Updated: Feb 10, 2021
A former Somerset railway line could be brought back into use as an "active travel" route to encourage people to commute without using cars. The towns of Bruton and Wincanton were once served by the Somerset and Dorset Railway, which ran services from Bournemouth to Bath and Burnham-on-Sea. The line was closed in the mid-1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts, with residents now having to use the B3081 to travel between the two towns.
Now South Somerset District Council is to invest up to £20,000 in a feasibility study to see whether the route can be reopened for pedestrians and cyclists. A report on what has been dubbed the 'Somerset Rail to Trail Project' came before a virtual meeting of the council's area east committee on December 9, when Tim Cook, the council's locality manager, said a community interest company had already been set up to oversee the project.
Former railway cutting off Verrington Lane
in Wincanton (Somerset County Council)
He added in his written report: "The project hopes to create a level path allowing walkers, cyclists, mobility scooter and wheelchair users, runners and horse riders to travel safely away from traffic between towns and villages across Somerset. The project aims to develop a multi-user path between Wincanton and Bruton. The path would use the pre-existing infrastructure of the disused Somerset and Dorset railway line, which was decommissioned in the 1960s. A survey of more than 500 local residents, carried out by the project's volunteers, found that 98% of respondents would support the project and 54% would either use the route themselves or recommend it to a member of their family.
Mr Cook added: "The project has clear benefits to the environment as it will reduce reliance on a car. It will also contribute to the local economy of both Bruton and Wincanton as it encourages people to visit local attractions and facilities."
There is considerable precedent for former railway lines being converted into footpaths and cycle paths in Somerset. The Strawberry Line, which runs between Yatton and Cheddar, takes its name from the Cheddar Valley line's nickname, and could be extended as far as Clevedon, Wells and Shepton Mallet in the years ahead.
Section of Sustrans route 33 (Stop Line Way) seen from Knowle Lane
in Knowle St Giles, looking south towards Chard (Google Maps)
The council is currently negotiating with developers about extending the route through new developments on the A358 Tatworth Road in Chard, removing the need to cross over the main road onto Chardstock Road as the path heads towards the Devon border.