DESPITE the hailstones and downpours last Thursday and Friday, the spring-time sunshine over the weekend helped bring in the visitors to the West Somerset Railway.

Over 5000 passengers travelled along England’s largest heritage line between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead as part of the 18th annual Spring Steam Gala.

Fare revenues for this year’s four day gala were higher than for the nine day Spring Steam Gala in 2013 by 19%.

West Somerset Railway general manager Paul Conibeare said: “After a period of early season concern over passenger loadings and the general downturn in tourism business in the county as a whole, reflecting the inaccurate impression that we have all been flooded, it was great to see busy trains and people out and about enjoying themselves.

“As well as enthusiasts from all over the country many of whom spent one or more nights with local accommodation providers, there was a good level of family business clearly visible particularly during the excellent spring weather on Saturday and Sunday.”

Nine steam engines in total featured in the event and there was plenty going on at the stations for visitors to see and do including museums and model railway exhibitions.

Unfortunately, one of the ‘guests’ hired in, the Light Pacific 34070 ‘Manston’, suffered a failure on Friday morning meaning it was out of action for the rest of the event.

On Friday and Saturday, the small tank engine ‘Kilmersdon; operated ‘Driver for a Fiver’ operations at Minehead Station.

Mr Conibeare added: “Retail operations and catering on the railway also had a busy time and the staff are now looking forward to a busy Easter Holiday period and a successful remainder of 2014.

The next event on the railway is a Wallace and Gromit visit on April 12.

The duo will be making personal appearances between 10am and 4pm and there will be free vintage bus ride trips around Minehead seafront and face painting.

Dates for next year’s Spring Steam Gala have also been released, taking place from Thursday March 26 to Sunday March 29.

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