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A TRAIL-BLAZING shuttle service which could be the forerunner of a Minehead-Taunton commuter link will start weekend trials on the West Somerset Railway in June after winning £60,000 funding.

The money – from from Great Western Railway’s Customer and Communities Improvement Fund – will finance trials which will link the national network to the heritage railway.

It will be the first time a national rail operator has run a regular scheduled passenger service on a heritage line – and it is being hailed as a pioneering project.

The Exmoor Gateway project will use a diesel shuttle between Taunton and the West Somerset Railway terminus at Bishops Lydeard, from where passengers will board WSR trains to Minehead.

The trials will take place at weekends from June until December at times agreed with Network Rail, and will involve cost and revenue assessments and passenger reaction to the service.

A WSR spokesman said: “Throughout our history, the WSR has always been keen to have better and regular passenger rail links with the national network via Taunton and this is arguably the best and easiest way of achieving it.”

The Free Press understands that the estimated cost of the trial will be £160,000. Some £60,000 of this is expected to come from passenger fares and another £60,000 from the GWR grant.

About £40,000 of the cost will be met by WSR, which will be waiving the track access charge and providing staff for the service – some of them volunteers.

Both the WSR and GWR will be working to market the service, which might extend into next year if it is successful and is able to cover its costs and attract new passengers.

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