West Somerset Holds Key for Exmoor Access

Published 23rd March 2012

West Somerset Railway could facilitate increased public access to Exmoor

Somerset and Devon County Councils and Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park’s have put in a bid for £3.6million of Government cash to make it easier for people to visit Exmoor and Dartmoor without using cars.

The bid includes £125,000 towards providing a rail service between Taunton and the West Somerset Railway’s Bishop’s Lydeard station. The cash would enable the WSR to seek a main line operator to provide a driver and main line unit to operate a Taunton - Bishop’s Lydeard shuttle. This would run over NR tracks up to the boundary with the WSR at Norton Fitzwarren, with the WSR providing access to its metals for the shuttle to continue on to Bishop’s Lydeard. The WSR cannot work through to Taunton since it does not have main line certified stock and the proposal does not envisage WSR steam services being provided to the town.

The shuttle would connect with WSR trains on to Minehead (a town defined as a hub for access to the Exmoor National Park) with passengers continuing to Exmoor by a bus link.

A decision on the bid is anticipated at the end of May. A regular train service was operated a few years ago but was not well patronised so the service was not repeated.

Currently, 93% of visitors get to Exmoor by car. If this proposal succeeds, a public transport service will be provided from the main line station at Taunton through to Exmoor by rail and bus.

Britannia replaces Duke of Gloucester at WSR spring gala

A late change to the motive power line up for the West Somerset Railway’s March 17-18 and 22-25 Spring Gala saw No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester drop out of appearing, to be replaced by BR 7P No. 70000 Britannia for the first weekend, and possibly the second weekend subject to main line commitments.

No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester’s visit to the WSR gala was linked to it working on a Steam Dreams’ March 10 London-Plymouth-London charter (with No. 60163 Tornado) which would have enabled it to appear on the heritage line while in the West Country between tour operations. However, a ‘minor incident’ on the morning of February 26 at the East Lancashire Railway resulted in the loco being withdrawn from the main line tour.

Details of the ‘incident’ have not been released while investigations continue, but it appears No. 71000 and ‘Black Five’ No. 45231 met buffer to buffer while being prepared at Buckley Wells shed with sufficient force to cause some damage to the front buffer beam and drag box of Duke of Gloucester. Both locos were at the ELR for the East Lancashire Railway’s February 25-26 winter gala. No. 71000 participated in the event for the rest of the day, but was withdrawn from its ensuing main line tour programme while the damage was examined by its owners.

Gartell light railway extension

Elsewhere in Somerset, the 2ft gauge Gartell Light Railway looks set to open a new extension, possibly on April 9. The narrow gauge line has planned a northern extension for many years but the stumbling block was what appeared to be the significant financial connotations of crossing a public road on the level.

The North Norfolk Railway demonstrated a way forward involving significantly lower costs than had previously been anticipated with its level crossing in Sheringham. With help provided by the standard gauge line, the Gartell LR has also found a way forward. The extension crosses Common Lane and runs about 400yd northwards on the old Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway trackbed towards Templecombe station.

For operating details see the website .

S&DJR theme for WSR autumn gala?

Reverting to the West Somerset Railway – while retaining Somerset & Dorset JR link – it looks as though the WSR’s Autumn Steam Gala will have an S&DJR theme. The WSR’s late season events do not usually have a specified theme, but September marks the 50th anniversary of the end of long-distance through passenger trains over the Somerset & Dorset JR including the ‘Pines Express’, diversion of which via Oxford and Basingstoke marked the beginning of the end for the S&D, which closed in March 1966.

The WSR is issuing advance invitations to locomotives representative of classes that worked over the S&DJR (and some locos which actually did) for its October 4-7 event so a theme appears to be selecting itself for this year.

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