead lines. FoSBR become aware of a rumour that Network Rail plan to remove Pilning footbridge and do not intend to replace it. This would remove access to the westbound platform and therefore no westbound services could call at PIlning.
On 21st April 2016 Network Rail circulate a letter to an unknown distribution list asking for comments on footbridge removal with a deadline of 23rd May 2016. On 25th May 2016 they circulate another electronic letter stating that the consultation period had ended, any objections received had been “satisfactorily resolved” and as such the works can now be undertaken.
FoSBR put in statements to the West of England Partnership Joint Transport Board (WEP JTB) and the Strategic Leaders Board (SLB) about the lack of proper consultation. FoSBR write to the Secretary of State for Transport.
A ‘Save Pilning Station’ campaign meeting is held at Pilning station. Speakers from Pilning Parish Council, FoSBR, SevernNet and local residents explain the potential of Pilning and the meeting is reported in the South Gloucestershire Gazette. Pilning Parish Council write to the Secretary of State for Transport. Pilning residents complete a transport questionnaire and sign a petition.
Pilning Station Group is re-launched.
Network Rail hold a drop-in session at Pilning.
Network Rail reasons for non-replacement [with FoSBR response]:
- Only one person a week uses the existing service – showing lack of demand. [Hardly surprising considering the lack of a proper service – just two trains a week on Saturday].
- Even before 2006, when there was daily service, few people used it. [Once again hardly surprising as the service was not in the least passenger friendly. Besides that, there has been a general increase in the number of people using trains since then].
- The bridge is life-expired and time-expired. [This was when we asked whether it could be jacked up to give the necessary clearance – their answer meaning that they considered that the bridge could not be re-used. We are not convinced that they have had a full technical survey done on the condition of the bridge].
- A ‘like for like’ bridge would cost around £1 million and an accessible bridge around £3-4 miliion. [We were told this at the drop-in session – with the caveat that these were only very rough estimates. They had not done a costing exercise and there was no money to do so!].
- The platforms would need extensive works to take a replacement bridge – this would ramp up costs. [We heard this for the first time at the drop-in session].
- The local authorities (West of England Partnership and Local Enterprise Partnership), who are responsible for putting forward strategic transport plans, have not included Pilning in the plans for MetroWest. [This is true but we are lobbying for them to build a case for Pilning].
- GWR have said that they will introduce new services (eg, Pilning) only on the basis of local demand – instead of creating new services in the hope that they will be used. [This is in relation to requests for a better service provision at the station].
- Severn Beach station is nearby and would provide a better service. [But Pilning is on a different route to Severn Beach; those wishing to travel to Wales from Pilning would not wish to go all the way round to Temple Meads when they could go straight from Pilning through the Severn Tunnel. Also, sadly, the service from Severn Beach will be limited – partly because of the problem with the Port access].
- Pilning residents have stated a preference for using the Severn Beach line. [We do not know what this statement is based on].
- This is only a ‘minor modification’ to the status of Pilning station. [We strongly disagree – this should be regarded as closure of part of the station and so subject to the full statutory consultation under the Railways Act 2005].
Arguments for footbridge replacement & increased service:
- Network Rail say they are not closing the station but the loss of the westbound platform is tantamount to a closure. The service is bad enough already but the added time and trouble caused by this would put off all but the most dedicated rail traveller from using the station. It is a closure by stealth.
- It has a strategic position on Severnside with a direct connection to Wales, and the West of England Partnership requested an increased service for Pilning in the 2014 Great Western franchise consultation.
- There are up to 25,000 new jobs planned for the area and so there will be the demand for a proper (increased) service calling at Pilning Station.
Network Rail demolish the footbridge. There is no access to the westbound platform (towards Wales) so passengers returning from Bristol to Pilning have to travel on to Severn Tunnel Junction, cross over the bridge there and then catch a return train to Pilning on the eastbound track.
The South East Wales and West of England Business Link (SEWWEB) campaign group suggest a plan to improve transport links along the corridor between North Somerset, Temple Meads, east Bristol, north Bristol and the South-East Wales commuter belt. Their proposals include stations at Aztec West and Pilning, and improved services to Patchway, and their campaign wins Railfuture’s Oliver Lovell Award for best new group.
SEWWEB propose replacing the existing Pilning station with one 900 metres further west at the point where the Cross Hands Road (B4055) crosses the four-tracked railway. This location could allow easy access to Pilning village, bus routes and local business parks.
Another proposal suggests moving Pilning station to the point where the main A403 crosses the (two-tracked) railway and creating a combined rail/coach interchange.
Any location needs to tie in with planned new road developments. The new motorway junction on the M49/Farm Lane site will be complete by end-2019 with stubs “to support future development”.
Pilning Station Group do not endorse the SEWWEB blueprint, worrying that they shift the campaign focus from the station’s survival to the station’s location.
From December 2019, Pilning services (Saturday only, eastbound only) depart at 8.33 and 14.33. According to Pilning Station Group, the previous timings of 8.34 and 15.34 were more helpful for people who were actually trying to use this limited service for a day out.
Requests for extra services are repeatedly rebuffed, with GWR stating that Pilning’s mainline location means that stopping trains negatively impact journey times for long distance services.
Service improvements at Pilning are supported by both the Pilning Station Group and Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways. Campaigners note that 25,000 jobs are due to be created in the area as part of the Avonmouth Severnside Enterprise Area, and that a new junction on the M49 motorway could allow for a park-and-ride-type station. Pilning is better placed for fast routes to Wales, Bristol or London in comparison to the nearby, but currently also poorly served, Severn Beach station.