West Somerset Railway celebrates S&DJR 50th anniversary

Some people called it the ‘Slow & Dirty’. To others it was the ‘Serene & Delightful‘ but, however you wish to recall it, the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway has become one of Great Britain’s most celebrated railway lines and, 50 years after closure, it still remains as popular as ever.

53808-Minehead

I had the chance a few days ago to be involved in the West Somerset Railway’s excellent Spring Gala, which took the 50th anniversary of the S&D’s closure as its theme. For my part, I provided a bus link between Taunton railway station and the WSR’s southern terminus at Bishops Lydeard.

It was a very enjoyable day but there was a price to pay – I had to leave my house at 04:30 to be in position with my allocated bus by 07:35! Good grief, why do I accept these duties?!

Once again the staff at Crosville Motor Services had done their bit. My bus, a 1975 Bristol VRT originally supplied to Crosville in Chester, had been cleaned and fuelled the previous day before being parked at the front of the garage. Dawn was just breaking as I drove out of the depot, heading for Taunton.

It always takes a while to become really familiar with a bus that’s ‘new’ to me. I hadn’t driven this VR before but I quickly found that it’s in great shape, remarkably free from the creaks, groans and rattles that usually accompany a ride in a bus of this type and age. The semi-automatic gearchange was a delight, too. Some semi-auto ‘boxes seem to hang on to the previous gear too long when changing, making for a rather jerky ride but I found it easy to make changes that were silky smooth. The trick, of course, is to pause in neutral as you would with a manual box while the revs die away, otherwise the bus will lurch forward in the new gear. Not only that but it’s not good for the transmission either!HTU159N-Bishops-Lydeard

My first departure was 07:45, as advertised in the Railway’s publicity. Only four hardy souls boarded! The journey to Bishops Lydeard only took about 20 minutes and on our arrival a member of the platform staff came and introduced himself. He was keen to know how long my journey had taken because the next arrival would connect with the 09:05 train to Minehead.

There was no problem meeting this train and enthusiasts in greater numbers formed a queue at the ticket office window. After two more trips, my morning’s work was done so I parked the bus in a coach bay and walked up to the ticket office myself. I had been in contact with the WSR’s Commercial Department a couple of weeks earlier on a marketing matter and the fruit of this was that I found myself on the platform holding a free Day Rover ticket!

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An absence of action

OK, so it’s been a bit quiet around here. Not because I’ve lost interest, far from it. I’ve been away to warmer climes for a holiday.

It wasn’t a busman’s holiday either, before some smart-alec asks. Having said that, Lanzarote does have buses. Here’s one trying to squeeze onto the car ferry.

They’re nearly all single deckers and about half a mile long. The 3-axle air-conditioned Irizar monstrosities seem to weave around the narrow streets of the resorts with very little bother at all. The drivers, both male and female, are expert at judging distances and negotiating tight corners. Some buses even have anti-grounding devices (for want of a better phrase) which are strong metal extensions to the chassis mounted under the front of the body. These serve to protect the hugely overhanging bodywork from striking the pavements.

Then there’s the stunning coach fleet of AmandaBus. Sleek, modern …and pink. And yellow. In fact every colour under the (extremely hot) sun.

Now I’m back in the UK it’s back to normality and a weekend of heritage buses. I’m conducting on the Exmoor Explorer both days (with another new trainee) and a number of our fleet will be out running the shuttle service into Taunton for the WSR Steam Fayre and Vintage Vehicle Rally at Norton Fitzwarren. If you come for a ride on the Service 400 from Minehead, introduce yourself!

Back of a bus, just to be different

Today I was on duty again for the West Somerset Railway Spring Steam Gala. No, not on the railway but on the heritage bus that was helping to run a shuttle service between Taunton Railway Station, the Silk Mills Park & Ride car park and Bishops Lydeard station. The photo shows LFM 302 waiting to pick up passengers at the stop beneath the railway bridge at Taunton Station. Taken from the back for a change and showing off the shapely lines of the 1950 Weymann bodywork.

On one of the morning trips I had a very interesting conversation with a chap who does fund-raising lectures for the A1 Steam Trust, the group that built LNER A1 Pacific 60163 “Tornado”. Watch out, he may be coming to a society meeting near you!

Another passenger introduced himself, having read a post of mine on the National Preservation forum. Nice to put a face to a familiar name!

Well, that had better be all, it’s nearly Saturday already!