Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Thursday, June 29, 2006
It's not just the S&D and the Peak Oil enthusiasts who are looking ahead to a world without oil. The Swedish government are already planning for an oil-less future from 2020. Our own government, trailing as usual, is giving us a few clues that even they are preparing covertly for the inevitable.
Sustrans was a clever idea - pushing the responsibility of maintaining the future rail infrastructure to an NGO (at no overt cost to the taxpayer except those daft enough to play the Lottery!) was quite forward thinking, though I'd have preferred the French/Irish/Swedish route of mothballing the rail infrastructure with track and signalling intact! Sustrans shouldn't cry crocodile tears in twenty years time as their cycleways are grabbed back by a desperate government; at least the S&D will work with cycle groups rather than against them as Peak Oil hits home.
Have a good look where nearly all new supermarket development is taking place - it's invariably alongside existing or to-be-restored rail routes. The government hasn't quite made the quantum leap in thinking that will see future retail activity locally-based (ie no supermarkets) but they are half-way there! Putting supermarkets next to existing or future rail routes, in the government's thinking, means that they will still be able to be supplied with products once road transport is finished.
The real threat to road transport isn't simply Peak Oil, but the cost-benefits of maintaining a road network for a small number of private cars and public buses. It won't be economic, and taxpayers won't pay for an elaborate and under-used infrastructure that they won't have access to. As always discount the exotic 'oil-replacements' like biofuel, hydrogen or batteries. They will be vastly more expensive than fossil fuel and consequently not available to most of us. Watch over the next ten years as almost all infrastructure investment is switched from road-building to rail/tram building and the encouragement of rail and rail vehicle manufacturing within the UK (and elsewhere of course).
Every day brings us closer to the end of the Oil Age and to the reinstatement of the S&D throughout.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Midsomer Norton 28/06/06
Working with ballast and scalpings today, giving Mike a chance to play with Derrick.
Shovelling some of the bigger stones.
Also an excuse to use the bucket to fill up the dogfish for future tracklaying.
By the end of the afternoon it's looking quite neat, all ready for the Midsummer event!
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Just out is issue 27 of the S&D Telegraph, surely the best in-house magazine of any independent railway in the UK!
44 pages, no advertising, colour cover, great articles. Who could resist it? As well as coverage of the 40th anniversary events and the usual departmental reports, there are articles on Peak Oil, Tony Howe's emotive recollection of the last day, a report on the failed railtour when the two locos failed at Exeter and a reprint of Ivo Peters' article on the S&D 2-8-0s which originally appeared in Trains Illustrated in April 1956.
All members get 3 or 4 issues of the Telegraph each year, it can also be sent by mail order or collected from the shop at just £2.95. Back issues of numbers 25 and 26 have already sold out, despite us printing hundreds of extra copies!
Monday, June 26, 2006
Midsomer Norton South 26/06/06
It isn't always blazing sunshine on the S&D! Here's a shot of the signalbox today wearing a huge plastic rain hood.
Looking down the line through the gloom towards Chilcompton.
Dave 'Two Dogs' chats to Norman (with the girly umbrella) whilst his two dogs get wetter and wetter and look longingly towards home.
A last look at the station in the rain today.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
So just when was the golden age of rail? The beginning of the twentieth century when rail reigned supreme, before the hideous motor car made its appearance?
The 1930s when the streamlined expresses worked the main lines, and every place of any size was still linked to the network?
For the S&D fans the 1950s when the expresses and reliefs used to queue block-to-block from Bath to Bournemouth and back again?
For the trainspotters (RIP) the 1960s when there was a huge variety of steam, diesel and electric locos working a whole range of trains, before idiot Beeching wrecked the lot?
For me the 1970s when there was that strange atmosphere of neglect, rusting sidings and lifted branches, but also a time when you could still have a train to yourself and things could only get better?
Or today, with a huge increase in rail traffic, packed trains and bulging stations, when the only route now is expansion and the closures of the 60s and 70s are being reversed?
Or in fifty years time, with a hugely expanded network, no road competition, almost all freight carried by rail, the S&D restored throughout and wood-burning steam locos the order of the day? All fed by a vast network of light railways and tramways giving every town and village a railhead within a few miles at most?
Friday, June 23, 2006
Midsomer Norton South 23/06/06
A rare trip out of the office and up the line today. I managed to grab a few nice pictures before the sun sank too low! The cladding for the signalbox has arrived, as well as the new Mike Arlett DVD. We're expecting a small coach party tomorrow, so the engine will be running up and down a few times for their entertainment!
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Just arrived at the sales office today - literally - is TVP's excellent new DVD and book commemorating 40 years of S&D closure. This uses both archive film and film specially short in March 2006, including Bath Green Park, the West Somerset Railway and Midsomer Norton, showing the very different ways the 40th anniversary was marked. Mike Arlett commentates. Running time is 75 minutes so this is very good value! The book is 20 pages with many photos, all in full colour.
To order the DVD and book please send a cheque payable to 'SDRHT' for £14.50 (£12.95 + £1.55 post and packing) to
SDRHT Sales Office
107 Anchor Barton
or Paypal £14.50 to firstname.lastname@example.org for return of post service
or pop along to the station (Sundays/Mondays) and pick up one in person!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
It seems odd that it’s taken forty years for the reversal of the idiotic closure of the S&D to start, and it’s worth looking at some of the possible reasons why.
There’s a story (surely apocryphal) that the whole S&D was offered to anyone interested in 1966 for £50,000! That’s line, stations, signalling, the lot. Even if true would a privately-owned S&D have been viable back in the sixties? The preservation movement was in its infancy, rail was (incredibly) seen as a dying technology, and marketing was unheard of. And at the same time steam was still reasonably common on British Railways, so steam on the S&D wouldn’t have been that much of a novelty. On top of the £50,000 locos and stock would have had to be found, and at that time about the longest preserved line was the Festiniog at 7 miles, the longest standard gauge was the Bluebell at 4 miles. A 100-mile preserved line would have been impossible to run economically - in 1966.
As the sixties became the seventies rail preservation was beginning to find its feet, the Dart Valley and Keighley and Worth Valley were added to the small list of standard gauge lines, and a small preservation set-up was emerging at Radstock, with the seemingly very reasonable and easily-achievable plan to restore the (in-situ) line to Writhlington.
Its failure in the anti-rail 70s surely left a bit of a cloud hanging over the S&D. Attempts (mainly pipe-dreams) to set up other schemes all fell through, without even laying track. The 80s were the real low-point for the S&D, not an inch of track remained and the clock was ticking.
So how could the finest line in the country be allowed to reach such a state? Surely with the huge love and support of rail enthusiasts and local residents at least part of the S&D could have been reinstated, even if only as a tourist attraction? Less worthy lines were being restored all over the country, the Great Central was restoring a double-track main line, the West Somerset turned a decaying branch line into a 20-mile plus tourist trap, even once empty trackbeds were being restored.
Was it the sheer magic of the S&D that frightened people off? Surely those coffin-chasers in the 60s actually quite liked the idea of being the ’last ever’ passengers on the line, there was perhaps a poignant grandeur in decaying stations fading in the mist, the ‘Withered Arm’ generation prefering the easy route of fondly remembering the recent past rather than facing up to the sheer hard work of restoring one of those dead routes? Perhaps they still see the next generation, those of us born too late to travel on and know the original S&D, as somehow inferior to them? Or perhaps there were simply too many other distractions - established steam railways, music, women, cheap sangria etc?
The world has changed so much in the last thirty years that perhaps it’s difficult for any of us to really get into that downbeat mindset any longer. Rail is in the ascendant, roads are coughing their last as the oil runs out, people want to live quieter, friendlier, more connected lives. Doors are opening for us all along the S&D.
Perhaps the S&D needed that period of temporary closure from 1966 to 2007 to gain an insurmountable mythic status where the iconography of Ivo Peters melds with the pathos of Jeffery Grayer, where Mike Arlett’s dulcet if somewhat pessimistic tones are replaced by the guitars of Arctic Monkeys to transform a whisper into a shout that ‘we are back, and this time it’s for good!’
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
These are the bufferstops placed at the Bath end of Midsomer Norton station. Hopefully their stay will be a short one as the Radstock extension should begin to take shape in everybody's minds well before the line begins to actually appear on the ground! Plans may take a northwards swing once we reach the infill at Chilcompton, beyond the tunnels. The cost of removing the spoil may be greater than the cost of replacing the two bridges on the way to Radstock. Always follow the line of least resistance when restoring railways!
Why Radstock? The main reason is simply that a station at Radstock, designed for the 21st century S&D, would be a more practical base for the line than the cramped site at Midsomer Norton, which is on a steepish hill with minimal parking on site. Radstock is flat! A station on the opposite side of the road to the Mining Museum would be a huge draw to passing traffic, as well as providing a natural added attraction to the museum. We are already the two major tourist attractions in the area, and are working closely together with an eye on developments over the next few years!
A return to Radstock will also concentrate minds on the Radstock-Bath line, which in an oil-depleted world will become Radstock and Midsomer Norton's principal connection with the outside world. Personally I see the Radstock-Bath line as firstly a 'real' railway, running commuter and freight trains onto the network and, ideally, into a revitalised Green Park station. But also it must become a premier league tourist route, taking hundreds of thousands from Bath through the stunning scenery at Midford and Wellow down to the tourist centres of Radstock and Midsomer Norton, and on down to Shepton Mallet, and eventually beyond. There will inevitably be billions of government money available in the coming decades for rail reinstatement as the roads grind to a halt. We need to be ready for this. The new station at Radstock needs to be designed for through running from the very start, preferably at a level where the Bath road can be bridged rather than crossed on the level. This will be a very busy route in the future, and at least for a few years there may still be enough road transport to cause conflict! And who could resist a triumphant return to Bath?
Monday, June 19, 2006
Recent views of the signalbox, now rising majestically at the south end of the station. Top view is the newest (19 June 2006), the rest over the last month or so. Much of the internal workings have already been purchased, glazing and roof tiles are still needed, donations are always welcome (of equipment, labour or cash!)
After the box is complete the famous greenhouse will be restored, hopefully for growing bedding plants and fruit and vegetables for the catering coach.
Then after a short break to rest on his laurels Graeme could perhaps be given the task of rebuilding Chilcompton box! It'll probably be needed well before most of us expect.
Midsomer Norton South 19/06/06
Poor cousin of the tarted-up down platform is the up (Bath-bound) one, which is still pretty much in post-1966 condition. However with the station building and down platform complete it's now time to hit the up platform. The original tarmac has reverted to lawn at the Chilcompton end, and will probably stay that way until we can afford resurfacing throughout (at around £5000). Hopefully this will be before train services resume in 2007, as the up platform will probably be used for arriving trains, which will then set back on to the down platform for the next Chilcompton-bound departure. Note that the signalbox, just a hole in the ground 18 months ago, now has the roof timbers in place.
Another view of the up platform lawn!
At the Bath end the tarmac has stood the test of time a bit more! The fence is looking reasonable.
Dave, a new volunteer, is working well on restoring the up platform shelter, here cutting pieces for the surround. It will have a fresh coat of paint before the Midsummer event!
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Scenes from the Shepton show today which - despite the heatwave, some sort of football match and the S&D AGM - went very well for us. Best sellers were the 'Sabotaged and Defeated' book (an exercise in post-modernist irony) and fridge magnets, including the new ones for Evercreech Junction, Glastonbury and Street, and Bath Green Park which made their debut today. We're down there again tomorrow from 10 till 4.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Whilst you lot are barbecueing sausages and your own flesh over the coming hot weekend, a few diehards will be flying the flag for the S&D at Shepton Mallet. Event is the Shepton Mallet Model Railway show at Whitstone School, Charlton Road - times are 10 till 5 Saturday and 10 till 4 on Sunday. We'll be bringing a ridiculously large range of stock, plus the new fridge magnets for Glastonbury and Street, Evercreech Junction and Bath Green Park.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
On the sultry afternoon of 4 June 2006 No 10 is hauling a single truck which is being filled - at last - with some of the sleeper pile, Derrick doing the hard work!
A bit of welcome shade from the Wildspace trees on the up platform at Midsomer Norton.
Nice view over the station from the up platform 'lawn', signal box continues to head skywards!
A look towards Chilcompton in the summer haze.