After being shut for exactly one full year since March 17, 2020, due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions, the West Somerset Railway (WSR) has confirmed its outline programme for a late spring re-opening of the 22-mile heritage line running from Bishops Lydeard near Taunton to Minehead.
The West Somerset Railway is planning to re-start train services on Saturday, May 22, subject to no further Government restrictions being enforced and the recovery roadmap staying on track.
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, similar to the WSR’s Santa services last December.
As a result, it will not yet be possible to offer train services to any intermediate stations on the line, or through to Minehead.
Extensive key infrastructure works between Williton and Minehead, including the rebuilt Seaward Way Level Crossing at the seaside town, have yet to be completed but are on track for a July opening when all restrictions have, hopefully, been lifted.
WSR trains will be fully internally cleaned between services, and seats will need to be pre-booked either on the WSR website on the internet, or by ‘phone to the WSR’s Minehead offices.
As Government restrictions are gradually lifted, the WSR expects to extend the services on Saturdays only to Watchet and Blue Anchor.
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.
“Much hard work has been undertaken in the background by our dedicated teams on all aspects of our working steam railway. Now, we are all greatly looking forward to welcoming passengers back to enjoy our wonderful railway running through the Somerset countryside again this coming summer.”
The WSR is hoping to run services into Minehead at the end of June or early July.
During the enforced closure of the last 12 months, the WSR has carried out considerable, necessary planned maintenance and improvement works all along the line and using socially distanced work teams, ranging from stations, signal boxes, undergrowth removal and track repairs to signalling, coach and loco repairs, plus endless cleaning so that everything is ready for re-opening again.
The Cultural Heritage Recovery Fund (CHRF) grant money received from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport’s (DCMS) programme last year has been spent on a wide range of projects and second bid for £432,200 has now been made.
All told, the WSR has raised some £1.397 million from all sources to try and safeguard the railway’s future – an impressive total of hard cash support from its supporters, shareholders, staff, external and internal funding organisations, plus local and central Government grants.