Our proposal is to operate an entirely new route, principally on the Taunton - Swindon corridor. At first we can only introduce three direct services to Swindon, due to high levels of congestion beyond Westbury. However, we will also operate a further three services to Frome or Westbury, with the aim of connecting with services to Swindon already on the timetable. This greatly enhances the connectivity of the network in the west country, giving hundreds of thousands of people a real alternative to car travel. Journeys that were previously very difficult or impossible by rail (for example, Yeovil to Taunton, or Frome to Chippenham, or Taunton to Frome, should now become practical. In years to come we hope to ensure at least one train very two hours for each of these.

Discussions between Go-Op and the West Somerset Railway could lead to a scheduled daily service linking the national rail network, via Taunton, to the heritage railway at Bishops Lydeard for the first time in 50 years. Passengers will be able to change there for leisure services to Minehead, and may also see an increase in bus services so that more people in West Somerset and North Devon can access the railway. Passengers. A further opportunity is to take some services up through Bridgwater to Weston super mare, and we expect to do this three times a day.

Our plan is to begin operation with a modest operation with just two train sets in operation at the same time so as to test our systems and trains with minimal impact on the wider network. This means that our timetable must necessarily rely heavily on interchange with other operators services, and our timetable will consist of a few long distance movements combined with a number of short distance shuttles.

We now have run times for the sections of the route calculated precisely and to the standards of the network code, and a path analysis that confirms our timetable to Westbury and Swindon is compliant with other operators needs. There is a long standing shortage of suitable rolling stock - but we see a way to repurpose multiple unit sets designed to operate with overhead electric lines to run instead from a large onboard battery. This is an ambitious project in itself, and will take the rest of 2021 to deliver.

Our objective is to meet not only the aspirations of our members but also the requirements of Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road. We believe we have made good progress on all of these, including:

• Putting in place a professional, experienced and broad-based management team

• Showing that the route will be able to operate profitably within four years

• Having a credible plan for recruitment and operations

• Setting up a bond guarantee for our contributions to network maintenance

• Confirming insurance cover for whole service

• Proving the feasibility of a plan to secure suitable class 769 rolling stock

• Preparing a detailed safety management system

Collaboration is key to the success of this project and we would welcome approaches from partners who are interested in how these new connections might fit in with their strategies. In particular, we'd love to hear from social, co-operative and community enterprises. Please contact info@go-op.coop to discuss further.

Rail Facts (source: Transport 2000)

  • Passenger journeys on Britain’s railways exceeded one billion – the highest since 1959
  • Public transport is often the only way to travel for many groups of people such as the elderly or people on low incomes
  • Rail links in rural areas and smaller towns will not only ease social exclusion but also sustain and boost local economies
  • Train operators estimate that demand for rail travel will grow by 66% over the next 20 years

Open Access is seen as a positive solution by others too. Connecting Communities an Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) report argues that the demand for rail services has soared in the last decade. "Record passenger numbers and rising demand require us to plan for the long term, while climate change and population growth make it vital that in doing so, we adapt the rail network to meet tomorrow's needs. Providing attractive new services and easier access to the rail network will encourage passengers to switch to rail from other, less green, modes of transport.” (ATOC chief executive, Michael Roberts).