The West Somerset Railway has confirmed its reopening plans in Late Spring of its line between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead.
Services are resuming on Saturday 22nd May 2021 subject to government restrictions.
Trains will initially operate from Bishops Lydeard to Williton only, with social distancing and pre-allocated seats in place.
As a result of this, the West Somerset Railway has said it is not able to service any intermediate station or Minehead.
Major works between Williton and Minehead have not yet been completed, but are on track for July 2021 when all restrictions will have hopefully been lifted.
Tickets are now available to book via the West Somerset Railway website or by phone.
A range of catering options will be hopefully available on Wednesday and Saturdays, including tea, coffee, cake and fish and chips.
As restrictions are lifted, the West Somerset Railway wants to extend services on Saturdays to Watchet and Blue Anchor.
The newly rebuilt crossing at Minehead is expected to be available for use from July and the West Somerset Railway hopes that COVID-19 arrangements will be flexible enough for it to reopen the entire line.
However, if restrictions are still in place, it will be necessary for passengers to have a fixed return to specific destinations.
News surrounding events is uncertain at the current time, but it is likely that the 1940s Weekend will hopefully go ahead on the 11th and 12th September as well as normal Christmas services in December.
Test trains will operate prior to reopening to make sure staff have had refreshers completed, these are expected to start in Late April.
WSR plc Chairman, Jonathan Jones- Pratt comments: “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 22 May 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.”
Moving on to the money side of things, the West Somerset Railway has completed improvement work using socially distanced teams, ranging from undergrowth removal to coach and locomotive repairs.
The West Somerset Railway has submitted a bid for £432,200 on round two of the Culture Heritage Recovery Fund, an announcement on this is expected soon.
The railway has raised £1.4m to try and safeguard the railways future. The appeal brings in money every week to help the railway survive.
Just 3,000 passengers travelled on the railway in 2020, compared to 155,000 in 2019, which represents a 98% drop and a £3m revenue fall.
The £1.4m of funding includes:
- PLC Emergency Appeal – £209,574.26
- CHRF of DCMS – £865,000
- West Somerset Railway Association Donation – £203,956.47
- West Somerset Railway Heritage Trust – £118,622.18
WSR plc Chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt added: “It certainly seems like a very long time since our railway was fully operational, despite the short period of working just before Christmas. But now we really can plan to move things forward.
“We still have much more planning to do, but we expect to start passenger operation on Saturday 22nd May. Initially this will be Bishops Lydeard to Williton with some trains to Watchet. We hope then to run further with an extension to Minehead later in the summer.
“I’m really grateful for the extraordinary support the railway has received over the last year or so. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not have survived without this support in all sorts of ways.
“It will take quite a while before we can say that the railway is totally secure for the future, but we have made great progress.
“In the closed period, we have worked to develop our infrastructure, our rolling stock, including coaches and locomotives and, very importantly, our safety approaches and documentation.
“We will continue to run an authentic historic steam railway, and we can show 21st century approaches to safety of operation. The West Somerset Railway has a really bright future, and this summer, once again, we will be running steam trains to the seaside. I really look forward to that day.”
“Whilst some other heritage railways are planning to start train services earlier than 22nd May, many of them use compartment coaches which we lack. However, after much careful consideration of the Government’s roadmap to easing lockdown, we believe our decision is prudent for a predominantly indoors attraction that sees different households within the same indoor space.”
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