Sunday, 18 November 2018

West Somerset Railway

Railway to close for three months

The heritage railway is to close for three months following an inspection by the railway watchdog. 

West Somerset Railway (WSR) was told it had a "significant number of important actions to take" following an audit by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The ORR report has not yet been published, but WSR said a "recovery plan" was required.

The railway will close in January to allow staff to "focus on qualifications and effective record keeping" A statement on an unofficial WSR website said it was "clear that from a commercial point of view we need to refocus our operation and business processes".

In a letter sent to WSR shareholders and volunteers, chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt called for more unity to keep the railway going as it had "lost direction".

'Recovery plan'

"My main focus will be to ensure that the journey we place ourselves on will be collective and one, where the displeasure of the past that has notably led to public embarrassment and provided continued distraction to the business must stop," he said.
Mr Jones-Pratt further said a "recovery plan which must be achieved" was needed following the audit.

The railway, which is a branch line of the old Great Western Railway, and runs from from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard, will close from 2 January until 1 April 2019.

It would normally have been closed for two months during that time for routine maintenance.

An ORR spokesman said no enforcement notice - meaning railways must stop operating immediately due to serious safety issues - had been handed out.

On a more positive note the railway has secured a grant just shy of £100,000 to improve its engagement with the community.

The grant, of £96,000, from the HPC Community Fund, will be spread across two years.

The successful application, led by the West Somerset Railway Association, with the support of WSR PLC and other members of the WSR family, will enable them to fund a community engagement officer, as well as providing more activities and volunteering opportunities.

The 20 mile railway operation currently runs with 1,200 volunteers, supported by nearly 50 staff, and attracts around 200,000 visitors a year to the area. Throughout the summer season, it runs for seven days a week.

WSR PLC chairman, Jonathan Jones-Pratt, said: “This is an exciting new dawn for the railway which demonstrates how important the WSR is to our stakeholders through the West Somerset Community.

"I wish to thank and congratulate the WSRA on the hard work that has led to our successful bid submission and we look forward to creating a legacy for the future as we work closely with our communities along our beautiful line.”

The community engagement officer will aim to create new opportunities for the surround communities.

The new changes will also reach to attract new volunteers and stakeholders from a wider area.

WSRA chairman, Paul Whitehouse, said: “As the support charity for the West Somerset Railway we are thrilled to have been selected to deliver this project which will be of great benefit to individuals, the West Somerset Community, and the railway.”

The association says the funding will help WSR to continue and expand as a place where people can come to experience many different activities, not all related to railways, as an educational, heritage and leisure attraction and a large local employer which currently generates a secondary spend within its surrounding community in the region of £9 million per annum.

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