Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'

The original Somerset and Dorset Railway closed very controversially in 1966. It is time that decision, made in a very different world, was reversed. We now have many councillors, MPs, businesses and individuals living along the line supporting us. Even the Ministry of Transport supports our general aim. The New S&D was formed in 2009 with the aim of rebuilding as much of the route as possible, at the very least the main line from Bath (Britain's only World Heritage City) to Bournemouth (our premier seaside resort); as well as the branches to Wells, Glastonbury and Wimborne. We will achieve this through a mix of lobbying, trackbed purchase and restoration of sections of the route as they become economically viable. With Climate Change, road congestion, capacity constraints on the railways and now Peak Oil firmly on the agenda we are pushing against an open door. We already own Midford just south of Bath, and are restoring Spetisbury under license from DCC, but this is just the start. There are other established groups restoring stations and line at Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone, and the fabulous narrow gauge line near Templevcombe, the Gartell Railway.

There are now FIVE sites being actively restored on the S&D and this blog will follow what goes on at all of them!
Midford - Midsomer Norton - Gartell - Shillingstone - Spetisbury

Our Aim:

Our aim is to use a mix of lobbying, strategic track-bed purchase, fundraising and encouragement and support of groups already preserving sections of the route, as well as working with local and national government, local people, countryside groups and railway enthusiasts (of all types!) To restore sections of the route as they become viable.
Whilst the New S&D will primarily be a modern passenger and freight railway offering state of the art trains and services, we will also restore the infrastructure to the highest standards and encourage steam working and steam specials over all sections of the route, as well as work very closely with existing heritage lines established on the route.

This blog contains my personal views. Anything said here does not necessarily represent the aims or views of any of the groups currently restoring, preserving or operating trains over the Somerset and Dorset Railway!

Sunday, December 31, 2006

surfing the third wave of rail preservation

Rail preservation has happened in three distinct stages.

In the early days (1950-1965) there was still steam on the national network, so the first schemes had to be quite original to get visitors. The Talyllyn was narrow gauge as was the Festiniog. The Middleton Railway claimed to be the world's first line, the Bluebell grabbed historic locos and vehicles to give it its unique selling point (USP).

As we reached the end of BR steam lines no longer needed the same sort of USP - a commitment to restoring a closed line and running it with steam was enough. The second wave lines (1965-1980) were usually branch lines or sections of main line bought from BR, track intact.

The third wave of preservation is very different from the first two. Most lines are being rebuilt on empty track beds, stations being rebuilt from rubble, and the lines themselves are usually lines of particular interest to the enthusiast (but with tourist potential). Had the preservation movement been more mature at the start it is these third generation lines that would have been the first wave - Welsh Highland, Ashover, Lynton & Barnstaple, Glos & Warks, Southwold, WCPR, Glyn Valley Tramway and, of course, the S&D.

The first wave was distinctly amateur, I can imagine the first preservationists being brought up on Boys' Own, Meccano Magazine and classical music. The second wave were more Railway Magazine, flares and disco music. The third wave are professional, internet-savvy and into Indie and hip-hop.

The first wave created the idea of rail preservation and probably had the hardest job of all. But once established they opened the door to the second wave, still with plenty of choice thanks to Beeching and Castle, and latching on to the tourist industry. The third wave are more visionary, using clever marketing and modern communication technology to spread the idea, to make once 'impossible' schemes quickly become viable. They are uniting heritage and real transport needs as the world runs out of cheap energy. Most third generation lines are promoted as 'real' transport links, often using exotic fuel, echoing the novelty approach of the first wave lines. Many second wave lines are also morphing into real transport links, especially those on lines that should never have closed (Swanage, Alresford, Minehead etc)

There will be a fourth wave as we approach climate breakdown and the end of oil; new lines with little or no heritage input, filling primarily a transport need as cars, buses and lorries vanish from our crumbling roads. They will still have railway 'enthusiasts' as their promoters in many cases, but they'll be hard-headed businesspeople first and foremost. Many lines will be rebuilds of former routes, but others will be completely new, using heavy and light rail technology to keep the country moving.

The S&D will bridge the third and fourth waves, starting as a small heritage set up and finishing as a large multi-modal transport corridor carrying freight, passengers and tourists in the post-road world, using fuels no more exotic than wood and sunlight/wind power, employing hundreds and serving the community again after what will, in a historic perspective, seem like a small rail-less break when the world went mad for a generation or two.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

a short break ...

A few shots from the last working weekend in 2006. Midsomer Norton will reopen on 7 January, once Xmas and the New Year are out of the way!

It's been a brilliant year for Midsomer Norton, with the signalbox almost back, the lease on the extension signed, the station trackwork just about completed, membership soaring and income increasing from all the retail and other activity we're been engaged in. The Telegraph goes from strength to strength, the catering coach is now flourishing and the atmosphere is coming back. We also received outline permission to operate public trains from 2008.

2007 is going to be an interesting year with track appearing on the extension, the signalbox completed and - possibly - membership reaching the 1000 mark. We also have four events planned and a possible steam visitor. The catering coach will offer regular Sunday and evening meals throughout the year, the blogsite, website and myspace should be even better. And there are rumours of discos on the patio once the longer evenings and warmer weather return! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 21, 2006

more signalbox progress

Some further shots of the signalbox taken last Sunday (17 December 2006). Tiling is proceeding quickly, with half of the front of the roof now completed. The bottom views were taken from the downside viewing platform, near the pillbox. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

another successful santa weekend!

This was the entrance to Santa's grotto at Midsomer Norton. Over 80 children visited Santa over the weekend.

Mystery chef and reindeer spotted in the catering coach after the children had all been shunted out. We're already lloking forward to next year's event. All that's left to do this year is the first Xmas lunch in the catering coach this Sunday. Then we can all take a well-deserved break after what has easily been the S&D's most successful year yet. Posted by Picasa

silver street developments ...

The protective works at the Silver Street end continue to progress well despite the generally bad weather. This sleeper built wall will have a bund behind it and a sliding buffer in front. One downside is that the view down the line has now all but disappeared although this will return when the bridge is replaced. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

the shirkers' annual shindig ...

Through dank woodland runs a narrow gauge line ...

Some of the Monday Gang squeeze into a tiny carriage ...

Their train vanishes into the woods ...

But later the whole gang are reunited in the Country Park Restaurant at Brokerswood where we had our annual Xmas lunch. In previous years these have been in pubs around the Midsomer Norton area, but we went a bit further afield this year. There were also more of us as the volunteer squad has grown and - shock horror - wives and girlfriends were allowed! Posted by Picasa

tiles ahead

Scaffolding erected around the front of the signalbox.

Tiles are now starting to appear on the front of the signalbox roof - the back is already completed.

A permanent reminder of those who paid £1 per tile to get the roof back on. Currently on display in the station shop, this will soon be transferred to the rebuilt box. Each tile is also marked with the doner's name. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 08, 2006

swiss lessons

(ASD 11 in Aigle, 07/07/82)

We're currently showing a couple of Swiss DVDs in the station shop featuring trains in the snow, just to get the kiddies in the right mood for Santa's visits this weekend.

We could learn a lot from the Swiss system! Railways are everywhere, in some villages they are the only form of transport, services are frequent and punctual. Some lines are very heavily engineered with viaducts that make Prestleigh and Midford look like toys, others run along village streets and country roads, some are both! Very few lines have closed, almost all are electrified. Where there is a railway competing buses are not permitted on the same route. Services start early and finish late. Even single track lines often operate a very busy service. The railway companies provide social services like mobile libraries and play areas for children.

If anyone doubts that railways are the future they should look at Switzerland and see how things should be done! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 02, 2006

2008 - a year to remember

Steam Railway magazine has let the cat out of the bag so now it's public - the S&D should be running again, for the public, by the summer of 2008. Track should extend to over half a mile by then.

Now is definitely the time to join the Trust if you're not yet a member. The workload in order to get running is heavy but manageable, new volunteers will be made more than welcome! Work up till now has mainly been preparation, building etc, as well as setting up administration systems ready for the big day, but from 2008 we'll need drivers, station staff, guards, signalmen and women, gardeners, retail and office staff. We expect membership to go through the roof once we're up and running!

On a personal note I'm planning to get married on the reopening day, with a reception up at the station!

Monday, November 27, 2006

painter and decorator

We are incredibly lucky at Midsomer Norton in having one of the UK's leading artists right on our doorstep - and a lover of the S&D to boot! David Fisher was at the station today launching his latest masterpiece, 'Wait For Us'. This features the soon-to-be-reinstated bridge over Silver Street. David will be at the station on the Saturday (9th December) during the Santa weekend.

This is his previous work, 'Let Battle Commence', featuring the first test run of a 9F, facing the Mendip gradients at the Dorset end of Radstock station.

Another shot of the latest work ... which would make a superb Xmas present for your hard-working Blogger (hint!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

go to the WC and P

Another potential start-up line in Somerset is one option being looked at by the WCPR group. The Weston Clevedon and Portishead line was a ramshackle Colonel Stephens affair which linked the three coastal towns. It closed in 1940 but there has been more than one proposal to reopen it since closure. It does seem a bit of a no-brainer with few engineering works, a flat route and in a major tourist area. It would also serve a pretty useful transport need, Clevedon and Portishead are far too large to be without rail access even now, after Peak Oil rail access will be essential. Weston of course retains its railway via a loop off the main Exeter to Bristol line. Clevedon and Portishead lost their links to the main line in the 60s. Portishead in particular is crying out for a rail link, and almost all the GW branch is still in-situ. There is an active group to restore this link as soon as possible.

So in a matter of weeks two lines with a Colonel Stephens connection are being considered for restoration - the WCPR and Snailbeach. Of course both the Kent and East Sussex and East Kent lines are partly restored, a scheme to reopen the Selsey Tramway using Parry railcars stalled a few years ago.

There is an inaugural meeting of the new WCPR group being held this Thursday, 30 November, details on their website.

Friday, November 24, 2006

wood you believe it?

From vilification to vindication - wood burning steam is not solely an idea from my (apparently) drug-addled mind, but is now being considered by yet another start-up line. The Kielder Railway is intending to use waste wood from Kielder Forest to power its steam locomotive.

Of course when I manage to tear myself away from my beloved wholesale quantities of crack cocaine this makes perfect economic sense, particularly in an oil-less future. The price of coal will rocket as demand increases. Coal is finite, wood - when carefully managed - is not only infinite but can be carbon-neutral.

And yes, I am keeping my eye on fusion, which will of course be the ultimate key to a solar economy, but there is only a 50% chance it will work, and it will still be high-tech in a low-tech world. You'll never get a locomotive-sized fusion reactor, let alone a car-sized one, and who would seriously want to see catenary over Midford Viaduct in any case? It's rather missing the point ...

The lovely irony of course is that nuclear fusion will be yet another form of steam power, as it will be steam generated by fusion that will drive the turbines ... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

sign of the times ...

The idea seemed simple enough ... ask Doug to update last year's Santa sign to take into account the new dates and prices. So he paints out the old dates, then puts the sign in front of the fire to dry ...

Problem is the sign's plastic and decides to melt!

Oh well, we can calm down by concentrating on this nice evening scene at the station. The sign, repaired and updated, now adorns the astronomical garden. We've already sold nearly a quarter of the Santa tickets. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 18, 2006

back to bath green park

Try to get along to Bath Green Park tomorrow (19 November 2006) for the Model and Collectors' Fair between 10 and 4.

Chair John Baxter will be there to answer your questions and sell you books, DVDs etc.

It's nice being back at BGP again, it may be another thirty (or even forty) years before we can return triumphantly by train, but in the meantime it's good to see that this magnificent station is re-establishing its links with the S&D ...

The key to really establishing the S&D as Britain's premier steam railway is a rapid return to Bath and the rebuilding of the finest section of railway in England - Radstock to Bath. That time is now approaching.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

yuletide extravaganza ...

We absolutely promise that the above display will NOT - ever - appear at Midsomer Norton! We have far better taste!

This year we're doing our Santa weekend but with the added touch of a party up at the catering coach - free to all those who see Santa and just £3 for their older brothers, sisters, parents etc - as much food and drink as you want for no extra charge. This will be over the second weekend in December, Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th. Santa will be in his grotto handing out individual presents for the children between two and five on both afternoons.

Midsomer Norton station is a pretty magical place at the best of times, but with dusk falling on a cold (and perhaps even snowy) day, with the fairy lights shining and Xmas music playing, who could resist a visit?

The following weekend attention switches to the grown-ups with an Xmas meal in the coach on Sunday lunchtime (17th, 12.00 and 14.00). Take it easy, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy excellent food at reasonable prices (£7.50 for two courses, vegetarian option available).

We expect heavy demand so try to book early for any of all of the above! You can visit the station any Sunday or Monday to pay in person, send a cheque/PO, made payable to 'SDRHT' to 107 Anchor Barton, Horningsham, WARMINSTER, BA12 7LR or press any of the Paypal buttons on the sidebar for instant booking!

Please give children's name(s), age(s) and sex(es) when booking for Santa.

Please state whether vegetarian option required when booking for the meals, and for Sunday preferred sitting (12 or 2). Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

beef stew this sunday

The catering coach just keeps going from strength to strength! This week's treat (Sunday, 19 November, 2006 12 - 3pm) is beef stew. Arrive early to guarantee a seat!

Remember that the coach is open every Sunday and Monday from around 11 to 4 with a good range of food and drink at very reasonable prices. Dine in first class comfort at third class prices!
The coach will be busy in December with the kids' parties (in connection with the Santa events) on the 9th and 10th, an evening Xmas meal on Saturday 16th and a grand Xmas meal on the Sunday 17th in the day. Booking advised! Posted by Picasa

more developments at midsomer norton

The first signs of the shingle trap and bund that will provide extra safety measures at the Silver Street end of the station.

The track plan attached to the ground frame at the southern end of the up platform. Beyond here double track will gradually be restored once the sleeper stack is moved and used up on the extension. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 11, 2006

into the heart of darkness

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Back in the 70s Seamus Heraty used to sneak into opposing football teams' fans on the terraces, pull out his football scarf and fight his way back out of the crowd, gaining bruises and kudos.

It'll probably be much the same for me later today when I venture deep into GWR territory with the S&D table and display boards at the Westbury Model Railway Show at the Paragon Hall in the High Street (10.00 till 16.30).

Please try to come along to lend moral support and buy stuff from our sales stall!