AN INCREASE in ticket sales during 2013 means the immediate future of the West Somerset Railway is secure, according to the general manager.

Paul Conibeare said: “This year we’re up 2.7% on budget and it’s mainly thanks to people buying more advanced ticket sales.

“There is a larger increase in people purchasing tickets online now compared to a few years ago.

“We’re really pleased, it’s a high target and the fact that we’ve made just over £2 million this year is very encouraging and enables us to reinvest into the future.”

Mr Conibeare added that over £1.7million had been bequeathed to the line over the past four years in people’s wills.

“It’s wonderful that so many people remember us and it’s really important that we use the money sensibly to secure the future.

“We’re launching the Heritage Hunter App in the spring and that is something we’re very excited about.

“Visitors will be able to use their smart phones to download all the information they need about the trains and lines.

“It’s getting the most out of the heritage using modern technology which is fantastic.”

The railway is run by the West Somerset Railway plc, which lease the land from the authority which owns the freehold.

Both the West Somerset Railway plc and West Somerset Railways Association, a support charity, have made bids for the freehold.

Humphrey Davies, chairman of the West Somerset Railway plc said: “The freehold has been on the minds of all staff and volunteers for some months.

“John Irven, Paul Conibeare and myself have, with input from other directors, been actively working with partners and SCC to protect the West Somerset Railway as a sustainable business for the future.

“SCC will, at the end of January, decide if the freehold is to be sold or if the current position it to be maintained.”

The 20-mile line between Minehead and Taunton was closed in 1971.

The council bought the branch line the following year.