CAMPAIGNERS calling for the railway line between Taunton and Mineheadto be reopened have fresh optimism following two major government announcements.
Alex de Mendoza has been spearheading a campaign called the Minehead Rail Link Group (MRLG) which wants Great Western Railway’s existing Taunton to Cardiff trains to continue on to Minehead, giving the people of rural West Somerset a regular service to Taunton, Bridgwater, Bristol and Cardiff.
Earlier this month the Department for Transport announced a plan to reverse some of the Beeching cuts which reduced the railway route network in the 1960’s. Simon Calder, travel correspondent for The Independent, has suggested this could ‘reconnect’ coasts and cities, citing the West Somerset line as an example.
Mr Calder writes: “Most of the West Somerset line to Minehead has been preserved by enthusiasts, and only a tantalising few miles stand between the present terminus of Bishop’s Lydeard and Taunton, on the national rail network served by trains from as far away as Aberdeen.”
The current steam trains West Somerset Railway operate are not authorised to travel over Network Rail tracks. The government is also currently hosting a consultation where people can have their say on how Great Western Railway develop its services.
Roland Bushell, MRLG secretary and lecturer at Bath Spa University, says this is a great opportunity for the campaigns increasing number of supporters to have their say. The consultation can be commented on until February 21 and can be found at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/great-western-rail-franchise.
Mr de Mendoza believes the railway line is key to a ‘renaissance for Minehead’.
“I believe this can bring major benefits to West Somerset, which has recently received a lot of media coverage after coming bottom of the social mobility index for the second year in a row,” he said. “One of the factors identified was the lack of infrastructure, and this could be key to addressing it.”
Paul Conibeare, general manager of West Somerset Railway said WSR is actively exploring with Great Western Railway the possible options for significant links with mainline services. “We believe there are particular opportunities in the light of recent Government announcements and other developments,” he said.
A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: “We support the aim of improving accessibility to West Somerset and have met the Minehead Rail Link Group several times to offer advice and support. We look forward to seeing the results of its survey.
“Any new service would need to be delivered in partnership with West Somerset Railway, Network Rail and Great Western Railways.
“At this point we are unaware of any new funding associated with the Secretary of State for Transport’s announcement we will await further information before commenting on whether this announcement offers any opportunities for Somerset.”
Written by Steven Salter