Feeling Railroaded

The village of Charfield has long had a main railway line running through the middle of it. It’s famous, if at all, for the railway disaster of October 1928 where a passenger train crsahed into a goods train underneath the main Wotton Road railway bridge, killing sixteen people and leaving a mangled carnage beneath it. In 1965 Dr Beeching closed the station, and the Brunel designed station house and ancillary buildings remain alongside the Bristol to Gloucester line, Grade II Listed but derelict and sadly fast deteriorating.

There have been many proposals to re-open the station over the years, but now we have a West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and South Gloucestershire Council (SGlos) funded consultation to build a new station next to the old, along with considerable infrastructure enhancements. People are being asked to give their opinions on the proposal, and this time it really does look like it might continue to fruition, but of course far more people will have an opinion than actually have to live day to day with the likely outcomes.

Where did those trees spring from?

Charfield is growing. Over the twenty plus years we’ve been here the village has grown from about 950 houses to about 1200 with more in construction. There are another thousand waiting for a determination of planning applications, and these are being held back while Highways England decides how or if it can improve the M5 motorway connection at junction 14. The issue is that traffic backing up onto the national highways network may lead to collisions, not that the local B-roads might come to a standstill, but until the issue can be resolved significant housing developments are in limbo.

Quite early on, Charfield Parish Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency. This was followed shortly after by South Gloucestershire Council doing likewise. One of the key carbon intensive activities in Charfield is our reliance upon fossil fuel powered cars. Over time this will ease as electric vihicles become affordable and mainstream, but that will still leave the congestion problem – it doesn’t matter is it’s petrol or electricity if you’re still sat in a long line of vehicles, bumper to bumper. However, pushing some of those car journeys onto the rail may reduce the congestion. It may…

On the other hand, making an operational railway station available on the northern boundary of South Gloucestershire is likely to attract not only villagers, who might walk or cycle to the station, but those from villages and towns around Charfield. Early predictions were for the potential user base to amount to some 14,500 people. Not all of these will want to access the station of course, but even if some of them come they will almost certainly come in their cars… which will need to be accommodated on the roads and in car parking. The pre-consultation plans described a large (100-200 space) car park near the station, but that too comes with its own package of uncertainty.

The plans for vehicle access and parking require a significant overhaul of Station Road, placing the car park at the top of the road some 150m away from the actual station. Station Road has, for far more than a hundred years, been little more than a single width lane dead-ending at the top into fields. As car ownership increased, residents parked on the pavement or in their front gardens, but even then large farm vehicles have often struggled to get past them to the farm at the top of the lane. This is the road, then, that will become a fully two way thoroughfare into a large car park. From a few cars per day, residents will expect several hundred passing back and forth outside their cottages. Cottages that for the most part are set lower than the railway line, so that people on the platform might be at the same height as their bedroom windows. But let’s stay with the car park.

The design for the car park widens Station Road by six metres, taking land from the old coal bunkers alongside the line now belonging to Network Rail. There seems to have been no consideration of the CO2e impact of this construction work nor the ecological impact of removing from semi-wilderness a wide swathe of railside land. The car park is made in fields at the top of the lane, and the underpass into the housing estate on the other side of the line is stopped up to vehicle traffic allowing pedesreian and cycle access. All well and good. But, the road into the car park does not stop at the car park, but continues past into a dead end. It would be a naive person indeed, who did not see that this facilitates development in a field previously inaccessible due to the narrow lane. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a deliberate action, after the previous “award” of the title, ‘Strategic Development Location’ failed when plans were deemed to be unsustainable.

Would an operational railway station make Charfield a sustainable developoment location? How many, from the cohort of thousands, would use the railway? How many would be able to use the railway – the carriages are highly likely to be filled with commuters from Bristol and Gloucester already, and only so many can stand on the platform! There remains little or no general employment opportunity, albeit there are technical posts both at the existing Renishaw factories and in the emerging new proposals for an electric vehicle manufacturing plant. Food is more often delivered now than shopped for, and the doctors’ surgery in the nearby over-the-border town has recently upscaled, but more houses will inevitably mean more traffic, and our arterial b-road has become so much busier and more noisy in the years we’ve been here.

Plans are afoot for a major new entertainment venue in Filton, Bristol. A decent rail connection from here to there might mean we can get to gigs, possibly to other entertainments, without relying on our cars or having to use the ever more congested M5 motorway. Hey, I’m in my late-middle-age… I can get a senior rail card! But I also have a car… how do the costs check out? If I drive in to Bristol and back it might use half a gallon of fuel and a bit of tyre rubber, call it a fiver (all the other costs are redundant as I’ve have the car anyway). Let’s assume parking is another fiver. I can get four people in my car (it’s only little). Maybe £2.50 per person then. Or a tenner on my own.

Checking a comparable Friday night journey is hard, but the slightly shorter Yate to Bristol Parkway, booked a few days in advance, works out at £2 each way. And currently at least, trains don’t serve this journey after 23:01. A gig might have finished in time, but can I get to the station in time or will I have to miss the final curtain. I’ll certainly not have the chance of after gig fun… On the other hand, if my kids were still at home I might be able to get out of parental taxi. But for me the car I still need for accessing other destinations still comes out on top. I doubt I’ll use the station more than once or twice a year. Are the disadvantages of increased traffic, additional developments and loss of the village life I chose to move into worth the benefit of rail access? I think I’ve been fair in my write up. You choose.

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