A new book, a special weekend of services and a new bottled beer are all helping to mark the 40th anniversary of the West Somerset Railway (WSR), which became England’s longest heritage railway back in 1979.
Published by the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust, the 130-page book Tales of the West Somerset Railway is illustrated in colour and is priced at £8.99. It is written by three railway stalwarts – Allan Stanistreet, Ian Coleby and Ian Tabrett (pictured below) – and includes a foreword from former Bridgwater MP Tom King, now Lord King.
The book is being launched on Friday, 7 June, at the railway’s Gauge Museum in Bishops Lydeard, as part of a weekend of celebrations.
Up to half a dozen steam engines, two vintage diesels and a diesel railcar will be in use over the 40th anniversary weekend from 8 June to 9 June. There will be hourly trains and a special double-headed steam train will run non-stop from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead and back on the evening of Saturday 8 June hauled by ex-GWR two Manor Class engines. This train must be pre-booked via www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk or calling 01643 704996.
There will also be a chance to look behind the scenes of the WSR Association restoration workshops at Williton and see progress on the overhaul of another steam engine which was on the WSR in 1979, plus other work being carried out there by volunteer groups.
Also at Williton it will be possible to visit the Depot and Heritage Centre of the Diesel and Electric Preservation Group.
In conjunction with the 40th anniversary, the Quantock Brewery, which is based close to Bishops Lydeard station, is producing a special bottled beer which will be sold by the railway’s licensed buffet cars on the trains, and at the Brewery Shop and Minehead station buffet.
A three miles section of the West Somerset Railway was opened in 1976 in April 1976 from Minehead to Blue Anchor, following years of lobbying by rail enthusiasts. They enlisted the help of Somerset County Council, which bought the track-bed from British Rail. The former Minehead to Taunton branch line had been closed since 1971.
The WSR company and support organisations were set up and steam locos, coaches and diesel multiple units were gradually acquired and staff were trained and recruited. Skilled volunteers and railwaymen and women came to help from all over the country and funds were raised by whatever means possible.
By 1978 the WSR’s services had reached Stogumber and, a year later, trains began to run once again over the summit of the line at Crowcombe Heathfield and down through the Quantock Hills to Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, making the line 20 miles long.
West Somerset Steam Railway Trust Chairman, Chris Austin, said: “The last 40 years have seen the West Somerset line largely go from strength to strength, and through some rocky times too, but it is now one of the top heritage steam and diesel railways in Britain, and a powerhouse in the Somerset tourism economy.
“It’s fitting that, four decades on, three of our WSR volunteers and stalwarts for most of that whole period have joined forces to edit a lavishly illustrated historical book of personal reminiscences of the railway entitled ‘Tales of the West Somerset Railway’.
“This new book fondly recalls the efforts and memories of a few of those who worked so hard to rebuild the railway in that time and help achieve some great things which were once pipe dreams.
“All funds raised by the book sales will go towards supporting the railway which is now making rapid progress on a recovery plan to ensure the line has a sound future for the next 40 years too.
“The new book forms part of the Trust’s outreach work to encourage interest in the railway and its history, and the line’s social and economic signiﬁcance.”
Established in 1972, the Trust initially raised funds for rolling stock and particularly locomotive restoration. Subsequently in 1985, it opened the railway’s ﬁrst museum at Blue Anchor.
Today, the Trust supports the West Somerset Railway by preserving and displaying heritage item, curating the displays and managing the Gauge Museum at Bishops Lydeard and the Blue Anchor Railway Museum, encouraging young people to visit the railway through an educational programme and based on the museums and through the restoration of historic GWR wooden bodied coaches for use on the railway.