NETWORK Rail representatives faced a grilling from more than 120 residents who packed into Moorland Village Hall last night over plans to close the main road to Bridgwater for 20 weeks.

The controversy surrounds the ageing railway bridge on Huntworth Lane which is in desperate need of repairs - however installing a new bridge means residents in Moorland, Burrowbridge and Fordgate face a 26 mile round trip diversion to travel to Bridgwater for up to five months while the work is carried out.

One of the biggest concerns raised was that this was the first consultation event held about the works - which are due to start on February 6, 2019 - and that due to an error in sending out letters, many affected residents only found out about the meeting three days in advance.

READ MORE: Work on railway bridge could close major route for 16 WEEKS

Simon Masters from communications, and project manager Scott Pillinger and Maria Ivory from Network Rail gave a brief presentation before being asked questions by frustrated councillors and local residents.

“We completely understand that this work will have a significant impact on each and every one of you and that is why we are here tonight, so we can understand the issues you face,” Mr Masters said.

“Work to repair the bridge has been deemed ‘safety critical’ - if we do not carry out this work, it could mean the weight restriction would be reduced, or could mean the bridge would be closed completely.”

Mr Pillinger added: “This is a taxpayer-funded scheme and we all want it finished as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Cllr Julian Taylor, who has campaigned to have work done on the bridge for 20 years, said he was baffled by the timing of the works.

“It was five years ago, at the same time of year you are planning on starting these works, that the water levels rose - you could not be carrying out these works at a worse time,” Cllr Taylor said.

“When the works were previously planned they were due to take place in the summer holidays, which made a lot of sense.”

Cllr Taylor also said he strongly disagreed with Network Rail’s interpretation of a consultation, saying it should be two sides discussing and working towards an agreement, not one side telling the other what would happen.

Ms Ivory confirmed that the new bridge being put in place would not be any wider than the existing single track bridge but he capacity would be increased to 40 tonnes.

She also said Network Rail had an agreement in principle with emergency services that school buses and emergency services would be able to use a more direct private road to circumvent the railway bridge, so that they did not have to take the main diversion route.

Mr Pillinger confirmed that four weeks of contingency were allocated in the scheme, and that the new bridge would be built higher as to be future proof if the railway line were become electric.

He said there needed to be seven weeks of work before the bridge was replaced, working with Wessex Water and BT, and clearing vegetation before the bridge could be taken down.

The new bridge would be put in place during a 52 hour track possession from March 16-18, with 13 weeks of works required after the bridge deck had been put in place.

He also Network Rail could not defer the work as the money for the project had to spent within a certain timeframe, and if it was put back that funding would be lost.

However one resident pointed out that Network Rail were actually 'jumping on the back' of an existing rail possession track closure which was in place for separate railway work to take place elsewhere on the line.

Local residents, who packed out the hall so that it was standing room only, made their feelings clear.

Tom Guppy said: "There are people in these villages who depend on that bridge for their livelihood, I really hope you think about them when making these decisions."

Concluding Cllr Richard Brown said: "You have been given a lot of good points to take away with you, and these are ideas you could have had while planning these works had you of consulted earlier."