West Somerset Railway
INFORMATION FOR THE VISITOR
This is one of the UK’s premier heritage lines and gets our very top rating.
This is the longest heritage railway in England, running through the Somerset countryside from Bishops Lydeard (with road connections to Taunton) to the seaside resort of Minehead. It is noted for its varying scenery including the Quantock hills and distant Exmoor, and the views of the Somerset coast as the railway approaches the towns of Watchet and Minehead. It successfully recreates a country branch line of the old Great Western Railway. The railway passes through or near very popular tourist areas, including Minehead, the harbour town of Watchet and the historic village of Dunster (famous for its castle), as well as being on the edge of Exmoor. A visitor to this area in strongly advised to include a trip along the West Somerset Railway.
The support group is the 'West Somerset Railway Association' (see 'Information on the Suport Group' below).
Happening This Month:
Go to 'Homepage' and click into 'Railway Club Calendar'
Key Facts (where and when)
Extent of Railway (where to where):
Minehead and Bishops Lydeard (occasional to Norton Fitzwarren)
Principal Visitor Centre:
Period of Operation*
- Late March (Weekends)
- April, May, October (Also Tuesdays and Wednesdays)
- June to September (Daily, except Mondays and Fridays)
- Late November and December (Special event trains)
[* This is a summary. Please go to the railway’s website for definitive operating days]
Key Facts (what you’ll see)
Services usually steam or diesel?
With an emphasis on steam, both steam and diesel are run
Type of Steam / Diesel Locomotives Used:
Range of steam and diesel locomotives
Length of Line:
20.5 miles (22.5 miles to Norton Fitzwarren)
Time taken for a round trip:
3 to 4 hours
Number of trains per day:
Up to 5 in each direction
Number of Stations:
Adult Rover: £30. Child Rover: £15. Family: £75
Tickets for travel between intermediate stations are available to purchase on the day from booking offices.
Time to allow for Visit:
(1) Gauge Museum - Bishops Lydeard Station
(2) Great Western Railway Museum - Blue Anchor Station
Car Park Facilities:
Bishops Lydeard (free). Watchet and Minehead (pay & display)
Key Facts (Galas/Events/Dining)
- The Quantock Belle Dining Train
- Winterlights: Mid November and December
- Santa Express: December
- Spring Gala: March
- Diesel Gala: June
- Autumn Steam Gala: September/October
- Range of Steam Engineman Courses
- Work Experience on the West Somerset Railway
Social Media: www.facebook.com/WSrail
Also on Twitter and YouTube
INFORMATION FOR THE ENTHUSIAST
Brief History of the Railway and its Preservation
In 1845 the main line from Bristol to Exeter was completed, and from that time various schemes were suggested to link the north Somerset towns of Watchet and Minehead with the main line, either at Taunton or Bridgewater. Several of these schemes involved linking by railway harbours in the Bristol Channel with harbours in the English Channel to provide an alternative to the much longer and more dangerous sea passage around Land's End. Ultimately none of the scheme came to fruition. However in 1857 local businessmen resolved to build a railway from Taunton to Watchet, to be built under the direction of Brunel. The railway was opened in 1862, and extended to Minehead in 1874. The railway was always popular with holiday makers, with direct trains to London, the Midlands and beyond in the summer months. This was bolstered by the opening of a Butlins holiday camp at Minehead in 1962. However, the Beeching Report of 1963 slated the Minehead branch for closure, and from that time the line was rationalised and run down with closure in mind. The line finally closed in January 1971. At the same time a preservation society was established to investigate how the line could be reopened as a private concern. The initial intent was to provide a year-round commuter service from Minehead to Taunton supplemented by a summer steam service. The Somerset County Council was generally supportive, and it purchased the track bed in 1973 and leased it back to the preservation group. The proposed commuter service was frustrated in several ways, and ultimately the line reopened in stages as a traditional heritage railway. Minehead to Blue Anchor was opened in 1976, extended to Williton later that year, to Stogumber in 1978 and to Bishops Lydeard in 1979.
To develop Norton Fitzwarren station, triangle and Network Rail connection (to enable regular trains to use the station, and to facilitate occasional through services to Taunton and beyond).
Steam Operational Locomotives:
(1) GWR Class 7800 ‘Manor’ (Collett) - No. 7822 ‘Foxcote Manor’
(2) GWR Class 7800 ‘Manor’ (Collett) - No. 7828 ‘Odney Manor’
(3) GWR Class 9341 2-6-0 (rebuild from Class 5101) - No. 9351
Diesel Operational Locomotives:
(1) BR Class 03 - No. D2133
(2) BR Class 09 - No. D4017 (09019)
(3) BR Class 14 Teddy Bear - No. D9526
(4) BR Class 33 - No. D6575
(5) BR Class 33 - No. D6566
(6) BR Class 35 Hymek - No. D 7018
(7) BR Class 47 - No. D1661 ‘North Star’
(8) Andrew Barclay industrial shunter - No. 1 (Works 578)
(9) Andrew Barclay industrial shunter - No. 2 (Works 579)
Steam Locomotives Under Overhaul:
GWR Class 45xx (Churchward) - No. 4561
Diesel Locomotives Under Overhaul:
(1) Class 35 Hymek - No.7017
(2) Class 52 Western - No. D1010 ‘Western Campaigner’
INFORMATION ON THE SUPPORT GROUP
There are a number of means of supporting the WSR, in particular:
- through its operating company (West Somerset Railway PLC); and
- through its supporting group (the West Somerset Railway Association).
Name of Operating Company:
West Somerset Railway PLC
Ownership of Shares:
It is possible to become a shareholder of the WSR PLC. Share purchases fund essential capital works and improvements to the Railway. If interested, go to www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/shareholders for further information. Benefits of being a shareholder include free travel warrants and discount vouchers.
What They Say About Volunteering:
There are around 800 active volunteers whose contribution help makes the West Somerset Railway 'tick'. Volunteers are able to assist (subject to undertaking a training programme and passing a medical in some cases) in all aspects of the WSR, and their contribution is absolutely vital towards ensuring the success and future growth of the railway. On any given day, the footplate crew, guard, ticket inspector, booking clerk, stationmaster, track worker, buffet car steward - and many, many more are likely to be volunteers.
How to Volunteer: Go to www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/volunteer
How to donate to the Railway: Go to www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/donations
Name of Support Group:
West Somerset Railway Association
Annual membership fee:
Adult: £27. Senior: £24. Student: £11. Family: £50
Benefits of membership:
- Discount off the full price of travel, courtesy of the WSR PLC.
- Members area of the Association website
- Discounts available at some of the retail outlets on the WSR
- Quarterly Magazine, ‘West Somerset Railway Journal’
- Periodic e-newsletter
How to Join: Go to www.wsra.org.uk
The Association seeks volunteers for on-train advocates, fundraising event work, administrative work, rally admin and preparation work, rally weekend help and Community Outreach.
How to donate to the Association: Go to www.wsra.org.uk/fundraising
WHY JOIN: A heritage railway of this length requires considerable financial and volunteer assistance. Join to help it maintain its extensive operations, and to help it develop the Norton Fitzwarren station, triangle and main line connection.
INFORMATION ON OTHER SOCIETIES WITH RELATED INTEREST
Those interested in this railway may also be interested in the following railway societies also listed on this
Traditional Railway Societies:
- Great Western Railway Society (Taunton Group)
Model Railway Clubs:
- Somerset Railway Modellers Club
- Taunton Model Railway Group