Somerset

West Somerset Railway's future in doubt after £800k loss

Trains at Minehead station Image copyright Geograph/Gareth James
Image caption The railway has suffered trading losses of more than £800,000

The future of a heritage railway is in doubt after the company made a trading loss of more than £800,000.

The annual report of West Somerset Railway, seen by the BBC, shows this compares with a profit last year of £12,000.

The company's annual report questioned its ability to "continue as a going concern".

But chairman Jonathan Jones-Pratt said the attraction was "sustainable" and a "viable" business and would continue.

Since his appointment a year ago the railway was shut for three months after criticism from the rail watchdog.

The Office of Rail and Road told the attraction it had "significant number of important actions to take" but stopped short of handing out an enforcement notice.

Image caption The 20-mile (32 km) line between Minehead and Taunton was closed by British Railways in 1971

In the past there has been disharmony between the organisations which run the attraction, West Somerset Railway Plc (which employs staff) and West Somerset Railway Association (a volunteer group).

Mr Jones-Pratt said the aim is now to "rebuild the cash reserves" to create "a sustainable, viable business".

The chairman of the railway's association, Paul Whitehouse, said it had a future under the leadership of Mr Jones-Pratt.

"We can raise money provided that we work together and Jonathan Jones-Pratt is quite confident that the railway company and the association are together and will succeed," he said.

However, many volunteers have left meaning more staff have been employed. In five years the payroll has risen from £700,000 to £1.25m and ticket sales alone will not cover the running costs

Volunteer Ann Saunderson said she was "very sorry to see it in the state it is it now".

The 20-mile (32 km) line between Minehead and Taunton was closed by British Railways in 1971.

The following year, the council bought the branch line and leased it to West Somerset Railway.

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