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Here you will find some of the letters that was in the West Somerset Free Press on 19th July 2019.

Time to kill two birds with one stone

I am writing following the enlightening report on the state of the West Somerset Railway plc in last week’s Free Press.

I wish I, and I am sure the public as a whole, had known about the true extent of the financial difficulties at WSR before now. 

I knew things were tough, but we have now been enlightened as to the true extent of the financial woes, or at least what they are choosing to reveal to us.

This begs the question that both myself and the Minehead Rail Link Group has wondered about for ages – why are not the financial benefits of a combined heritage service and a community rail service not talked about or discussed more openly?

This is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that is continuously not being considered nor broadcast to the general public or taken up by our MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

If the heritage side of WSR plc operations is struggling, due in part to plain wear and tear on their network, falling visitor numbers to the region and the increasing costs of operational and safety regulations, why doesn’t the WSR more actively encourage a more shared usage of the railway tracks to and from Taunton, and beyond, as well as the environmental benefits that would go hand in hand.

Surely a future increase in passenger numbers and their fare revenues, combined with the rail track access charges due to WSR, would go a long way towards helping the plc to balance its financial books - as well as also broadcasting far and wide the beauty and desirability of a holiday in the area to its passengers.

We have for far too long now been seen as the “poor man” of the South West’s coastal resorts and we have suffered economically because of this premise, yet we have a fantastic public transport resource, crossing the whole region, being under utilised for decades now.

Would it not make perfect sense to kill two birds with one stone and open up this antiquated “heritage only” mindset to more public usage and allow both the WSR plc and the district as a whole to benefit from a more diverse and far reaching footfall?

Please Mr Liddell-Grainger and Mr Jones-Pratt, get around a table today and actively sort out a mutually beneficial solution for the railway itself, the communities of West Somerset and the possible tourists who are just not coming anymore.

We have a “tentative, small scale” trial rail service joining Minehead to Taunton and beyond starting soon and I implore everyone along the line to try to use it or at least back it - or we will lose it and return to being a “disconnected region” for another decade or two.

Alex de Mendoza, Minehead Rail Link Group

Let county run the line

As a former Minehead resident, I was saddened but not surprised to read in the Free Press of yet more financial problems and worries for the West Somerset Railway.

One of the issues that the line must face up to is that it is not used properly – how can any railway be free of financial worries and constraints if it is only used at certain times of the year and for just a few hours of the day?

The WSR needs to get together with the local authorities and the mainline railway to see how it can operate a commuter service into Taunton for the whole year round, using lightweight diesel railcars which only put a fraction of wear on the track that steam trains do.

This would benefit the people of West Somerset and only put a fraction of the pollutants into the atmosphere that steam trains do.

The other problem is that the line is managed by people who see it as a hobby rather than a business and a service.

So long as the line is run by steam train buffs and locomotive enthusiasts obsessed with all things Victorian and insistent upon inefficient outdated technology, then the line will struggle on from crisis to crisis.

The only solution is to hand the line’s management over to the county council, which could run it professionally and more efficiently as apart of the public transport network.

The track is already owned by the county council anyway, and I am sure it could come to an agreement with the local mainline train companies to provide a diesel trains service all year round as well as squeezing in steam trains in the summer.

Colin Webber, North Street, Bridgwater

Torrent of messages

Congratulations are due to West Somerset Railway for their success in successfully launching the shuttle linking Taunton and Bishops Lydeard – the first time in nearly 50 years a scheduled train service has linked West Somerset with the national network.

To try to help promote the new shuttle, on the evening of Monday July 8 I posted a brief summary of the press release announcing the trial on the Minehead Rail Link Facebook group. 

Within 24 hours my post had been read by some 4,500 people and the post shared with 24 other Facebook groups. 

I spent much of Tuesday morning fielding a torrent of messages, e-mails and posts on various social media trying to deal with a lot of dis- information and, happily, genuine interest too. 

I expect this experience has been repeated within the offices at West Somerset Railway, and I hope this then translates into rear ends on soft furnishings. 

Only time will tell, but I strongly suspect we have all underestimated the potential demand for an extension to WSR operations.  

Roland Bushell, Periton Road, Minehead.

Help with promotion?

There are now published the times for the trial Taunton-Bishops Lydeard shuttle trains on Saturdays from July 27 onwards, connecting main line services and West Somerset Railway services.

The shuttles enable a full day in Minehead for those coming by rail from Bristol, Exeter and further afield such as London, Birmingham and Plymouth.

I look forward to seeing the efforts of Minehead Rail Link Group to assist with promotion of these services which all who support travel by rail will no doubt welcome.

Robin Moira White, Stogumber

Need for new approach

I enjoyed reading the Free Press’s front-page report about the efforts being made by the chairman of West Somerset Railway, Jonathan JonesPratt, to ensure that it has a bright future.

Mr Jones-Pratt is clearly very determined, but his approach seems rather ambivalent: “Next year is my target to ensure that we put the past to bed” and a few sentences later, “I cannot, and will not, cover up the past”.

Apart from the prospect of more duvet metaphors in further reports, it sounds like Mr Jones-Pratt is going to identify further errors to pin on the previous management. 

What’s really needed to give WSR a great future is a radical new approach that recognises the importance of properly reintegrating the Taunton to Minehead railway line (and its maintenance costs) into the national transport infrastructure.

If I had a bit of money to invest in a local business I would certainly like to support WSR.

I’ve not explored business models, but Mr Jones-Pratt’s remark in your second WSR piece last week, on the shuttle service trial, set me thinking: “We are proud to be running our heritage steam trains alongside their Great Western successors”.

For me, “alongside” would mean the WSR steam trains and the GWR diesels both using the same metals, as suggested by Cllr Benet Allen’s comment on the need for a comprehensive service.

Wouldn’t it be great to see WSR stream trains on Platform One at Taunton Station, alternating with GWR diesel shuttles running a faster service, both services running all the way from Taunton to Minehead?

Ian Scott, Blenheim Mews. Minehead.

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