Last Friday (16 July) saw the start of West Somerset Railway (WSR) steam trains running almost the full length of the line from Bishops Lydeard through to Dunster again which linked up with a small fleet of heritage buses travelling onwards to Minehead, and then returning later in the day.
Two of the vintage buses were open-top types, both of which were very popular with visitors given the sunny weather, with another disabled friendly bus on hand too so that everyone could travel.
The vintage bus shuttle services certainly proved their worth in carrying over 120 people on the Friday, and then many more passengers over the weekend, bringing Minehead back as a destination for the 20-mile line once more.
The attached pictures show just how popular the bus-link service was and which will continue now through the Summer until the re-opening of Seaward Way level crossing which is being completely rebuilt to be fit it for 21st century safety standards.
And from Monday 19th July, the WSR opened all staffed stations between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead. This means that passengers will be able to walk up, buy a ticket and travel again on the historic West Country branch line behind a steam engine but without necessarily pre-booking.
The classic sounds of former GWR steam engines working hard over the steeply graded foothills of the Quantocks and down to the sea, are echoing again through the Somerset countryside.
Stations at Bishops Lydeard, Crowcombe Heathfield, Williton, Watchet, Blue Anchor, Dunster and Minehead will be open for business again, and the connection between Dunster and Minehead will, for the time being, be made by historic open top vintage bus.
However, the smaller stations at Doniford and Washford will remain closed for the time being. Despite the easing of regulations on 19 July, the WSR team is working hard to ensure that passengers remain safe whilst Covid is still in circulation.
For this reason, the service pattern will be different from previous operations. Passengers from Bishops Lydeard, Watchet and Minehead will be able to purchase advanced reserved spaces at tables or in compartments, either by phone 01643 704996 on the internet at
https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/events Various special food and drink options are also available, in addition to the regular buffet car sales.
Trains will depart from Bishops Lydeard at 10.15, 12.35 and 14.45 for all stations (except Doniford and Williton) to Dunster, and then use the free vintage bus connection to Minehead. The buses leave Minehead at 1150, 1410 and 1615 to connect with trains back up the line to Bishops Lydeard. Throughout the remainder of July and August, trains run every day except Mondays and Fridays.
All trains will be hauled by Great Western designed steam engines. New to service on the line is GW large tank Class 5101 locomotive No. 5199. Originally built in Swindon in 1934, this locomotive has recently been refurbished and completely repainted in the WSR’s Minehead locomotive works.
GWR 5101 Class locomotives of this type operated on the Minehead Branch for three decades from the 1940s to the 1960s, although this particular engine spent much of its time in the West Midlands. It has come to the WSR after spending time on the Llangollen Railway in North Wales.
For the first time in the 45-year-long preservation era on the West Somerset line, vintage buses are being used on a regular basis between Minehead and Dunster stations which is proving to be something of a novelty for visitors.
During fine weather, the intention is to use traditional seaside open top buses. Travel on these historic buses is included in the rail ticket and there is no extra charge, but please note that bus travel is not available to non-railway passengers.
A more modern bus is available additionally to convey disabled passengers and their travelling companions. The vintage buses in use may change over the summer, but at present there are two.
The first is nearly ninety years old! It is a former Devon General AEC double decker, originally built in 1934 with a closed top. It was converted to open top in 1955 and operated along Torquay and Paignton sea front. Withdrawn from regular service with in 1961, this bus moved to South Wales for a while before entering preservation.
The second bus is a relative youngster at a mere 45 years old! It is a Bristol VR type which first entered service with the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1976, the same year the WSR first started running trains.
These buses will continue is service for most of the summer, but work on completing Seaward Way Level Crossing is proceeding well. A number of contractors, and the WSR’s own technical team, have been working for several months, and the main technical contractors – Amey Rail – will start work on the ground shortly.
The new closed-circuit television system is also due to be installed shortly. At the moment, it is unlikely to reopen for passenger trains before the end of September. But everyone involved is working hard to try to bring that date forward.
So, if you want to be certain of a trip on a vintage double decker bus, then now is the time to book a tri