Staff and volunteers on the West Somerset Railway are gearing up for their biggest special event for almost three years.
The Spring Steam Gala is being held over four days from May 5 and will see an intensive service of 10 passenger trains being run every day, plus two demonstration goods trains.
Some will run the whole length of the line from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard and then to Norton Fitzwarren, while others will provide a “local” service from Williton. The railway’s Quantock Belle dining carriages will serve breakfasts and lunches, and buffet cars will be open, too.
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At Minehead, vintage buses will be in use giving tours of the resort, and visitors to the station will be able to see work and operations in the engine shed.
During the gala, the WSR’s fleet of five steam locos – including the newly-arrived Pannier Tank No 9466, still going strong after 70 years – will be joined by two star visiting engines: a bright blue tank engine from the former Caledonian Railway in Scotland and making its first-ever trip to the West Country, and the other a British Rail standard loco making a return to the WSR from the Severn Valley Railway after 30 years.
Some passenger trains will provide the spectacular sight of being double-headed, with two locos working together, while goods trains will recall the past when heavy loads on steep gradients meant “banking” engines had to provide extra power at the rear.
Reduced fares are being offered for passengers to travel on up to all four days of the gala, while children can catch the trains on Sunday May 8 with a grown-up for a bargain £1.
The WSR had to cancel all galas during the pandemic, although special Winterlight and Santa trains last December proved a huge hit.
The line will be joining celebrations of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June, followed a week later by a 1960s Diesel Gala on June 9 to 11, which will showcase an array of diesel locos.