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Will Bristol Airport ever be convenient without a rail link?

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Message 1 - posted by U3775715 - alt id 1, Aug 20, 2006

Friendly and coped well with the extra security but getting there is hell!
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Message 2 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Aug 20, 2006

It is certain that in the forseeable future there will not be a rail link to the airport, and the airport's draft master plan for the period up to 2030 is based on this premise.

The cost of providing one would be phenomenal and it would probably have to branch out from the Bristol-Exeter main line somewhere between Backwell and Yatton. The airport sits at an elevation of over 600 feet (the second highest airport of any size in the UK - Leeds/Bradford is slightly higher) which would mean substantial tunnelling and/or severe grading for any rail link.

Such a system would entail a shuttle service from the main line - very difficult logistically and of doubtful value.

I have spoken to the airport about using Parson Street station (on the main line and about ten minutes by road from the airport) as a rail interchange. They told me it had been considered but their enquiries had revealed that no rail company would be prepared to stop its main line trains there and, anyway, the physical constraints would be substantial.

Cardiff Airport has a rail link of sorts with the re-opening of the Vale of Glamorgan railway line (thanks to £19 million from the Welsh Assembly) but even here a short coach link is required to take passengers from the airport halt to the terminal building. Furthermore, only two branch line trains per hour use the halt at present.

In effect, Bristol Airport has a rail connection already. The Airport Flyer coach (they are large coaches, not mini buses) calls at Temple Meads every fifteen minutes, both to and from the airport, from early morning to late evening and it is possible to book rail tickets through to the airport, with the last bit of the journey on the Flyer.

It seems many people do this because there is often a queue waiting at the Flyer stop at the top of the station incline.

Having said all this, I do agree with your general point that Bristol Airport is poorly located. It also suffers from poor weather more than most airports (although this has been largely, but not completely, overcome with the provision of Cat III ILS on one runway), has a constricted site and limited runway.

All this makes the airport's rapid growth over the past decade even more remarkable. From 1994 to 2004 its annual average passenger growth was 13.3%, well over double the UK airport average.

It is currently the ninth busiest UK airport in terms of passengers handled with a current annual throughput of just under 5.6 million (CAA stats).

Perhaps its relative inaccessibility might be considered a plus by some people. If it was easier to reach then it is highly likely that it would grow even more quickly.

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Message 3 - posted by RedSquirrel, Aug 22, 2006

...relative inaccessibility...

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Personally I take the view that if you can't fly there from Lulsgate, it's not worth going there! Even if you have to change at Schiphol, it's still a lot less hassle to do that than to go through the ever-increasing misery of the London airports.
My main complaint about Lulsgate is the Taxi service; I'm surprised it's legal to apparently stitch things up with one operator in this way...
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Message 4 - posted by EdSomerset, Aug 22, 2006

I'd much rather go there than to one near London. It's far more convenient and having a railway link there would be even better.
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Message 5 - posted by John of Paddington, Aug 22, 2006

It's the bait in a net of speed cameras. I've never seen so many cameras in a short distance with such a variaty of speeds. Why did they not put a spur from the M5 to serve the Airport?
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Message 6 - posted by RedSquirrel, Aug 22, 2006

Why did they not put a spur from the M5 to serve the Airport?

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Good question. Maybe they could get the bloke who designed the Millau bridge to design one! The civil engineering would be something to behold.
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Message 7 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Aug 24, 2006

There is a recommendation in the Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Study for a £270 million road leaving the Weston-super-Mare junction of the M 5 and accessing Bristol Airport along a route that would run south of Hewish and Congresbury, and north of Banwell and Churchill. This is the current estimated cost. What it would turn out to be if actually built beggars belief.

It would also have the added bonus of acting as a bypass to these villages, and Banwell in particular is in urgent need of such a measure. I can remember Banwell being clogged with traffic in the 1950s when I travelled to school at Weston by bus through the village, and itís got steadily worse over the decades.

A related suggestion in the Study is to turn the nearby Worle Parkway railway station into an air and coach terminal with Flyer coaches servicing the airport.

Whether any of this comes to fruition is highly doubtful. It will all be put through the Regional Spatial Strategy wringer and then government will have its say.

If any of it does eventuate it will be many years away.

Although I am a big fan of regional airports, and Bristol has shown itself to be one of the most successful, I really wonder how much these extra road and rail links are really necessary.

In Bristolís case the lack of decent surface communications with the airport doesnít seem to have held it back one iota, so would things change in the future if reaching the airport remained a bit of a challenge?

There have been newspaper reports that since the new national security regime passengers have flocked to Bristol Airport in even greater numbers to try to avoid the misery of the large London gateways, and the Bristol-Newark link has had a major boost as a result.

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Message 8 - posted by wessex_now, Oct 5, 2006

I have never had any complaints about the airport at lulsgate but I understand that it is in an inconvenient location in terms of public transport. Having said that, it is clear that BIA have made significant improvements to public transport and I see the flyer now stops to pick up people (often staff) on Bedminster parade.

Did you know that lulsgate was chosen originally by the RAF as a landing site in WWII due to it being so difficult to land there? Funny that the decision was then taken to have the West's regional airport at that site, as opposed to Filton which then, had much less housing but has always been accessible by rail (patchway). I suppose it makes the site handy for folk coming from Somerset and south of Bristol, just not quite so handy for the city. Perhaps some effort to link other bus services from the south e.g. National Express, should be made in an effort to reduce car traffic.

I think it is much more sustainabale to use a local airport than travelling to London and all the additional CO2 and traffic congestion that causes.

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Message 9 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Oct 5, 2006

There is a book about wartime Lulsgate entitled 'The History of RAF Lulsgate Bottom' which is well worth a read to anyone interested in the subject.

Probably the most famous wartime incident occurred in July 1941 when a German Junkers 88 bomber landed there by mistake. The aircraft was returning from a bombing raid in the Liverpool area when the crew became disorientated.

They crossed the Bristol Channel on their way back to France but mistook it for the English Channel.

They landed at Lulsgate thinking it was an emergency landing strip near the French coast.

Workmen were still finishing off the new runways and had the shock of their lives to see the Luftwaffe crew getting out of their aircraft.

They called the military guard stationed there and the German crew was swiftly rounded up and taken into captivity.

As for Bristol Airport there is a body of local opinion that says the City Council could have had Filton for their new airport when they moved out of Whitchurch in the mid 1950s and instead chose Lulsgate.

Of course at Filton they would have been tenants of the BAC and now Bae which might have proved difficult at times operationally, especially having regard to the size of airport that Lulsgate has become which suggests that Filton would be even bigger had it been chosen all those years ago.

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Message 10 - posted by U5980963, Oct 5, 2006

Would trams be viable?
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Message 11 - posted by Imindoors, Oct 5, 2006

Last time I saw Bristol airport, it was like an Anderson shelter,stuck in the middle of a field !
That was many moons ago! But when I heard that it had gone `International`, I saw it as a chance to avoid Heathrow, and got the travel agent to route me to Bristol, and to my surprise, she did ! Via frankfurt.

So ! What problems will my family face, coming from Taunton to pick me up next month. Is access difficult ?
I've informed other Bristol ex-pats in New Zealand , how to avoid Heathrow,and now they are considering resuming their annual trek back home.
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Message 12 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Oct 6, 2006

Hello Imindoors. Welcome back.

Getting to Bristol Airport from Taunton is pretty simple. Drive north along the M5 until reaching junction 22 near East Brent, then north along the A 38. The airport is signed from the motorway exit 22 and along the A 38. Should take around forty-five minutes.

You will notice a difference at the airport from all those years ago. The Anderson Shelter has been replaced by a state-of-the-art terminal building only opened six years ago but such has been the pace of growth at Lulsgate that it is already too small, especially at the really busy times.

Security issues and the number of people using the place mean that it is no longer possible to wait in a vehicle outside the terminal building to pick up inbound passengers.

The airport does have a rapid pick-up and drop-off park next to the terminal building at the far end. The first ten minutes are free then they charge £2.

A lot of people park a little way from the airport (there are pull-ins and side lanes a mile or so away or even closer if you know the area well) and wait for a mobile phone message from the incoming passenger saying he/she has collected his/her luggage and is waiting to be picked up.

Others drive into the rapid pick-up park and wait. If the passenger has not appeared they drive out again and back in through the entrance until their passenger appears. Can be very tedious. You have to take a ticket on entry each time but so long as you leave before ten minutes the ticket will open the exit barrier without charge.

The third option of course is to wait in the rapid pick-up and just pay the £2 if the ten minutes are exceeded.

Although it's much busier than it used to be it isn't that daunting for a stranger to find their way around - not like Heathrow or even somewhere like Manchester.

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Message 13 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Oct 6, 2006


Trams and Bristol don't sit well together, albeit the airport is actually within the unitary authority of North Somerset.

A couple of years ago Bristol was all geared up to build its first tram system since Hitler's bombs brough the last one to a premature end.

It had secured the promise of government funding, although governments being governments they might still have pulled the plug.

However, Bristol City and its neighbouring authority of South Gloucestershire (which is responsible for much of the urban area in the north and east of the conurbation) could not agree the final part of the route. These authorities regularly squabble like spoilt children. Anyway this gave the government the excuse to say, "You can now whistle for the tram money."

To answer your question I believe a tram track would meet the same physical difficulties as a railway line, and if it was laid along the A 38 from Bristol it would (a) impinge on a busy commuter route and (b) have to negotiate the very long and very steep Barrow Hill. A non-starter in my view, unfortunately.

I think the best option is to gradually expand the Flyer routes. It is already pretty good from Temple Meads Station at every fifteen minutes and every half hour from the bus station and Clifton (this route also serves city centre hotels).

Bath is being talked about and in time Weston.
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Message 14 - posted by RedSquirrel, Oct 18, 2006

Has anyone else noticed that it seems to be getting warmer and warmer every year?

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Message 15 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Oct 19, 2006


You're right to make the connection between global warming and air travel, but of course modern society has many other contributors to the phenomenon.

The question is should one airport, one airline or even one country make a stand if the rest of the world does not?

If an airport like Bristol closed or reduced (and if it reduced it would close sooner rather than later because a diminishing airport is almost never viable, especially if there are others that can be used), people would still fly - perhaps not all the 5.6 million currently using the facility on top of Lulsgate's Bottom each year, but a significant number none the less.

They would then have to travel, many by road, to other airports.

Only this week Exeter Airport has announced its preferred bidder to take it out of local authority ownership, and even there they are talking about 3 million annual passengers by 2030.

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Message 16 - posted by RoddyJenkins, Oct 22, 2006

Afternoon Donnelly and RS

Sorry to get all political, but with regard to global warming, is anyone really going to make a difference? Bristol International's expansion has come about on the back of the budget airline boom - the Ryanair and easyjets of this world.

With regards to Exeter, I haven't actually read the reports, but do you know Donnelly, whether the plans include making use of the Exeter - Waterloo railway line, which skirts the airport's perminiter, with perhaps a Parkway style station?
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Message 17 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Oct 22, 2006

Hello Roddy

I've heard no suggestion that a Parkway-style station for Exeter Airport is on the cards.

We might know more when the preferred bidder (the Balfour Beatty/London City Airport consortium) publishes its plans for the airport's future in due course.

The problem would be twofold, I believe:

1. The cost and would Exeter ever throughput enough passengers to make it viable? They are currently carrying nearly one million a year and this will only rise to three million by 2030, even by the preferred bidder's estimate, but see my comments later in this post.

2. Would the mainline train company be prepared to stop trains there? When I suggested to Bristol Airport they might consider turning Parson Street station into a rail/air interchange they replied that the logistics would be difficult and anyway their information was that mainline train companies would not stop there. And this is for an airport that is nearly six times busier than Exeter. Indeed, Cardiff Airport which is twice as busy as Exeter only has two local trains an hour calling at its airport halt.

You are of course correct in your point about Bristol Airport (and all other regional airports that have experienced growth in recent years) relying on the low cost airlines for much of it.

Bristol does have a disproportionate number of easyJet flights. Incidentally, I am surprised the local media has made nothing of the wholesale cancellation of flights made this year by easyJet at Bristol and other bases, mainly because of a lack of flight crew - the aviation press and message boards have been full of it.

There is also increasing scepticism whether the projected passenger figures for UK airports outlined in the government's White Paper a couple of years ago will actually reach those totals.

In Bristol's case the figure is 8-9 million annual passengers by 2015 and over 12 million by 2030.

All airports are developing their master plans at least on the basis of these figures and some have taken even larger figures as the catalyst for airport development.

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Message 18 - posted by dearboy, Sep 21, 2007

I seem to recall that there was an idea for Bristol Airport to be sited at Filton using a combination of the old RAF station and the Brabazon runway etc. Seems logical, M5 very adjacent, etc and a nice long runway , I understand that they landed the A380 there recently which proves a point. Plus probably better landing and take off conditions than Lulsgate? If it had been considered early enough noise would not have been a problem, as "in the good old days " of BAC you could hear the engine testing in Bedminster!! Missed opportunity?
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Message 19 - posted by TheLocalYokel, Sep 21, 2007

I don't think this will ever happen.

When the city council moved from Whitchurch to Lulsgate in the 1950s they could have gone to Filton for little more than a peppercorn rent.

They declined, probably because they would have been tenants of the BAC, and would have been down the priority scale operationally to the needs of the owners.

Until the 1990s that would not have mattered much because Lulsgate was not that busy. It's not the case now where it is bursting at the seams.

Bae, current owners of Filton, applied to turn it into a city airport in the 1990s. The application went to public enquiry but was eventually turned down by the relevant government minister (Selwyn Gummer, from memory, but could be wrong about the individual).

Filton's approach from the east is over densely populated areas and any attempt to turn it into a full-blown airport would meet with immense opposition. Even Lulsgate, with a just a few villages in its immediate vicinity, has attracted a large, well-organised grouping of opponents to further expansion.

Bristol is stuck with Lulsgate, a very successful facility in spite of itself. To use a football analogy, it's a bit like Manchester United playing home games at Fulham and trying to cram in everyone who wants to be there.

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Message 20 - posted by dearboy, Sep 22, 2007

Thanks for your response, yes I fully take on board your comments. Its just that within living memory there were opportunities that were missed. The people of Bristol had an opportunity to decided whether they really want to travel to sunny climes for their Holdays/business. As already mentioned Exeter is now a thriving and busy Airport, and friends of mine who live within its environs seem to be very happy that their City has such a facility. On the question of noise I don not expect many people remember the noise of the ill fated Brabazon taking off? I am very glad that you are keeping your eye on the old hometown,congratulations and more power to the elbow!
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