Floods threaten future of train line

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The Independent Online
Passengers on the Bristol-to-Weymouth railway line no longer consult their watches to check if the trains are on time. First, they look skywards to make sure it is not raining.

Flooding from the River Yeo has become such a regular occurrence this winter that Regional Railways has printed a special wet-weather timetable for a substitute bus service on the line that runs from Avon, through Somerset to Dorset. The timetable advises listening to local radio in the event of "prolonged heavy rainfall".

David and Jane Henshaw, of Castle Cary, Somerset, made the mistake of going shopping by train to Yeovil last week. "We have got used to looking at the sky and listening to the weather forecast and I knew it was a bit risky," said Mr Henshaw, 35. "But I rang the station and they said the trains were running even though it was raining".

By the time they had finished shopping the trains had stopped. "There were 13 of us squashed in a minibus. We were half-an-hour late on a journey that usually takes 13 minutes," he said.

Mr Henshaw's brother, Peter, fared even worse. He had to go to Dorchester to pick up a folding bicycle. The train back started, went one stop and halted. The passengers were then transferred to a train running in the opposite direction, and taken back through Dorchester to Weymouth where they were switched to a coach. Mr Henshaw's journey took 3 hours 15 minutes instead of 45 minutes.

The Meteorological Office said that over the past three months the area has had about 120 per cent of its average rainfall, but the National Rivers Authority said flooding on the Yeo was "not particularly unusual for this time of year".

Railtrack, which is responsible for maintaining the track, admitted that the line had been closed five times this winter for a total of eight days.

Fears over the future of the rural line have prompted Regional Railways, local authorities and business leaders to launch a Rail Partnership to try to increase the volume of customer. But the Yeovil and District Rail Action Group believes that unreliability could lead to a worse service.