CHARD NEWS: Chard Junction won’t reopen unless other stations close – council claims
CHARD people will not see a local railway station reopened unless either of the two existing stations nearby are closed, the local authority has claimed.
Cillr Amanda Broom, who represents the Chard North division on Somerset County Council, has been lobbying for the re-opening of Chard Junction station, which closed to the public in 1966.
The county council has said it is supportive of the move but cannot commit funding towards a feasibility study, which would determine how much demand there was for services.
But South Somerset District Council has claimed that there is “insufficient business” to support stations at Axminster and Crewkerne as well as Chard – meaning one of the two existing stations would have to close in order for Chard Junction to reopen.
Year 3 pupils at Manor Court Primary School in Chard have been studying the history of Chard’s railway stations for a recent project.
Cllr Broom reported the pupils’ findings to the county council at a full council meeting in Taunton on February 20.
Quoting the pupils’ report, she said: “We are certain that if Chard Junction railway station was to be reopened, it would mean more job opportunities for people in the local area.
“We are sure that reopening the railway [station] would encourage more people to visit Chard, which would help boost the local economy.
“Without a doubt, Chard is growing with more houses being built. Our roads are getting busier, therefore more toxic gases are being used by cars. Did you know it would be more environmentally friendly to use the train?
“Currently, there are not many bus services in our area. Consequently, we need other transport options.
“People in the local area would like to be able to visit other local towns more easily. For these reasons, Chard Junction railway station should be reopened.”
Cllr Broom asked for the council to take action on Chard’s “dire transport situation” and asked that schoolchildren be kept informed of any changes.
Cllr John Woodman, cabinet member for highways and transport, said the council supported reopening Chard Junction in principle but could not commit any funding towards a feasibility study.
He said: “We support the principle of reopening stations where there is proven sufficient demand to make the service viable, and where the necessary rail timetable changes can be accommodated.
“We are supportive of the proposal to open a new rail station at Chard Junction subject to the necessary demand and feasibility studies being undertaken, and are happy to assist communities in commissioning such studies once funding has been secured.
“Unfortunately, the council does not currently have sufficient available funding of a project of this scope.”
Chard’s two closest stations at present are Axminster and Crewkerne, which both sit on the West of England line between London Waterloo and Exeter St Davids. Both stations are served by South Western Railway.
The two stations are 7.6 miles and nine miles respectively from Chard’s high street. By contrast, Chard Junction would involve a journey of just 3.5 miles.
South Somerset District Council is seeking to provide the town with a new swimming pool and leisure centre by the end of 2020 as part of its Chard regeneration scheme – but reopening the station is not on its list of priorities.
A spokesman said: “From a Chard regeneration perspective, Chard Junction does not form part of the scheme, with the funds allocated being focussed on regeneration of Chard town centre generally, and specifically redeveloping the Boden Mill site to bring it into community use.
“Since we are not the transport authority for Somerset, we have no powers as to the regards to reopening stations. Any decision to reopen a station would sit with the Department for Transport, in conjunction with Network Rail, and the train operating company.
“Network Rail has always made it clear that in the case of Chard Junction, any re-use would not fit with the timetable schedules, especially as Cranbrook station has used up the last of the capacity on the line – but more importantly, the business case is non-existent.
“Re-opening Chard Junction would necessitate a choice of closing Axminster or Crewkerne, as there is insufficient business to support all three.”
Axminster currently handles 399,084 passengers a year, according to the Office for Rail and Road – an increase of around one per cent on the previous year.
Crewkerne currently handles 165,210 passengers a year – a rise of 1.75 per cent from the year before – and is the third busiest station in the South Somerset district, after Castle Cary and Yeovil Junction.
Cllr Ric Pallister wrote to Network Rail while serving as council leader, asking them to consider using Chard Junction as a “turnback point” for commuter trains between Exeter and Axminster – but the council said it never received a response.