The Bristol & Exeter Railway was one of the pioneering railways that was heavily influenced by the mercurial engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Built initially as a broad-gauge line, the Bristol & Exeter was to become part of the Great Western Railway legally in the 1870s but the relationship dated back to the line’s earliest years. From the main line a number of branches and secondary routes were established, such those from Taunton to Minehead and Barnstaple, and from Tiverton Junction to Dulverton and Hemyock; these resulted in Somerset and most of east Devon being effectively dominated in railway terms by the Great Western and by its post Nationalisation successor, British Railways (Western Region). By the 1950s, however, the economic of the railway industry had deteriorated and, gradually, most of these routes - with the exception of the main line between Bristol and Exeter and the route from Taunton eastwards towards Frome - closed completely. The last branch to lose its passenger services was that from Taunton to Minehead; preserved on closure and gradually reopened, the West Somerset Railway is now one of the country’s pre-eminent preserved railways. Drawing largely upon the collections held by the Online Transport Archive, Western Steam on Bristol & Exeter Lines covers the railway operation over the ex-Great Western lines in east Devon and west and north Somerset.
Featuring some 100 images, the majority of which are previously unpublished, the book explores the changing face of railway operation over the years from the mid-1950s onwards. To emphasise that steam in the area is still very much alive, the book concludes with a short section portraying the evolution of the West Somerset Railway over its 40-year existence.