Silk Mills Road in Taunton links the A38 from Wellington to the A358 to Minehead and Norton Fitzwarren. The road name originates back to the 13th Century when Taunton was a prosperous wool making town. Although named Silk Mills Road, locally it's always refereed to as 'Silk Mills'.
The road was originally built during the 1970's to link the Western most extremities of Taunton's roads, to give a good link between two main road arteries. Unfortunately the floor in the plan was the railway. The road needed to cross the Bristol/ London to Exeter mainline at the South end of Fairwater Yard adjacent to Silk Mills Signal Box. Rather than construct a bridge, a flat road crossing with barriers was chosen. No one at the time could have predicted the traffic congestion problems that would occur some 35 - 40 years in the future.
During the 1990's traffic in the town had grown to such an extent that large quque of cars were causing delays with traffic backing up onto other roads in the area while the barriers were in the down position. During evening rush hour periods it would not be uncommon to take nearly 20 minutes to negotiate the length of the road, due to the periods traffic was sat ideal waiting for trains to pass by. The County Council had to act, and after years of surveys, talks, meetings and planning, a plan for Silk Mills Bridge was put forward to ease traffic congestion and incorporate a Park and Ride Scheme close by.
The Bridge would change the look of the area forever, it was a huge scheme, but it would also provide Taunton with a new vantage point to view train services in the area, and a way of reducing the traffic congestion in the town. Taunton Trains covered the event at the time because of it's importance to the railway scene.
Even in the 1980-'s traffic would have to queue in order to cross the Road Crossing at Silk Mills Road. At the time of this image, the industrial estate at Bindon Road had not been built, and the Signal Box at Silk Mills Crossing was still in use. (Photo: Dave Jones)
Construction began in January 2005, with Sir Alfred Mc Alpine as the main contractor on site. The Bridge was constructed without disruption to the main road, as the Bridge was located offset to the main road. Bridge piers were built first on one the South side of the road. (Photo: Jeff Treece)
During February 2005, the Bridge began to take shape on the North side of Silk Mills Road. The bridge was constructed in sections (off site) and transported to the site by flat bed lorries. Once at Site the bridge sections would be lifted into position and then site welding would take place to join them together. With bridge is seen in February 2005 two thirds complete. (Photo: Jeff Treece)
On the 16th March 2005, the bridge construction can be seen adjacent to the local road sign. At this point the frame was still very much a shell, welding was still taking place to join the bridge sections together. It would be another 15 days before the bridge was due to be lifted into position. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
The Silk Mills Bridge project was very accessible in order to record the progress of the project, footpaths and public rights of way had to be kept open during the construction period. 1st April 2005, the night before the 'big lift' traffic can be seeing queuing for a First Great Western 'Adalante' to pass by, with the new bridge sat opposite waiting to be lifted into position. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
1st April 2005, was the night before the new bridge would be lifted into position. The largest crane in the UK from Sarens. The April evening was calm with light winds and a perfect sunset. This silhouette shows the Bridge resting in it's constructed position and the crane erected ready for use the next morning. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
The morning of the 2nd April 2005 was clam, with blue skies and light winds. The lift of the bridge over the railway went without a hitch. The railway was closed while the bridge was lifted into position. The line was under an engineering blockade for other railway related works further South which helped. This was as close as the public were allowed, although no official viewing area was supplied due to 'Health and Safety', some members of the general public had the perfect view from an adjacent public footpath. The bridge was settled into position at 08:50 on the 2nd April 2005. After the lift there would still be another 6 - 8 months of construction work to complete prior to the new road bring opened and Silk Mills Crossing being decommissioned.(Photo: Brian Garrett)
Just minutes after being dropped into position (and still with the cables attached), 66005 became the first locomotive to pass under the newly erected bridge. The loco was working the 6W20 Westbury - Cullopmton engineers to be loaded with ballast at Cullopmton. (Photo: Nigel Farrow)
Large amounts of earth and construction materials were bought into the Silk Mills site between April and November 2005. On the 7th August 2005 the raised abutment of the Northside of Silk Mills Bridge can be seen, while the main road remains open. The image was taken from the rear of a Heritage Double Decker bus while heading to the West Somerset Railway. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
During the further construction works Public Footpaths were still kept open, this image was taken on the 16th January 2006 when the flat route over the railway had been removed, and the bridge was in full daily use. The image of this lonely 'Gatso' was one which provided mild amassment to drivers now using the adjacent road bridge above. The former Silk Mills Road is only visible by the gravel track beyond. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
With the former road crossing now decommissioned, barriers were manually controlled. Network Rail were to take charge of this area as it provided a good level area to mount their 'road rail equipment onto the railway. On the 16th January 2006, the barriers are seen in the up position. Fairwater Yard was having extensive engineering works carried out at this time, the crossing had been used to load equipment. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
On the 16th January 2006, 66081 rolls forward over the former road crossing and under the new road bridge at Silk Mills. The new bridge abutments had at now provided additional angles and height with which to record railway events in the Taunton area. 66081 had been taking part in local track renewals and was moving forward to clear the work site. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
With the road bridge fully open, Network Rail later removed the crossing barriers at Silk Mills, and replaced with Galvanized Palisade fencing. On the 14th April 2007, the former remnants of the Silk Mills flat crossing can be seen with the double hinged gate taking the place of the former crossing barriers. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
On the same date, moving away from the crossing the new nature area can localized planting can be seen with the bridge offset to the left of the image. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
The addition of the bridge has provided enthusiasts with another place in Taunton with which to record rail services passing through the Taunton area. With ample parking and a good vantage point, the bridge has become a local landmark for photography very quickly. On the 20th July 2008, 6024 'King Edward 1st' is seen departing Taunton with 'The Torbay Express' heading for Kingswear. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
Good views are also possible from the South side of Silk Mills Road bridge, as demonstrated by this image taken on the 24th July 2007. 66718 is seen passing with a Laira - Illford stock move in good light. Network Rail had recently cut down several trees which were getting close to the line, this provided a clearer view from the bridge looking towards Norton Fitzwarren. (Photo: Ben Wheeler)
The height of the Silk Mills bridge gives some brilliant views looking towards Taunton, On the 4th April 2009 this unique view of 4 locomotives was possible. From front to back: 73133 (Stabled out of use), A Plassuer Tamper, 66610 and 66177. (Photo: Brian Garrett)
Silk Mills bridge will be a local landmark for many years to come, but many have forgotten the old railway crossing ever existed. We hope this page will serve as a timely reminder of how the area has changed from the it's original construction in the 1970's through to the current day. It ishowever a tad ironic that despite the Country Council spending thousands on this new road scheme that traffic congestion is in the area is now worse than ever!
After the bridge construction and opening of the bridge planners saw fit to reduce the speed of the road down from a mixture of 40mph and 60mph to just 30mph throughout, and then installed a record number of traffic lights at various junctions over the entire length of the road. As a result travel times of 15 - 20 minutes over the length of the road at rush hour are no different to sitting in one position waiting for a train to pass......!