Regular train services on the West Somerset Railway are a step closer after a scheme to trial weekend shuttles between Taunton and Bishops Lydeard has been awarded funding from Great Western Railway. Designed to help boost the local economy, GWR invited bids from its Customer and Communities Improvement Fund (CCIF) last Summer, and on 16 April 2019 three Somerset area winners have been revealed including the WSR’s bid ‘Exmoor Gateway’ which has been awarded £60,000 and will fund trial summer weekend shuttles between Taunton and Bishops Lydeard on the West Somerset Railway. By providing a scheduled (seasonal) rail link between the national rail network at Taunton and the existing West Somerset Railway (from which trains already run to Watchet and Minehead), it will reduce peripherality and encourage more people to use the link as an alternative to driving on the congested A358 and A39 roads.
Responding to the award win, West Somerset Railway Chairman, Jon Jones-Pratt: “We welcome the chance to work with our colleagues on GWR to bring more visitors to this lovely part of Somerset, and to enjoy the sight and sound of steam trains to the seaside. What better way to start a holiday or have a great day out.”
Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow said: “Linking Taunton railway station to the West Somerset Railway makes perfect sense. It will encourage more people to travel to the start of the route by rail as opposed to by car. I am delighted that GWR is supporting this initiative. As a local myself I have enjoyed many happy trips on this heritage railway and I hope that many others will be able to take advantage of this wonderful experience by benefitting from this new rail link. The West Somerset Railway really is one of the jewels in Somerset’s crown.”
GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “We at GWR recognise only too well the vital role that rail plays in local and the national economy, and I am delighted that we have been able to continue to support the communities we serve with this funding. This year’s entrants include a wide and staggering range of projects, many showing the innovation that the area has become renowned for, and I look forward to them all coming to fruition.”
All the proposals were presented to a panel of representatives from GWR’s Customer Panel (made up of local customers), the Advisory Board (made up of local stakeholders), and the executive management team. Final recommendations were then put to the Department for Transport (DfT) for approval. Supported by the DfT, the Customer and Communities Improvement Fund (CCIF) was established to recognise and back projects identified by the communities where GWR operates, with projects requiring local authority match funding. With match funding, the total investment being made in the Somerset community will top £144,000.