A NEW train operator based in Taunton and owned by its passengers and staff could offer "a significant addition to the rail timetable" from summer next year.

The boss of Go-op Co-operative Limited says the public transport co-operative plans to have two refurbished class 769 trains with 250 seats to operate "a complex series of trips between Oxfordshire and Somerset".

If the plan materialises, there would be trains from Taunton to Somerset stations in Langport/Somerton, Castle Cary, Bruton, Frome and Yeovil Pen Mill.

A Taunton-Yeovil service, with interchanges at Castle Cary and some direct journeys, would have seven trips a day each way.

Others planned are Westbury, Trowbridge, Melksham, Chippenham, Swindon, Wantage and Grove, Oxford, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Kenilworth, Coventry and Nuneaton.

Operations director Alex Lawrie said a "carefully designed timetable" would complement existing services and provide "useful connections so as to introduce a large number of useful journeys".

He added: "The technical difficulties are hard to overstate.

"The UK railways are - for good reason - carefully regulated and we must prove in great detail that our ideas stack up.

"A particular goal is to give some of the market towns of Somerset and Wiltshire a regular, functional service where at present the low frequency makes it hard to give up the car.

"In addition there are two long distance services a day that go all the way to Nuneaton, where connections to the north of England are available."

East Reach-based Go-op, which has been working on the plans for ten years, has to show the proposal, under rarely used 'open access' rules, would not rely on attracting passengers from existing, franchised services.

It is an independent co-operative society, but is also a member of Co-operatives UK and as such part of the family of businesses that include the Co-op food stores.

Mr Lawrie added: "This is just the start - we need to start planning bus services to bring people to the stations and consider how we can further develop and enhance the service."

He said a professional and experienced management team is in place and the route would be profitable within three years.

A public meeting is taking place in Taunton's Albemarle Centre on Thursday, March 21, from 6pm to 7.30pm.