The freehold of the line and stations is owned by Somerset County Council; the railway is leased to and operated by West Somerset Railway plc (WSR plc); which is supported and minority-owned by charitable trust the West Somerset Railway Association (WSRA) and the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust (WSSRT). The WSR plc operates services using both heritage steam and diesel trains. It originally opened in 1862 between Taunton and Watchet. In 1874 it was extended from Watchet to Minehead by the Minehead Railway. Although just a single line, improvements were needed in the first half of the twentieth century to accommodate the significant number of tourists that wished to travel to the Somerset coast. The line was closed by British Rail in 1971 and reopened in 1976 as a heritage line. It is the longest standard gauge independent heritage railway in the United Kingdom. Services normally operate over just the 20.5 miles (33.0 km) between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard. During special events some trains continue a further two miles (3.2 km) to Norton Fitzwarren where a connection to Network Rail allows occasional through trains to operate onto the national network.
History In 1845, when the Bristol and Exeter Railway (B&ER) had recently completed its main line, there were proposals for a number of different and competitive railway schemes in west Somerset. A Bristol and English Channels Direct Junction Railway was proposed as a link from Watchet through Stogumber and Bishops Lydeard to Bridport on the south coast, which would be an alternative to ships taking a long and dangerous passage around Land's End. This prompted the promotion of a connecting line from Williton to Minehead and Porlock, a line designed to attract tourists to Exmoor. Shortly afterwards, a Bristol and English Channels Connection Railway was suggested from Stolford to Bridport which would have passed through the Quantock Hills near Crowcombe. Alternatively, the Bridgwater and Minehead Junction Railway would link with the B&ER at Bridgwater and run through Williton to Minehead with a branch to Watchet and a connecting Minehead and Central Devon Junction Railway would provide a line to Exeter. An alternative link to South Devon was proposed by the Exeter, Tiverton and Minehead Direct Railway through Dunster and offered an extension to Ilfracombe.
For further information visit the website - https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk