PLANS to create a community rail service between Minehead and Taunton ‘do not stack up’ according the chairman of West Somerset Railway.
Jonathan Jones-Pratt, the WSR chairman, reacted after Minehead Rail Link Group sent a letter this week to Somerset County Council calling for a face-to-face meeting about progressing its goals in the wake of the government pledging money to ‘undo the Beeching railway cuts’ of the 1980s.
In the letter, Minehead Rail Link Group say they envisage a service operated under a revised franchise agreement, ‘using two or three car diesel multiple units’.
The letter, signed by Minehead Rail Link Group secretary and district councillor Benet Allen, suggests this service could be delivered by extending some of the current Cardiff to Taunton services through to Minehead, ‘providing a roughly two-hourly service’.
MRLG say the benefits of this include attracting more visitors to the area, a train service that will benefit all residents, a reduction in West Somerset’s carbon contribution, and ‘a stress-free’ way of reaching Butlins.
MRLG also state in the letter: “The West Somerset Railway is currently in a desperate financial situation and is suffering from declining volunteer and passenger numbers.
“The community rail service we seek could be the lifeline it needs to secure its very survival.”
However WSR chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt is worried the MRLG plans could have the opposite effect and described the proposals as ‘unsustainable’.
“Where is the report? Where are the numbers that show this would work?” Mr Jones-Pratt said.
“I haven’t seen a business case that shows this stacks up.
“We currently operate under the Light Railway Order. To run the service MRLG are proposing, at the speeds they are proposing, would require a huge overhaul of much of our infrastructure to bring it up to the standards required for running a Network Rail service.
“That alone could cost between £20m and £30m.”
Mr Jones-Pratt said that in reality that would mean what is now a heritage railway that brings in nearly £8m a year to the local economy, would become a ‘mismatch’, with some mainline services features such as barriers, interspersed with heritage aspects.
He also said practical aspects of bringing trains from Taunton onto the West Somerset Railway line at Taunton Station would need to be addressed.
The WSR chairman said the shuttle service trialled last summer was a more sustainable long-term option.
“We have come through a difficult period and are looking forward positively,” Mr Jones-Pratt said.
“While I am chairman I am committed to running West Somerset Railway as a heritage railway.”