The West Somerset Railway Heritage Trust WSRHT

£250,000 track replacement fundraising campaign

Posted on May 24, 2019

The West Somerset Railway Association (WSRA) and West Somerset Steam Railway Trust (WSSRT) has just launched an ambitious £250,000 fundraising campaign to assist the West Somerset Railway plc (WSR plc) in urgently raising funds for the WSR’s planned track relays over the winter months of 2019.

All of the WSR’s track is currently in the process of being renewed, but some will be coming towards the end of its serviceable 50-100 year life this coming winter, hence the launch of the funding appeal.

The majority of the track on the 23-mile line is made up of traditional ‘bullhead’ rail sat in ‘chairs’ on concrete or wooden sleepers, which was the standard for much of the national railway system from the mid-19th until the mid-20th century.

However, ‘bullhead’ rail is much more costly to buy and maintain, and also has a shorter working life by comparison to the modern and cheaper ‘flat-bottom’ rail which is now found all over Britain’s railways and the rest of the world too.

The WSR now intends to replace much of the ‘bullhead’ rail with ‘flat-bottom’ rail over much the line apart from in station areas and places where people like to see traditional track.

Making much of the WSR into a ‘flat-bottom’ line will fit in well with the WSR Company’s objective of making the business more sustainable for the foreseeable future and reducing renewal and maintenance costs.

WSR plc Chairman Jon Jones Pratt said: “I applaud this bold, £250,000 fund-raising initiative jointly from the West Somerset Railway Association and Steam Trust to help us deal with pressing track issues this winter.

Track work is always an expensive and ongoing project on all heritage railways, and it is a focal point for our business too as the longest heritage railway line in England.

“Exchanging most of our old ‘bullhead’ rail for the more cost-effective and sustainable ‘flat bottom’ rail alternative will mean that the WSR will have an economically viable and sensible option to keep the railway going for many years to come in the next 40 years of our existence.

“With the West Somerset Railway Association and Steam Trust’s ongoing support, we will continue working together as ‘one railway’ in order to get as many of our projects completed as possible. If people can spare some money towards this very worth-while cause, then we would be most grateful and I’d like to thank those who have already shown their support for the WSR by donating money to us.”

West Somerset Railway Association Chairman Paul Whitehouse comments: “Much of the track on the West Somerset Railway (WSR) is now at the very end of its serviceable life after over 50 years of service and some sections must be renewed in the near future to keep the WSR going for future generations to enjoy.

 “So, we need to raise additional funds urgently in order to keep the WSR track replacement work programme on schedule for this coming winter and we have just launched a £250,000 ‘Just Giving’ appeal alongside the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust to try and achieve this ambition.

“With over 53,000 sleepers and well over 40 miles of rails on the 22-mile line, the numbers are big and the bill is expensive for the WSR to fund whether using traditional ‘bullhead’ rail or the more modern ‘flat-bottom’ type now used all over the mainline network.”

West Somerset Steam Railway Trust Chris Austin comments: “As a heritage railway, the West Somerset Railway would like to keep traditional ‘bullhead’ rail in station areas and other places where it can be seen and understood by visitors, but also use the more cost-effective ‘flat-bottom’ rail on the largely unseen areas of the railway which not only gives a better ride but also is easier to maintain too.

“There are some eye watering costs for this work, but some examples of the materials that will be needed and could be could be purchased by people making donations are worth noting: £3,000 would buy a full 60ft panel of bullhead track including all fittings with 50 years life; £1,800 would buy a full 60ft panel of flat bottom track including all fittings with 100 years life; £840 would buy a single 60ft length of bullhead rail; £560 would buy a single 60ft length of flat bottom rail; £52 would buy a durable, single wooden sleeper with serviceable chairs and keys; and £28 would buy a single, concrete sleeper with new fittings.”

The joint-venture track funding project involves the WSRA, WSSRT and WSR plc.  All the organisations on the railway are working together to ensure the sustainability of the West Somerset Railway. 

The Just giving page for the project can be seen across social media platforms and by visiting:

Further information from: WSR plc General Manager Paul Conibeare (see details below); WSRA Chairman Paul Whitehouse; and WSSRT Chairman Chris Austin on (07913 653594