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!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

contrarian views

I must be a glutton for punishment! I'm going to actually claim that the closure of the S&D was the best thing that happened to us. Before the more rabid of you start sending me unpleasant 'comments' just give me a chance to explain!
Had the S&D survived closure it would have been rationalised, the Midford-Bath section would have been replaced by a diversionary route via Limpley Stoke, diesels would now reign supreme, the stations would have been replaced by bus shelters with many closed completely, today's S&D would have resembled the Castle Cary-Dorchester route.
Think about it - how many fans does that line have today? Yet in many ways it resembles the S&D, running through similar countryside. No, it wasn't just the scenery, the heavy expresses, the charm of the branches, the stations with their classic Wessex names and the family atmosphere that brought the S&D its thousands of fans, it was its run-down and closure that gave it a poignancy and regret that lines which survived have never garnered. And it is that that has allowed the S&D to be reborn. Had the line survived, preservation and reopening couldn't have happened - the S&D would now be an integral, characterless part of the network, to be operated in perpetuity. That of course will still happen if we don't preserve enough of the route before the oil runs out. We have a unique window of opportunity.
This is why we are still the Somerset and Dorset Railway Heritage Trust, rather than just the Somerset and Dorset Railway. 'Heritage' allows us to get our foot in the door. For years yet, possibly even a decade or two, it is the heritage aspect that will be paramount. But at the same time we're rebuilding a railway, and that railway is growing almost on a weekly basis. Membership is steadily rising, more and more working members are now coming to Midsomer Norton every week. The buzz locally now is that we're serious about getting back to Radstock. Radstock is such a key location, because once we are there reopening to Bath will look more and more like an inevitability rather than a dream. And all the time we'll be pressing southwards towards Shepton and Templecombe.
Also there is now far more interest in sustainability, with new steam design entering the agenda. Steam will survive once the oil runs out, the technology is simple (although it is also of course used in nuclear generation), there is still plenty of coal, though as a finite resource even coal will run out eventually, wood is totally sustainable and it won't be long before 'sustainable, steam and wood' enter the agenda collectively.
The post-oil world may be a dangerous place, but it doesn't have to be. Preparation is the key, getting ahead of the pack the secret. We're planting those seeds in several ways. Firstly by carefully restoring a real transport link, secondly by looking at genuine replacements for oil, thirdly by investing strategically now - in forestry, trackbed, new technology etc.
So the closure of the S&D, tragic though it was, has allowed us to do what we're doing now. We're not dancing on its grave, far from it, we're digging it up and resurrecting it, warts and all. And that is the best tribute this unique and wonderful line could have. Bringing Back Our Trains is only part of it!

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