Call for new railway bridge to cut works disruption
IMPACT to traders and road users could be greatly reduced by the installation of a new bridge on the A371 near Castle Cary, local businesses have claimed.
Network Rail is planning to close the major route between Ansford Bridge and Castle Cary Station for 19 weeks for repair works next year.
Works were due to start last month but were abandoned at the eleventh hour after furious traders and residents slammed the organisation for its failure to properly consult residents and take measures to reduce the impact of the closure, which will leave many businesses effectively cut off from their customers.
Following an apology from Network Rail, the road closure was postponed until January and then delayed again just hours before a meeting between the organisation and invited representatives from the local community last week. At the meeting, it was explained that other scheduled works meant Somerset Highways could not grant the closure until July. The road will be closed from 8th July to 17th November and will then open to single file traffic until 1st December.
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Richard Fry of Framptons Transport Services in Shepton Mallet and the Road Haulage Association said the 32-mile diversion route would have a huge impact on the business and many others.
"It will amount to £330,000 in additional costs to us over the 19-week closure. Those significant costs will be very difficult for the business to weather," he said.
Mr Fry is urging Network Rail to replace the bridge instead of carrying out repairs.
Bridge replacement would shave at least six weeks off the period of works but is expected to add around £1million to the cost of the project.
"In the scale of things, £1million is not great. Pressure needs to be put on the government and local representatives," Mr Fry added.
Terry Philpott, chairman of Castle Cary Town Council and owner of the Martins grocery store, estimates that a 10 per cent fall in trade would result in a £1million loss of gross profit in the town. He believes that Network Rail should be working harder to reduce the period of disruption.
"The issue still is that Network Rail is working to deliver the project within a fixed budget regardless of the implications for anyone else. The challenge is for them to go away and come back with a better scheme," he said.
Lynn Powell, who owns the Brook House Inn on the A371 with husband Wayne said she is expecting the business to be hit by the absence of passing trade.
"We have come through the smoking ban, some terrible summers and a seemingly endless recession. We don't want this to seal our fate but we still have to pay our bills regardless," she said.
Commenting on the likelihood of the delivery of a replacement bridge, a spokesman for Network Rail said: "The cost of replacing Ansford Bridge would be significantly higher than the cost of making repairs and Network Rail is not funded to deliver this option. We understand that community representatives are going to lobby their local MP for additional funding."
The spokesman said Network Rail had received 48 emails from local residents with concerns about the impact of the repair works.
"Following the meeting with community representatives we are going to publish details of the issues raised, together with our responses to their concerns, including mitigation where appropriate," he added.
Ansford Parish Council chairman Janette Cronie said: "It was a constructive meeting and I do feel that Network Rail is listening to people now. The works have to happen and that is the end of it."
Another meeting is planning between Network Rail and invited community representatives early next year.