THE future is looking bright for Somerset’s rail network as new stations and a wider range of services move closer to becoming a reality.

As Somerset’s population has grown and its road network has become more congested, the future of its remaining rail network has been brought into sharper rail focus.

Some of the former mainline routes have been preserved as heritage lines, including the West Somerset Railway between Bishop’s Lydeard and Minehead and the East Somerset Railway in Cranmore.

Other former routes have found a new lease of life for pedestrians and cyclists – such as the Stop Line Way in Chard and Ilminster, the Strawberry Line between Yatton and Cheddar, and the Windsor Hill route in Shepton Mallet.

As we move into 2024 (just over 60 years after the first Beeching report was published), there is cause for optimism as several new railway stations begin to home into view.

Chard Junction railway station served the villages south of Chard for more than 100 years before it was closed in March 1966.

Councillor Connor Payne (whose Chard South division includes the station site) has been spearheading a campaign for a new ‘Chard Parkway’ station on the site, which would provide hourly services to Exeter and London.

Mr Payne secured £23,000 from local residents and businesses to fund an outline business case, which was completed and submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) in the autumn.

Chard & Ilminster News: The existing footpath besides Chard Parkway railway stationThe existing footpath besides Chard Parkway railway station (Image: Daniel Mumby)

The former station lies on the mainline between London Waterloo and Exeter St. David’s, a short distance from the village of Tatworth and mere metres from the Dorset border.

The station uses to provide a direct link to Chard via a branch line, but this was also scaled back and closed in the mid-1960s, with Chard Central railway station being turned into retail outlets and much of the trackbed on to Ilminster now forming the Stop Line Way cycle route.

The line is currently served by South Western Railway, which runs hourly services in each direction stopping at Crewkerne and Axminster.

Trains regularly wait at Chard Junction during normal services, with the double track serving as a passing loop for the single track section towards Axminster.

Mr Payne – who was elected in the local election in May 2022 – estimates that a new station would serve a community of around 30,000 people and could lead to the creation of around 5,000 new jobs as companies move to and invest in the local area.

Speaking in July, he said: “With all the houses that will come to Chard over the next few years, the Chard Junction catchment would reach around 30,000 people, whereas the catchment areas for Axminster and Crewkerne are significantly lower.

“Why should we be putting the extra damage on our bus services which we can have an easy link to the rail network?”

Mr Payne said he was confident that the new Chard Parkway station could cost much less than the £15m required for the new Wellington station, thanks to the support of the neighbouring businesses and landowners.

He said: “We want to utilise their land and business to get them to have a stake in the station.

“J. B. Wheaton is looking at making a car park, which would significantly reduce the cost for the government. There is an existing platform which will need replacing, but the more you can chip off, the cheaper it gets.”

Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh, whose constituency includes the proposed station site, has thrown his support behind the campaign.

Speaking in August, he said: “I’m pleased that officials are looking into some of the detail of what the Chard Parkway reopening might entail.

“This project which would benefit people in Chard and beyond has my full support.”

The results of a Network Rail timetabling study, which will show how feasible it is for trains to call at the station site, are expected to be published early in the new year.