WSR Rail Renewal

The West Somerset Railway track uses 53,000 sleepers and well over 40 miles of rail. The rail has a life of between 50 and 100 years. Much of our track is at the very end of its life and we urgently need to renew it.

Bullhead rail has now been almost completely replaced by flat-bottom rail on British railways, although it survives on the national rail system in some sidings or branch lines.

As a Heritage Railway, the West Somerset Railway would like to keep Bullhead rail demonstrated in the station surrounds and other areas where it can be observed and understood. The unseen parts of the railway will use the more cost-effective flat-bottomed rail, similar to that used on the mainline.

Rail Renewal Project Plan & Appeal 2021-2022

Focussing on two heritage projects, which we aim to carry out when funds permit:

  1. Renewal of the heritage points and connecting track at the Minehead end of Blue Anchor Station. The cost of this is estimated at £102, 000. A detailed breakdown of these costs is available.  Originally built in 1874, the station at Blue Anchor was enlarged by the Great Western Railway in 1904 to cater for the increasing amount of holiday traffic to Blue Anchor and Minehead. The station features several heritage installations, once common on railways but now almost completely removed. These include:
    • The points at the west end allowing trains to switch between the single track and the two tracks in the station. These feature a facing point lock, which prevents the points moving under the train which risks derailment. This lock is a “fouling bar” where a long metal arm is pivoted to lock the rails by a lever in the signal box. This is believed to be as installed in 1904, and unique.
    • The wheel operated level crossing. This allows traffic on the road through Blue Anchor to cross the railway, by means of wooden level crossing gates operated by a wheel from the signal box. Once common, almost all of these have been removed from railways, or replaced by power operated, automatic gates. The wooden gates were refurbished in 2021, funded by a grant from the Cultural Heritage Recovery Fund.
    • The catch points at the east end of Blue Anchor. These were installed to trap and derail any vehicles running down the hill towards Blue Anchor, before they could hit the level crossing. This dates back to the time when rail traffic included unbraked, loose-coupled goods trains whose couplings could, and did part. The installation of continuous braking on all rail vehicles rendered catch points redundant, and most were removed.
  2. Relay of the heritage track on the down loop of Williton station. This is estimated at £133,000. Again, A detailed breakdown is available. The down line in Williton requires replacement, with new wooden sleepers and improved track drainage. This will be carried out using heritage bullhead rail on wooden sleepers to maintain the heritage railway within the station.  See below for an explanation of Bullhead rail.

Bullhead Rail

Bullhead rail was the standard for the British railway system from the mid-19th until the mid-20th century. One of the first British Standards, BS 9, was for bullhead rail – it was originally published in 1905 and revised in 1924.

Bullhead rail is similar to double-headed rail except that the profile of the head of the rail is not the same as that of the foot. Bullhead rail evolved from double-headed rail but, because it did not have a symmetrical profile, it was never possible to flip it over and use the foot as the head. Therefore, because the rail no longer had the originally-perceived benefit of reusability, it was a very expensive method of laying track. Heavy cast iron chairs are needed to support the rail, which is secured in the chairs by wedges or “keys” which require regular attention.

Here are some examples of the materials that could be purchased with your donation:

£3,000 buys a full 60ft panel of bullhead track including all fittings (50 years life)

£1,800 buys a full 60ft panel of flat bottom track including all fittings (100 years life)

£840 buys a length of bullhead rail

£560 buys a length of flat bottom rail

£52 buys a durable wooden sleeper with serviceable chairs and keys

£28 buys a concrete sl5eeper with new fittings

In 2019/2020, donations to the Rail Renewal fund contributed over £155,000  towards renewal of the West Somerset Railway track.

The Rail Renewal Project Purpose

is to provide support for ongoing maintenance and renewal of the heritage West Somerset Railway track and provide for the safe running of trains and display of heritage carriages and locomotives.

Please help

Give a one-off donation towards our Rail Renewal fund or set up a regular payment.  You will be re-directed to the JustGiving Checkout to make your donation and the WSRA will receive 100% of your donation.  You may be asked to make a contribution to the checkout costs, which is discretionary.