After being shut for 14 months since March 2020 as a result of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the West Somerset Railway (WSR) finally had a late Spring re-opening of the 22-mile heritage line running from Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, to Minehead, on Saturday.
Initially, WSR trains will operate out and back from Bishops Lydeard to Williton only. Social distancing regulations will still be in force then and passengers will, therefore, need to travel in pre-allocated seats and remain on board for the entire return journey.
As a result, it will not yet be possible to offer train services to any intermediate stations on the line, or through to Minehead but the WSR said it was working hard to complete the link again as extensive key infrastructure works between Williton and Minehead had yet to be completed, including rebuilding Seaward Way Level Crossing in Minehead.
WSR said all trains would be fully cleaned internally between services and seats would need to be pre-booked either on the WSR website on the internet, or by ‘phone to the WSR’s Minehead offices. Advance on-line bookings are now open.
In order to enhance the passenger offering, a range of at-seat catering options will be made available on selected running days.
These will include various food and drink choices on different services such as morning tea, coffee and cake, lunchtime fish and chips, and afternoon cream teas. Further catering options will be made available later in the season on specific dates, as in previous years.
As Government restrictions are gradually lifted, the WSR expects to extend the services to Watchet and Blue Anchor after June 2 and then Dunster with a bus-link to Minehead.
If restrictions do remain in place, however, it will be necessary for passengers to have fixed return journeys to specific destinations.
With all of the uncertainty for the year ahead, it may not be possible to carry out many of the popular, quality events that the WSR normally offers, but it intends to announce these later in 2021.
WSR plc Chairman, Jonathan Jones- Pratt, said: “By far, this has been the longest enforced period of closure for the WSR since the full reopening of the whole heritage line from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard in 1979, apart from the short exception of our 2020 pre-Christmas period.
“So much really hard work has been undertaken in the background by our dedicated teams on all aspects of getting our working steam railway ready for business again. We are all greatly looking forward to welcoming more passengers back to enjoy our wonderful railway running through the Somerset countryside again this coming summer.”
Unless visitors are exempt on health grounds, the WSR is also asking everyone to wear face coverings on its stations and trains.
Full details of passenger times and fares are available via the WSR plc website: www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk