Private railway that caters for car lovers

IN A BATTLE between road and rail, the people running Britain's longest private railway stand accused of coming down in favour of the car.

Board members of the West Somerset Railway are charged with pandering to the whims of car-borne tourists at the expense of trying to connect the 21-mile railway to the BR network four miles away.

The railway carries about 120,000 passengers a year between Minehead, Somerset's biggest tourist resort, and Bishop's Lydeard, a dormitory village on the outskirts of Taunton, the county town. .

It operates several special trains a year when enthusiasts make the journey between BR and the West Somerset over the existing track to Taunton. But to upgrade the service for daily use would cost pounds 1m- pounds 2m, and substantially increase running costs.

Dennis Taylor, chairman of the West Somerset Railway, denied that the goal of a link to Taunton had been abandoned - there were other calls on the company's cash. He said: 'We can't see it happening at this time. We are a tourist attraction and one for the steam enthusiast. We are not a provider of transport to get from A to B'

His attitude did not find favour with the Minehead Planning Action Group. They are incensed by a consultants' report to Somerset County Council on the tourism potential of the railway. It rejects any idea of a Taunton link, even if funds were available, but did not consider the question of rural transport.

Mr Chris Dyer, secretary of the action goup, said: 'The consultants' report is dubious to say the least. Thousands of people bought shares because they wanted to reopen the railway line, not run a tourist attraction.'

(Photograph omitted)