Saturday 3rd August 2019
South West Trains started the ‘run trains to link with heritage railways’ trend a couple of summers ago (before they handed the keys over to South Western Railway) by running a few trains on a summer Saturday on the connecting tracks from Wareham to the Swanage Railway at Corfe Castle. This summer on selected Saturdays GWR are doing the same thing between Taunton and the West Somerset Railway at Bishops Lydeard.
It started last week with today the second Saturday the shuttle train has run with five more Saturdays to go: 17th, 31st August, 7th, 21st September and 5th October. There are five return journeys each day and tickets can be bought online from the West Somerset Railway or on the train for £4 single and £6 return with half price for young people and dogs (!).
You can also buy through tickets to the West Somerset Railway (but not its individual stations) from any GWR station and this includes travel on the shuttle train.
Today’s shuttle had added spice for those ‘all the stations’ completists among us as the train was also calling at the hardly ever used ‘station’ of Norton Fitzwarren located just after the junction where the connecting track to Minehead leaves the main line. The platform here belongs to the West Somerset Railway and is only used in conjunction with its annual Steam Fayre and Vintage Rally held on adjacent land and today was Rally day.
Indeed, as well as GWR’s shuttle train, West Somerset Railway was running a few additional journeys with its DMU shuttling between Bishops Lydeard and Norton Fitwarren as has happened in previous years after the platform was built on its current sight ten years ago.
But what got us all excited today was that it’s the first time a mainstream Train Operating Company has run trains to Norton Fitzwarren, and, as last Saturday, to Bishops Lydeard. A small piece of railway history in the making for rail station aficionados.
The platform at Norton Fitzwarren has never had it so good and the crowds came out in force to mark the occasion; and enjoy the Rally!
I travelled on the first shuttle train from Taunton at 09:35 this morning and our refurbished Class 150 two coach train left with a full seated load.
The deal with GWR seems to be they provide the driver and train with West Somerset Railway providing the ticket collecting staff and other staff to marshall and assist passengers. They were certainly doing a good job making sure everyone had tickets this morning and making us all feel welcome.
About two-thirds of the passengers on board alighted at Norton Fitzwarren (photographed above) for the Rally and the rest of us continued to Bishops Lydeard (photographed below) with most then continuing on to Minehead on a WSR steam train.
We pulled into Bishops Lydeard on time at 09:56 to find the platform heaving with excited Steam Fayre and Vintage Rally bound fans. Luckily everyone just about managed to cram themselves on and we left for the return journey to Taunton on time at 10:03 full and standing.
Most alighted at Norton Fitzwarren but a few of us continued back to Taunton and one or two, like me, were pleased to have ticked off this unusual extension to the national network rail map.
However with just seven Saturdays and an independent ticketing system I would think the Office of Rail and Road won’t classify it as an ‘official’ extension just yet, but based on today’s crowds we can optimistically hope this may become a regular summer feature like Corfe Castle and Okehampton, albeit a Rally no doubt helped bring the punters in today.
Steam Fayres and Vintage Rallies aren’t really my thing and I had some serious Somerset scenic summer bus riding planned for the rest of the day which I’ll report back on in the next blogpost.
In the meantime here’s a lovely bus I spotted back in Taunton this morning also running a shuttle to the Rally at Norton Fitzwarren and this one was free.
I hear the bus is owned by one of the Directors of the West Somerset Railway so good to see modal integration on heritage railways even if mainstream rail struggles with it sometimes!