West Somerset Railway could run out of money unless vital funds are raised

The West Somerset Railway covers 22 miles of track between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead Credit: ITV News West Country

The historic West Somerset Railway will run out of money and be forced to close unless urgent fundraising takes place.

That is the warning from the boss of the company which runs it.

The 22-mile former GWR branch line has been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. Trains are now running along most of it again this summer, but the organisation says it needs to raise £1million in an 'SOS funding appeal'.

Unable to operate for much of the last year and with a short summer season in 2021, the railway has been left with a big financial impact.

The organisation's chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt says action is needed: "The focus now is just to survive," he said.

"If we do nothing and sit still the railway will bleed itself dry of money and it’s why we’re working hard with the charities to understand how we can get our campaign going to help support the railway to make sure that the railway is here ready for next year.

"To drive this business out of the hole that we've found ourselves in with Covid and now to come through to a very short season is very difficult. We're running less and we've also got some of our staff that are still self-isolating."

The railway is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Somerset Credit: ITV News West Country

While it is now running trains again, the line has been shortened because of a need to upgrade the Seaward Way level crossing in Minehead. The railway now hopes to rely on generosity to raise those vital funds.

Steve Williams is a director at the company and says they are confident the appeal will be successful. He said: "Last year when Covid emerged we raised in excess of £500,000 so we’re confident that people, our shareholders, our supporters, the local community and others will help us to move towards that sum."

It’ i people who have that passion for the railway who make it tick and are desperate for it to survive.

Barbara Stone is a volunteer ticket inspector and lives in Bishops Lydeard, which is at one end of the line. She said: "It would be such a shame if this place had to close down.

"Everybody in the village loves it. I’ve got new neighbours - they said the first thing they ever heard was a train whistle and it really made them feel at home."

Hundreds of volunteers, like Phil Young, help to keep the railway running Credit: ITV News West Country

Phil Young works as a volunteer fireman on board the train. He said: "At the risk of sounding cliched it’s the whole boyhood dream thing. I wanted to do this when I was a kid, when I got to 40 I had the opportunity to move down here and I took it.

"So that’s really why I’m here - just fulfilling a boyhood dream."

Chris Austin volunteers in the railway's museum at Bishops Lydeard station. He said: "The railway touches everybody’s lives.

"It’s core to the community and society and it’s just a fascinating thing to be involved with, whether it’s the running of trains or the economic impact it has on the community it served."

The West Somerset Railway had hoped to pick up a second grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, but was unsuccessful. It now needs money from elsewhere to keep the much-loved sight of trains on its tracks in the future.