Some Early Lines
Chard Branch Line
The Chard Branch Lines were two railway lines in Somerset, England, that met end on in Chard. The first was opened in 1863 by the London and South Western Railway as a short branch line from their main line. This approached the town from the south. The second and longer line was opened by the Bristol and Exeter Railway in 1866 and ran northwards from Chard to join their main line near Taunton.
From 1917 they were both operated by one company, but services were mostly advertised as though it was still two separate lines. It was closed to passengers in 1962 and freight traffic was withdrawn a few years later.
The local railway network
The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) opened its first station serving Chard at ‘Chard Road’ in 1860 on its new Yeovil and Exeter Railway. The Chard Railway Company was established in 1859 and work started on the branch line from Chard Road to the town on 1 November 1860. The following March the LSWR agreed to purchase the company, a deal that was completed in 1864. The line was opened to the terminus at Chard Town on 8 May 1863 (the original station was renamed ‘Chard Junction’ in 1872).
Chard had been connected to Taunton in 1842 by the Chard Canal but early proposals to convert the canal into a railway line failed to materialise. Instead the Bristol and Exeter Railway (B&ER) opened a line parallel to the canal on 11 September 1866 using powers initially granted to a Chard and Taunton Railway Company by an Act of Parliament in 1861. In the following year the B&ER purchased the little-used canal for £6,000 and closed it. The B&ER line was single track and connected a new ‘Chard station’, to the B&ER’s main line at Creech St Michael. Intermediate stations were situated at Hatch and Ilminster, but another was opened at Thorn in 1871.
The LSWR was built to 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge but the B&ER was a 7 ft 0 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge line until 19 July 1891 when it was converted to standard gauge. Other branch lines around Taunton had been converted between 1879 and 1882 but the Great Western Railway (GWR, which had amalgamated with the B&ER in 1876) left the Chard branch as a broad gauge line to prevent the LSWR requesting access to Taunton. The LSWR extended its line to the B&ER station two months after it had opened and it was then operated as a joint station. During World War I the GWR undertook to work the line from Chard Joint station to Chard Junction station from 1 January 1917, although separate signal boxes were maintained until 1928.
In 1923 the LSWR was itself merged into the new Southern Railway (SR). Two additional stations were opened in 1928 on the GWR section. Both railways were nationalised in 1948 but were initially managed as two separate regions – the GWR becoming the Western Region and the SR became the Southern Region. A fuel shortage in 1951 led to the line being temporarily closed from 3 February to 7 May. Eleven years later passenger services were withdrawn permanently on 10 September 1962 and the line closed completely between Creech and Chard on 6 July 1964. Public goods traffic was retained at Chard until 1966.