A trail-blazing trial shuttle service linking the national rail network with West Somerset Railway - due to begin this month - still has no known starting date, timetable or details of prices, frustrated railway supporters claimed this week.
“For months we’ve been trying to find out what’s going on and we’ve hit an absolute wall of silence,” said Minehead Rail Link Group chairman Alex de Mendoza.
“We completely support the Taunton-Bishops Lydeard shuttle trials but there’s been a complete shut-down of information. How can we help promote it if we don’t even know when it’s starting?”
At a meeting of the group on Tuesday, members complained that inquiries, phone calls and emails to designated shuttle operator Great Western Railway had gone unanswered and staff had been unco-operative when asked for information.
As reported in the Free Press in April, the Exmoor Gateway project is planned to involve six months of weekend trials of a diesel shuttle operated by GWR between Taunton and the WSR Bishops Lydeard terminus, where passengers would then board trains to Minehead.
It would be the first time a national rail operator had run a scheduled passenger service on a heritage line and was hailed as a possible forerunner of a Taunton-Minehead commuter link.
The cost of the trial was estimated at £160,000, with some £60,000 coming from passenger fares, £60,000 from a GWR grant and £40,000 from West Somerset Railway.
Mr Mendoza said: “ The scheme is supposed to start in the next few weeks. It’s vital that it gets maximum publicity and people are encouraged to use the new service. Otherwise the whole thing will be pointless.
“ In April, it was hailed as a possible key development in an eventual Taunton Minehead service and everyone, including GWR, was very enthusiastic.
“Now everything’s gone deadly quiet and we want to know why.”
A West Somerset Railway spokesman said yesterday (Thursday) that it was also in the dark about GWR’s plans for the shuttle trials. He told the Free Press: “There is still no news from GWR as to the start date of the new shuttle service.
“WSR is as keen as anyone to know the dates and times of the new trains so that we can start promoting them.
“We expect it will be late June, which gives us enough time to do so.”
GWR development manager Matthew Barnes could not be contacted by the time we went to press.
Writing on the rail link group’s website this week, publicity officer David Latimer said: “I have for the umpteenth time tried to contact GWR to find out what is happening with the shuttle and got nowhere.
“When I was publicity manager for BR’s Liverpool division, if we were introducing a new service I always replied to messages immediately and made sure that maximum publicity was given months in advance.
“If I had handled any such project in the way GWR has handled this, I would have been relieved of my position and found myself sweeping the platforms of some minor station somewhere.
“No wonder everyone, including local councillors, is baffled by the lack of information and the absence of replies to correspondence.”
By TONY JAMES West Somerset Free Press