This had been included on the agenda to try to ascertain the current position. It was known that the Minehead Chamber of Commerce had dropped the idea of a commuter service to Taunton. The Minehead Railway Link Group remained active. Martin Adfield mentioned the Department of Transport documents outlining proposals to consider re-opening former lines.
Would there be support if others submitted an expression of interest? The question was asked as to what the WSR would want. There would be major investment needed to upgrade the line to allow 45mph running for commuter trains, which would need to be operated run by paid staff This would impact on the heritage nature of the WSR with its large volunteer staff base. Chris Austin stated that he had been in discussions with Network Rail over a shuttle service between Bishops Lydeard and Taunton.
This would be a modest seasonal service using the current facilities to connect with steam trains at Bishops Lydeard. This would not require upgrades to infrastructure or staffing and would relieve seasonal pressure if visitors could travel out from Taunton. The service could be run by Great Western with a possible starting date in 2019/2020. It was noted that funds could be available from the Department of Transport for developing such services but this could lead to greater regulation over the use of the funds and could affect WSRs freedom to manage its own railway. Other points noted could greater use of Bishops Lydeard car park as a park and rise facility for commuters travelling into Taunton.
It could also relieve some seasonal pressures for visitors travelling out of Taunton. Some thought could be given to developing the Norton platform as a park & ride facility.
This would need much more thought including the substantial costs to upgrade the track for speeds up to 45 mph and also the possible alienation of volunteer support. It was agreed to keep a watching brief on the Minehead Rail Link Group. It could not just be ignored. Services on the 28 bus route were being reduced on Saturdays and Sundays. It was noted that West Somerset had recently been identified as an area of social deprivation so better communication links, physical and digital, were needed. Cllr Hall indicated that the digital connections were improving and were currently around 82%. Thought could also be given to two through trains a day on changeover days at Butlins. These could run within existing infrastructure and timings.