AFTER undertaking more than £100K of infrastructure work, overhauling stall training and sorting out its finances - West Somerset Railway is ready to reopen.

The railway faced an extended winter closure following an inspection from the Office of Rail and Road in November.

Bosses at the railway ordered the closure from January 2 until April in order to carry out a ‘significant number of improvements’ highlighted by the inspection body.

But things are back on-track for the beloved railway, as service begin to return to normal on Saturday, March 30.

The reopening announcement comes following another inspection of the ORR on Friday, March 22.

WSR plc chairman, Jon Jones Pratt, said: “The ORR inspectors were very impressed by all of the massive progress across the board that we have made during a relatively short period, and I’m delighted they gave us a clean bill of health to re-open this coming weekend.

“But it’s been a race against time to try and get all of the work completed and a great testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff, volunteers, contractors and supporters to whom we owe a great debt of thanks. Our shareholders have bought more than £20,000 of new shares since our stakeholders meeting on March 2 to help fund the works, and it’s been reminiscent of the efforts by the early WSR’s pioneers who first re-opened the line in 1976.”

The extended closure period enabled the WSR to focus its efforts on vital track works and other maintenance along the line, as well as dealing with all of the ORR’s recommendations.

Some unforeseen problems were found with the track work around Blue Anchor, including having to order a new replacement point, which means steam and diesel train services will begin initially between Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, and Watchet from Saturday March 30, but the full line isn’t able to open to Minehead until April 19, when the Blue Anchor works are completed.

The reopening this Saturday will see the former Great Western Railway Hall Class locomotive number 6960, named Ravening Hall’, steam out of Bishops Lydeard Station at 10.15am.

MR Jones Pratt will be onboard as fireman, with Ray Lee driving.

As there is no loco turning facility at Watchet, the return legs from the seaside town will be hauled by a 1960’s heritage diesel locomotive courtesy of the D&EPG’s fleet at Williton in what railwaymen and women call a ‘top and tail’ operation with a loco at each end of the train, so recreating a realistic 1960’s branch line theme.

WSR trains will then run to the same ‘top and tail’ service pattern on all timetabled running days until April 19, when the first full line steam services of the season will run through to Minehead.

Mr Jones Pratt added: “The WSR wishes to apologise to all accommodation providers in West Somerset who have been inconvenienced or lost business as a result of the extended closure period, but we had no choice and had to undertake some costly, unexpected and time consuming track works, especially around Blue Anchor. I look forward greatly to the day when the whole railway is open again.”

The scheduled “Quantock Belle” dining train on March 31st will unusually traverse the line between Bishops Lydeard and Norton Fitzwarren, which is rarely used by passenger trains, before taking its Mother’s Day customers on their journey through the hills to Watchet.