A ROW has broken out over the amount of cut price and free travel enjoyed by members of the West Somerset Railway Association on the heritage line.

In its on-line newsletter in October, West Somerset Railway PLC revealed the attraction had an income shortfall of £111,000.

It also said about £39,000 of free travel had been enjoyed by members of the West Somerset Railway Association charity in 2011, with the figure for 2012 ‘following the same pattern’.

Association members are entitled to one day’s free travel a year and half price fares thereafter for an annual fee of £19, compared to a standard adult ticket price of £17 a journey.

Commenting on the issue of free travel in the newsletter, Humphrey Davies, chairman of WSR PLC, said the £111,000 deficit was due to reduced passenger numbers, adding that capital expenditure has had to be limited to essential works.

“To ensure our ongoing financial viability, we need to obtain full benefits from the assets of the company,” he said.

“The board has been looking at the benefits given to individuals travelling on the railway and in the process identified some £39,000 being enjoyed by WSRA members for free travel in 2011.

“Shareholders who have made substantial financial contribution to the company do not enjoy the same level of benefits.

“As a consequence, the WSRA has been requested to contribute a more equitable proportion of the cost of providing this benefit to their members.”

Responding in the WSRA’s December newsletter, chairman David Williams said he was ‘disappointed’ that the comments had been published without the association being given opportunity to respond.

He said: “The article rather infers that the association is not ‘paying its way’ and is getting ‘something for nothing’ from the railway as a whole.

"That proposition is incorrect, especially when, from a financial point of view, the railway and the current PLC would not be in existence had the association not, in the past, backed it financially at times when the company was without money.”

He goes on to say that the charity had contributed ‘nearly £2.5million’ to the railway over the past decade, including £41,000 towards improvement projects in the last six months and a £70,000 investment in the Norton Fitzwarren triangle project.

A later edition of the PLC’s newsletter says the association had not nominated a trustee for inclusion on the company board, despite it being invited to do so on a number of occasions.

But Mr Williams again dismissed this, saying that nominated candidates were rejected while others attended for interview and ‘heard nothing’.

WSR general manager Paul Conibeare said a trustee from the charity had been invited to attend the next board meeting on January 26 in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

Have your say on the situation at somersetcountygazette.co.uk