Book tracks history of Britain's railways

Somerset County Gazette: Former West Somerset Railway company chairman and author, Chris Austin. Former West Somerset Railway company chairman and author, Chris Austin.

ONE of the region’s most treasured tourist attractions features in a book designed to set the record straight about the history of the country’s railways.

Chris Austin, former West Somerset Railway company chairman and now chairman of the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust, has co-authored Holding The Line: How Britain’s Railways Were Saved with Richard Faulkner.

Using government archives, papers from trades unions and interviews with retired managers, they have produced an explosive account of the fluctuating fortunes of the country’s rail network.

It charts a period of decline and mass closure in the 1950s and 1960s to the current situation which sees the industry thriving again, not least the West Somerset Railway.

Chris, who has been a volunteer on the line for 25 years, said: “Quite a lot of books have been written about railway closures in the past, but they are mostly just people’s opinions.

"I have always had a fascination with this and we decided to produce a proper history, after carrying out proper research. We wanted to set the record straight.

“We wanted to track how from a period of decline in the ’60s, it has turned around completely and is now a growing industry rather than a declining one, especially with increasing congestion on the roads.

“Lots of railways were closed to save money when people didn’t think they had a future, but they clearly do and the West Somerset Railway is the perfect example.

"It is a unique contribution to the local economy, boosting tourism, providing jobs and teaching vital skills. It ticks all the boxes.

“Most people judge success by passenger numbers and with around 200,000 on this line each year, I think it is safe to see it as such.

“The main message of the book is: Never forget the lessons of history.” Holding The Line will be available to buy on Monday (December 31) – for more information, visit www.ianallanpublishing.com

Chris Austin will be signing copies of the book in the Buffer Stop Shop at Minehead station today and at Bishops Lydeard station shop tomorrow (December 30), as part of the Winter Steam Festival.

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