IT was standing room only at Minehead Old Hospital on Tuesday night as residents packed in to the first public meeting of the Minehead Rail Link Group (MRLG).

Spearheaded by business owner Alex de Mendoza, the MRLG has been campaigning to get a rail link re-established so that there can be a regular service between Minehead and Taunton.

At the meeting, Chris Austin from West Somerset Railway’s announcement that WSR would be submitting an application to Great Western Railway (GWR)’s customer and communities fund to trial a connecting shuttle to link the national network at Taunton with the heritage railway at Bishops Lydeard was warmly received.

Mr Austin, who is a longstanding volunteer at WSR and is secretary of the all-party parliamentary group for heritage railways, said he had been looking at the issue for best part of 25 years.

“I am very proud of the heritage railway we have in West Somerset, it is a major tourist attraction, last year we had 180,000 visitors and so it provides a huge boost to the local economy,” Mr Austin said.

“Previously stumbling blocks have been in regard to a lack of rolling stock and, of course, the lack of money. 

“The national network is supported by subsidies through the franchise agreement, whereas we stand on our own financially and rely on the goodwill and help of more than 1,000 volunteers.

“I’ve been working closely with GWR to establish a connecting shuttle to link national network at Taunton with our railway with a simple, same platform exchange at Bishops Lydeard.

“At long last we believe we been able to overcome the rolling stock problems, and found a source of funding to introduce this on a trial basis, and we are submitting an application to the GWR customer and communities fund to enable us to trial this service for the summer period next year.”

Mr Austin said the trial needed support from as many people as possible as it would be up against other worthy projects attempting to secure funding.

Mr De Mendoza said the MRLG would be backing this initiative as it could be the first step toward getting the regular service desired and said the various groups involved were working together.

Cllr Benet Allen, secretary of the MRLG added: “The new service would have the support of the 20,000 people who live down the line - and the 70,000 people who live at the other end.

"And a thousand times more across the country who will be able, finally, to get to Minehead by train.”