OVER a year ago, the trains stopped rolling on the West Somerset Railway (WSR).

The popular rail attraction, which runs trains between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, was closed to passengers due to coronavirus restrictions.

Now, almost exactly 14 months on, the WSR has announced services will once again run on the 22-mile heritage line.

Train services are set to restart on Saturday, May 22, following the easing of Government CV-19 restrictions this week, in line with the recovery roadmap still staying on track.

Initially, WSR trains will operate out and back from Bishops Lydeard to Williton only.

"Social distancing regulations will still be in force then and passengers will, therefore, need to travel in pre-allocated seats and remain on board for the entire return journey, similar to the WSR’s Santa services last December," said a spokesperson.

"As a result, it will not yet be possible to offer train services to any intermediate stations on the line, or through to Minehead yet sadly, and which the WSR regrets but it is working hard to complete the link again.

"Extensive key infrastructure works between Williton and Minehead have yet to be completed, including the rebuilt Seaward Way Level Crossing at the seaside town."

Somerset County Gazette:

WSR trains will be fully cleaned internally between services, and seats will need to be pre-booked either on the WSR website on the internet, or by phone.

As Government restrictions are gradually lifted, the WSR expects to extend the services to Watchet and Blue Anchor after June 2, and then Dunster, with a bus link to Minehead.

"With all of the uncertainty for the year ahead, it may not be possible to carry out many of the popular, quality events that the WSR normally offers, but it intends to announce these later in 2021," the spokesperson said.

"That said, it’s anticipated that the 1940s weekend will go ahead in some form over the weekend of September 11 and 12, along with normal Christmas services planned to recommence at the beginning of December."

Ahead of the re-opening, ‘test’ trains started running in mid-April.

WSR PLC chair, Jonathan Jones-Pratt, said: “By far, this has been the longest enforced period of closure for the WSR since the full reopening of the whole heritage line from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard in 1979, apart from the short exception of our 2020 pre-Christmas period.

“So much really hard work has been undertaken in the background by our dedicated teams on all aspects of getting our working steam railway ready for business again.

“Now, we are all greatly looking forward to welcoming passengers back to enjoy our wonderful railway running through the Somerset countryside again this coming summer.

“Re-opening on May 22 has been our target and we are nearly there now. We are hoping that the Covid-19 situation improves soon for everyone.

“When, and perhaps if, the Covid restrictions lift fully in June, we will amend our plans to suit the situation at that time, and issue updates as soon as we have confirmation of a change in circumstances.”

Full details of passenger times and fares are available via www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk.