TRAIN services must be restored on the West Somerset Railway as soon as possible to avoid ‘devastating’ financial consequences, local MP Liddell-Grainger has warned.

Mr Liddell-Grainger feared any excessive delay could prove highly damaging to the railway’s business and to the wider tourism sector in West Somerset.

The 22-mile heritage line, owned by Somerset County Council, was effectively cut in two just before Christmas when water cascading off a field washed out part of the embankment at Tribble Bridge, a mile from the railway’s eastern terminus at Bishop’s Lydeard.

The track remained in place but tons of soil was carried down into the gardens of neighbouring homes, and now hugely expensive engineering works were going to be necessary to rebuild and support the embankment before trains could run again.

Experts have already started designing a scheme and offers of help have come from other heritage lines and Network Rail.

But Mr Liddell-Grainger said it was clear the bill for the remedial work was going to be enormous.

He said: “Unfortunately, this has happened at a time when the railway company is already facing considerable spending on other infrastructure projects so there are some serious questions being posed as to how the work is going to be financed.

Watchet station steam trains West Somerset Railway
Watchet Station on the West Somerset Railway. ( )

“But financed it must be, otherwise West Somerset is going to be deprived of its major tourism asset yet again.

“We saw during the months when the line was out of business because of Covid restrictions what an invaluable cash generator the railway is for tourism generally across West Somerset.

“The company has been making steady, if slow, progress in returning the line to service over the last 18 months but this incident coming as it does on the back of huge increases in the cost of coal and other essentials, is threatening to set financial recovery back by months.

“It is no exaggeration to say the West Somerset Railway is an irreplaceable element of the tourism sector in this part of the world.

“I would urge all public authorities and agencies to provide whatever support they can towards restoring services over the entire line.”