Chard Branch Line - Towards Taunton Too

Towards Taunton Too

Even while the line to the L&SWR was being built, there was great enthusiasm for another line, to the county town, through Ilminster, considered to be in need of a railway connection. The connection to the LSWR had been foremost because of its closeness, but the L&SWR did not offer convenient connection to the manufacturing areas of the Midlands and the North-West.

The Chard and Taunton Railway got parliamentary authority to build its line by Act of 6 August 1861. It was to build a 15½ mile line as a first stage to connecting the Bristol and English Channels.

The Bristol and Exeter Railway was anxious to keep the L&SWR well away from Taunton and therefore made friendly overtures. However the company was unable to raise the money required. It was dissolved by an Act of 1863 obtained by the B&ER, by which the B&ER was authorised to build the line, and to close the Chard Canal and to sell the land it owned that was not required.

The B&ER built a broad gauge single-track line from Creech Junction on its main line (a little west of the later Creech St Michael Halt), 2½ miles east of Taunton to a station at Chard. The line was 12 miles 61 chains long, and opened on 11 September 1866 to passengers, goods traffic being made ready in March 1867. Stations were built at Hatch, Ilminster and Chard.

The Chard Joint Station was located at the northern end of Victoria Road, on the site of the earlier canal basin. The L&SWR had extended its line to the B&ER station by simply connecting to the horse tramway to the canal basin. It presented it for approval to the Board of Trade inspector on the same day as the much longer B&ER branch was inspected, but it was rejected, and the L&SWR had to upgrade it for passenger operation, opening the line on 26 November 1866.

The station had an all-over roof, sheltering a platform and a single track. There was a bay at each end. The broad gauge of the B&ER and the narrow gauge of the L&SWR were separate at the Joint station, except that the turntable was of mixed gauge, accessible from each company's track. The connecting line passed the original Town station, leaving it on a stub. L&SWR trains from Chard Junction entered the Town station, and then backed out to the through line, and then proceeded to the Joint station.

Each company had its own station master and staff, and its own signalbox and booking office. Some L&SWR trains were diverted to by-pass the original Town station, and from 1871 an unmanned platform with a shelter was provided on the Joint line adjacent to the Town station. Eaton-Lacey says that the L&SWR "had ideas of closing the old terminus and constructing a new station on the spur platform, but the intentions did not come to fruition".

An intermediate station called Thorne Falcon was opened in 1871, renamed Thorne in 1890 and again renamed Thornfalcon in 1902.

The Great Western Railway (GWR) absorbed the B&ER on 1 January 1876. The GWR gradually changed the gauge of branch lines in the area to the narrow gauge. However there were competitive concerns that the L&SWR company would apply for running powers over the northern part of the Chard branch to get access to Taunton, so they delayed the gauge conversion of the Chard line: by 1884 it was the only broad gauge line east of Exeter. However it was eventually converted on 19 July 1891.

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