West Somerset Railway

Corporate Information

The West Somerset Railway is operated by the West Somerset Railway PLC, which leases the line and buildings from Somerset County Council under a long lease currently expiring in 2088.

The West Somerset Railway is operated by the West Somerset Railway PLC, which leases the line and buildings from Somerset County Council under a long lease currently expiring in 2088.

The company employs about 50 staff, and has around 1000 active volunteers. It is supported by a number of related organisations operating on the railway, who with representative of the local authorities and volunteers comprise the Partnership Development Group.

The members of the Board are:

  • Professor John Irven (Chairman)
  • Ian Coleby (Vice-chairman and Volunteer Development)
  • Geoff Pateman (Governance and HR, and Company Secretary)
  • Ric Auger (Infrastructure)
  • Chris Bolt (Finance and IT)
  • Geoff Evens
  • Steve Williams (Strategy, Planning and Partnerships, Inward Investment and Commercial)
  • Ken Davidge (Director of Safety Audit).
  • The General Manager, Paul Conibeare, is an Associate Director.

The Board has established a number of standing committees, which currently comprise: Audit and Risk, Commercial, Marketing and Public Relations, Human Resources, Operational Executive, Planning, and Safety Audit.

The senior management team comprises:

  • Dave Horton (Head of Mechanical Engineering)
  • Colin Howard (Head of Commercial Services)
  • Steve Martin (Operating Superintendant)
  • John Robinson (Head of HR)
  • Andrew Young (Head of Infrastructure Engineering)

Chairman’s Briefing from the Board meeting in January 2017



A new summary of incident reports was provided by the safety team, and agreed as helpful for board to review overall strategy, progress and trends, whilst Safety Audit Committee and Safety Project Group monitor details, and with management and the operating committee responsible for delivering progress.  Following an approach more aligned with ORR and industry practice, an improved process has been agreed where we will be implementing a probationary period involving appropriate retraining and certification of individuals where needed as a result of an incident investigation. Progress on action plans from the external audit was referred to the February meeting of Safety Project Group. 

Governance & board organisation

In December the board agreed for some modification and consolidation in portfolios, and have advertised for applications to board from people with experience in operations, mechanical engineering, governance, HR and a combined commercial & marketing function.  We have also agreed a change in role for Geoff Pateman, who will focus on staff development and management as his governance and interim HR role changes with recruitment to the modified director portfolios. We are aiming to confirm appointments from suitable candidates by the March board meeting in time to finalise arrangements for the AGM in June.

Operations review update

The board has listened to the degree of concern being expressed over aspects of the published plans for the review of the operating department, and the way they have been communicated.  After a considerable amount of further consultation with staff by the operations review implementation team, which also includes staff membership, the board recognised the need to find an alternative approach going forward. We have endorsed a revised approach which has been agreed with staff, and which has already been communicated and posted on the company staff website.  We hope that this resolution and amended approach will allow us all to move forward, whilst recognising that we need to learn lessons for the future.

Chairman’s report

My report centred on the need to ensure that we better follow appropriate processes and governance for decision making which requires items for decision to be recommended by those who have clearly been delegated with the responsibility for that decision, and taken by those responsible and/or accountable for it.

Flying Scotsman and Antique Roadshow updates

Frank Courtney, our project manager for the Flying Scotsman visits to the WSR in May and September, attended the board meeting and helped us to understand the great opportunities this provides us, whilst identifying a number of key challenges we have tor resolve to achieve safe and successful visits. The board endorsed the current approach being planned, with continuing review of key items by project team and board as and when necessary. Paul Conibeare similarly gave an update on the wonderful opportunity from the upcoming Antiques Roadshow event at Minehead station on 17th May.

Stakeholder meeting

An agenda was agreed for our next meeting is scheduled for 2 pm on Sat 25th Feb at Bishop’s Lydeard Hall. After an opening update from the chairman, and a ‘state of the railway’ report on 2016 from Paul Conibeare, we intend to provide a combined summary on the Flying Scotsman and Antiques Roadshow visits, together with updates on the Southern Gateway concept and Taunton-BL link, and a Q&A session as normal. All stakeholders are invited to attend from 1.30pm onwards. 

Steam Trust Draft business plan and Heritage Lottery Funding application

The Steam Trust business  plan and related Lottery funding application, in which the WSR PLC will be a partner,  was reviewed and supported by board. 

General Manager report

The board was given an update on the activities of all the departments, including the plans especially to support operations and signalling in the short and medium term by the General Manger and Head of Department. The new head of operating and signalling inspector positions are being advertised shortly, together with defining short medium and longer term plans for resourcing.  The new format Heads of Department management meetings have been seen as making good progress, and as they demonstrate effectiveness, this may allow Operational Executive Committee to meet less frequently. Recruitment continues for a new Head of Finance to replace Roger Savill when he retires.

 Finance Director report

December’s seasonal performance appears to have been strong. Due to lower outgoing expenditures, mainly from deferred staffing costs, coupled with additional income from Network Rail and stone trains, which will not recur in 2017, our cash outflow was considerably below 2016  budget, meaning our cash reserves at 2016 year end are considerably above the minimum we had set and certainly well above earmarked committed  funds. This is a good financial result. Full details of our year-end figures are still being compiled, ready for the required formal audit.

John Irven, January 2017.


The PLC Publishes Consultation Proposals on Developments at Bishops Lydeard (Southern Gateway)

The PLC has, in conjunction with its stakeholder partners (West Somerset Steam Railway Trust, West Somerset Railway Association, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Friends of Bishops Lydeard Station who together form the Project Board) launched the consultation process for major developments at Bishops Lydeard Station. Known as Southern Gateway, the Programme sets out ambitious and far-reaching proposals to be achieved over the next 10 years and beyond to enhance operational, heritage and customer facilities and services together with the customer experience at Bishop Lydeard.

The accompanying three documents set out the arrangements for consultation, the presentation on the proposals and the more detailed consolidated planning brief from which the outline proposals are drawn. Consultation will last until Friday, 28 April 2017 and there are a series of meetings planned and the opportunity to make written responses details on which are contained in the consultation brief.

This is the culmination of 18 months hard work building on ideas that go back up to 20 years for enhancing Bishops Lydeard and providing range of facilities and services that can be found on many of our contemporary heritage railways across the UK. The Project Board are keen to hear from staff, shareholders and other stakeholders and so please take the opportunity to participate. We look forward to hearing from you."

Further Information