West Somerset Railway announce reopening plans for May

West Somerset Railway
West Somerset Railway
Photo: Steve Leek/West Somerset Railway

The West Somerset Railway has confirmed it will reopen next month.

The Railway is planning to restart rail services from May 22, subject to change should the Government’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions halt.

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Trains will only operate from Bishops Lydeard to Williton initially, with social distancing regulations and pre-allocated seating in place.

As a result, West Somerset Railway says it will not be possible to offer services to any intermediate stations on the line, or through to Minehead.

Extensive works between Williton and Minehead have not yet been completed, but are on track for a July when all lockdown restrictions should have been lifted.

To book tickets, visit the West Somerset Railway website or phone to book.

What next for West Somerset Railway?

As Government restrictions are lifted, the West Somerset Railway expects to extend services on Saturdays to Watchet and Blue Anchor.

The newly rebuilt level crossing at Minehead is expected to be available from July. By then the West Somerset Railway hopes to reopen the entire Bishops Lydeard to Minehead line.

If COVID-19 restrictions remain in place, however, it will be necessary for passengers to have fixed return journeys to specific destinations.

Just 3,000 passengers travelled on the railway in 2020, compared to 155,000 in 2019, which represents a 98% drop.

It’s likely that the 1940s Weekend will go ahead in some form over the weekend of September 11/12, along with hopefully normal Christmas services planned to recommence in December.

Prior to the reopening, several trial and test trains will operate in order for safety critical staff to have refresher duties and receive updated operational information. These trains are expected to start running in April.

For full details of passenger times are available visit the West Somerset Railway website.

Jonathan Jones- Pratt, West Somerset Railway chairman, 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.

“Re-opening on May 22 is our plan for now and we are fully hoping that the Covid 19 situation improves soon for everyone. When, and if, the Covid restrictions start to lift, we will amend our plans to suit the situation at that time, and issue updates as soon as we have confirmation of a change in circumstances.”            

Meanwhile, the West Somerset Railway has submitted a £432,000 bid for round two of the Culture Heritage Recovery Fund (CHRF).

The Railway has raised some £1.4m from all sources so far 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.

The WSR’s next ambitious funding target is to try and reach £2 million if possible, and the second CHRF fund bid succeeds, and then try and raise £1 million each year thereafter in donations and grants for ongoing infrastructure investment.

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