Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Record passenger year in sight for steam railway with winter gala still to come

THE West Somerset Railway is heading towards another record-breaking year as its main 2007 operating season ends and its volunteers and staff prepare for the annual programme of festive season trains in December.
It needs just 2,004 more passengers to break the all-time record of carrying 203,000 passengers in a year, which was set in 2005.
General manager Paul Conibeare said: “At the end of October we had carried 200,000 passengers in the year to date and had already welcomed more people to our trains than we did in the whole of 2006.
“We are also only 3,000 short of our all time record total set in 2005 with the December trains still to run, reflecting another terrific effort by everyone on the WSR in attracting business to the railway and the area and then offering a good day out that persuades passengers to come back again.
“The months ahead will be very busy for everybody on the line.
“We do not run any regular passenger train services for the rest of November but we are busy with bookings for our pre-Christmas Santa trains and work continues with the Minehead turntable preparation work, the construction of the Norton Fitzwarren turning triangle, locomotive and carriage maintenance, and much else besides.
“We always get a lot of quiet amusement when people ask us ‘what do you do all day when the trains are not running?’
“Our 2008 timetables are due from the printers in mid-November and once they are to hand, mailings to coach and holiday companies will begin as we continue to try to build our success story for the years to come.”
The Winter Steam Festival – the WSR’s final steam gala of the year - returns on Saturday, December 29.
Mr Conibeare said: “We are again keen to build-up on the success of previous events, which has seen it grow in stature and make a significant contribution to annual special events programme and a welcome boost to the railway at the end of the year.”
The gala will again be 100 per cent steam with at least five engines in action and working trains.
For the first time at the winter event, two ‘guest’ engines will be in use, nos 1450 and 662 ‘Martello’, with the remaining engines selected from the resident fleet.
It will be a final opportunity to see ‘Martello’ in service on the line before it returns to Bressingham.
As well as the ‘whole line’ trains between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard, the Great Western auto train - with no 1450 and trailer 178 - and the ‘branch line green train’ with the ‘Martello’ will also both be in use.
Mr Conibeare said: “Plans will again be put in place to ensure the sets of stock are steam-heated overnight to ensure passengers are welcomed by nice warm trains – a very important consideration at this time of year.
The museums in Bishops Lydeard and Washford will be open, as will the Diesel Heritage Centre, in Williton, and the Taunton Model Railway Group’s base at Bishops Lydeard.
A free bus service, operated by Cooks Coaches, will link Taunton railway station, the park and ride car park at Silk Mills, and Bishops Lydeard Station.
Rover tickets for the Winter Steam Festival, which can again be purchased in advance, will be available at the standard fare rather than at special event fares.
An adult day rover costs £13. Senior, child, and family rover tickets are also available.
Tickets can be purchased by telephone from Minehead Station on 01643 704996 and through www.ticketweb.co.uk using a credit/debit card.
The lastest date for advance booking is December 17, because of Christmas posting arrangements.

  • Our photographs show (top) locomotive 9351 on Santa special duty at Crowcombe Heathfield, and (below) locomotive 44422 at Bishops Lydeard with a train for Minehead. Photos by Alan Meade.

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