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A West Somerset Railway community rail service between Taunton and Minehead and linked to destinations on the national network, would cost £11.8 million, it was claimed in a new study revealed this week.

In their ’Great South West Plan”’ rail expert Lord Tony Berkeley and construction consultant Michael Byng say their fully-costed plans for the cash-strapped WSR would transform West Somerset travel and involve upgrading the line for higher speeds and scheduled passenger services.

But West Somerset Steam Railway Trust chairman Chris Austin said that the lack of detail in the plan made it difficult to assess until more information was available: “We don’t know where the money will come from and exactly what it will buy,” he said. “We will certainly be watching with interest.”

The West Somerset Railway proposals are part of a discussion document on a £1.3 billion plan to be put to the Government, local authorities and train operators to increase the capacity of seven South West rail networks and boost the switch from cars to trains.

They come at a time when the WSR is seeking £500,000 of emergency funding from supporters, has made its permanent staff redundant and is unlikely to run any trains until next year.

The ’Great South West Plan’ was welcomed by railway campaigners and by local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who said: “The document raises a number of very good points.”

But he warned: “It is absolutely essential that Somerset County Council, which owns the line, keeps the track and track-bed in place in case genuine rail development opportunities present themselves in the future.”

And David Latimer, publicity officer of the Minehead Rail Link Group, which is pressing for a commuter service on the line, said: “We fully support the comments in the report. The line must be resuscitated for the benefit of the community, the tourist trade and as a vital part of the local transport infrastructure.”

For the full report, see today’s Free Press.

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