Shock A371 closure proposals spark major travel disruption fears
Protests are mounting over shock proposals to close the A371 - one of the major routes between Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet - for up to 19 weeks.
Network Rail has applied for a full road closure order to come into force between Monday, September 10 and Sunday, December 23 while vital strengthening and repair works are carried out to the bridge deck on Ansford Bridge near Castle Cary Railway Station.
The closure of the road will mean detours of some 17 miles for anyone travelling between Shepton Mallet and Castle Cary.
And it will affect hundreds of commuters too as access to Castle Cary train station will only be possible to traffic travelling along the southward carriageway of the A371 from next month.
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Station Road will be closed for 315 metres from Turnpike Cottage to the entrance of the station.
This means the station will only be accessible to traffic from the Shepton Mallet direction from Monday, September 10.
A Somerset County Council diversion will divert commuters’ traffic from Castle Cary westward along the B3153 to the A37 at Lydford-on-Fosse, up to Shepton Mallet and back down the A371 to the station - a 17 mile detour.
The closure will also have a huge effect on through traffic travelling between Shepton Mallet and Castle Cary - including the hundreds of heavy lorries delivering to and collecting from the many milk and cheese operators and factories in the area.
HGVs will face further problems as the low bridge the on the A37 at Lydford - the alternative suggested route - means that route is out of bounds for many of them too, as they are too high to pass through it.
Instead of coming off the A303 at Wincanton and going through Cary towards Shepton as normal, they will have to go via Sparkford, Podimore, Somerton and Keinton Mandeville before getting on the A37 back at Lydford to reach Shepton Mallet.
The fear is that many drivers will ignore the diversion signs and try and find the quickest routes via narrow roads through surrounding villages such as Bruton and Evercreech and Ditcheat to get on and off the A37.
Local businesses also fear the diversions will hit them hard with the A371 road closure from September until Christmas. Publicans at the Alhampton Inn, the Brook House Inn and further up the A371 at the Natterjack Inn say they attract a lot of their customers from Castle Cary - who will now not bother to use the huge detour to get to them.
A protest meeting is to be held on Tuesday night this week at the Brook House Inn.
Meanwhile Network Rail has issued an advance apology to Castle Cary and Ansford residents, businesses and station passengers.
Robin Basu, Network Rail’s community relations manager for Wales & West, said: “We’d like to apologise in advance for the disruption this work is likely to cause.
“This is obviously going to have a big impact on local residents, businesses and passengers, who will have to go on a long diversion in order to reach the station.”
Advance warning notices will be placed on site and posters will go up around Castle Cary Railway Station informing rail users about the works, which are scheduled for completion by the end of January 2013.
Network Rail is writing to residents and Ansford parish councillors, as well as contacting businesses who will be affected by the works.
The company said separate diversion routes will be put in place for both car and heavy goods vehicles to ensure minimal disruption is caused to journey times.
Mr Basu added: “We will be providing Somerset County Council and other concerned parties with weekly updates on progress.
“We will be working hard to minimise the disruption and would be grateful if local people, businesses and passengers can bear with us while this work is taking place.
“We are expecting seven-day working where possible and will try to complete the strengthening as quickly as possible.”
And - as word spread by this weekend and protests grew - John Baker from Network Rail Media Relations said they were doing everything they could to minimise disruption for residents and users.
“But the work is vital - we have to close the road, and we cannot apologise enough.” he said.
People with additional questions or concerns can contact Network Rail's 24-hour national helpline on 08457 114141 or e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org.