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CrossCountry won't stop at Wellington

Monday, 1 April 2024 08:34

By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporter

The train won't take the strain at Wellington (image courtesy: CrossCountry/LDRS)

Exeter to Cardiff service will bypass new station

A new westcountry railway station won't be served by CrossCountry services when it opens by the end of next year.

Somerset Council has been working with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail to restore rail services to Wellington, which lost its previous station in 1964 under the notorious Beeching cuts.

The DfT announced in October 2023 a new station off Nynehead Road would be “funded to delivery” following prime minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to cancel the High Speed 2 rail link between Birmingham and Manchester.

CrossCountry, which operates services along the Bristol to Exeter mainline (which includes Wellington), announced on Monday (March 25) that it would be rolling out new trains with additional seats on its long-distance routes by May 2025, in a bid to improve customer experience.

But the operator has confirmed that none of these new trains will call at Wellington – meaning the station will exclusively be served by trains operated by Great Western Railway (GWR).

Rail minister Huw Merriman MP, said: “More seats, services and refurbished trains will make for a better passenger experience, helping to relieve crowding.

“As well as benefiting those travelling with CrossCountry, this important investment in upgraded trains also builds on our record of supporting the rail supply chain.”

CrossCountry’s long-distance service from Penzance to Aberdeen (via Birmingham and Manchester) currently calls at only two Somerset railway stations – Taunton and Weston-super-Mare.

The new timetables for the route will come into effect in May 2025, with CrossCountry aiming to add more than 12,000 seats per week across its entire network from June 2024.

Wellington’s new railway station is expected to be operational by September 2025, pending the approval of the final business case by the DfT.

But the operator said it currently had no plans for its improved services to call at either the new Wellington station or Bridgwater – councillors have lobbied for the latter since mid-2018.

A spokesman said: “CrossCountry currently have no plans to serve either Bridgwater or the new Wellington railway stations in Somerset.”

David Northey, a retired strategic planner with Network Rail, indicated at an event in May 2023 that the station would initially be served by trains every two hours as part of the Great Western Railway (GWR) service between Exeter St. David’s and Cardiff Central.

However, he said this will likely increase to once per hour as demand grows, citing the success of the recently-reopened Okehempton station on the northern edge of the Dartmoor national park.

The access road to the new Wellington station will be delivered as part of a new housing development of up to 220 homes, with the existing access route from Nynehead Road to the town’s Lidl supermarket being extended up to the railway line and a new car park put in place.

The council’s planning and transport policy sub-committee voted in late-January to provisionally spend £4.5m of funding from other local housing developments (collected under the community infrastructure levy, or CIL) to deliver the new road in advance if the delivery of the new homes was delayed.

The council reached an agreement on Friday (March 22) with WCI to replace septic tanks with more efficient package treatment plants independent of planning applications being approved – which could reduce the amount of phosphates being released into the Somerset Levels and Moors catchment area (which includes Wellington)

Chris Winter, founded of Cherwyn Developments, said that this decision would enable the new homes around the Wellington station site to be delivered much more rapidly than had previously been anticipated.

He said: “Our Longforth development will provide up to 200 new houses and the critical spine road for the long-awaited railway station in Wellington, but in part has been held up by the lack of viable phosphate mitigation schemes.

“WCI’s phosphate credits provide the solution to enable the planning application to be determined.

“They are the most cost-effective on the market, allow for immediate determination of the planning application without a dependency on the council’s overwhelmed planning and legal teams, and are not restricted to minor developments.”

Somerset Council has been approached for comment on how soon the plans for new homes near the Wellington station site will come before its planning committee west (which handles major applications in the former Somerset West and Taunton area) for a final decision.

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