New book launched by the West Somerset Railway

Credit: West Somerset Railway

When the former British Rail closed the once-bustling former Great Western Railway 25-mile branch line to Minehead from Taunton in 1971, a local businessman and railway enthusiasts simply refused to let it die.

Along with many in the local community, the local businessman and railway enthusiasts all thought that the railway was well worth saving. In the spirit of this, they proceeded to battle with both the National Union of Railwaymen and British Rail so that they would be allowed to run their own trains again. This was to be as a private line called the West Somerset Railway (WSR).

Gaining the support of the Somerset County Council was crucial for the WSR lobbyists. This brought in the track bed from British Rail with a view to perhaps turn much of it into new roads in case the embryonic line failed.

The WSR company and support organisations were set up and steam locos, coaches and diesel multiple units were gradually acquired to use on the nascent line’s planned services; staff were trained and recruited; skilled volunteers and railwaymen and women came to help from all over the country; funds were raised by whatever means possible; and the track work and signalling was slowly reinstated, often using recovered, redundant items from around the rail network. A lot of the work was done in a fairly short time to get the line ready for business again.

Their persistence finally succeeded after five years. In April 1976, the new West Somerset Railway was born. With an auspicious start, the line reopened initially on just three miles, from Minehead to Blue Anchor.

The line steadily reopened over the next three years. Starting firstly to Washford, Watchet and Williton, and then to Stogumber, and finally to Crowcombe and Bishops Lydeard as the line’s new southern terminus. This was reached in 1979, which made it the country’s longest heritage line at some 20 miles.

Now, the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust (WSSRT) is set to publish a new 40th-anniversary book. Chronicling some personal memories and momentous events of the last four decades years on Friday 7 June 2019 compiled by three long-serving supporters who produced it.

The invitation-only book launch is to happen on Friday 7 June at a special private event in the WSSRT’s Gauge Museum at Bishops Lydeard.

The 130-page book is illustrated in colour throughout. It is published by the West Somerset Railway Trust.

Priced very reasonably at £8.99 it contains a personal Foreword from former Bridgewater MP Tom King, who took a keen interest in the line.

Published by the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust, the 130-page book is illustrated in colour throughout, and very reasonably priced at £8.99.

What did the officials have to say?

West Somerset Steam Railway Trust Chairman Chris Austin OBE comments:

“Sadly, WSR trains could not run on to Taunton as was originally hoped for by the line’s founding pioneers. However, the two-mile line close to the former mainline junction at Norton Fitzwarren was retained as a tantalising glimpse of what might yet come to pass in years to come.

“And I’m pleased to say there is now a mainline rail connection there again and trial GWR shuttle services from Taunton to Bishops Lydeard are starting this summer!

“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’.

“The new book is jointly authored and edited by Ian Coleby, Allan Stanistreet and Ian Tabrett who all have strong, long-standing connections to the WSR and over 111 years of experiences on the line!

“This new book, launched to coincide with the 40th anniversary of trains returning to Bishops Lydeard on the weekend of 8th & 9th June and a special event on the railway, 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.”

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