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!
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!
What a surprise. Our current 'government' in its rail White Paper misses the point totally - little mention of Climate Change, none!!! of Peak Oil, or even a real understanding of the inevitable continuing increases in traffic under 'business as usual'. The one bright point is that the government does sort of concede that new lines will be needed but that local initiatives will have to kick start the huge rail revival all normal people know is coming. But they need to actually do their bit - by simplifying planning permissions, at the very least match fund local financial support and by levelling the playing field for all forms of transport by raising petrol taxes, introducing more congestion charges and making cars and lorries pay for the environmental damage they do.
The extract is below -
7.23 While stations can be developed relatively rapidly (some 40 new stations have been opened in the last 10 years), the Government does not envisage changes in the pattern or level of demand large enough in the HLOS period to justify developing or opening new regional lines. Individual proposals will of course be subject to consideration on their merits. The Government recognises the role that rail can play in facilitating growth, evidenced by the recent agreement to re-introduce passenger services to Corby. However, the Government does not propose a blanket approach to safeguarding all potential alignments or disused lines. This would be disproportionate and blight homes and properties.
Strict controls are already in place for the development of railway land, and local authorities can use local planning processes to protect sites or alignments if they deem this appropriate.
There are exciting developments on the retail side at the moment. We've started to stock models, also a lot of new stock items are on order and expected at the shop soon. Also the eBay, web and blog sites will see huge development over the next few months.
Amazingly the second hand shop is running short of stock! Just a couple of months ago we were totally overwhelmed with the middle office storeroom almost full to the roof with old books, videos, CDs etc. The whole lot has now been sold raising much needed funds. So all donations of books etc are now more than welcome at the shop! We sell everything at just 50p an item, so it's always worth a look to see what we've got in stock. Buying or selling, please call in the shop any Sunday, Monday or (from 16th August) Thursday, between 10am and 2pm. ALL books are wanted, not just railway books! Also welcome are videos, DVDs, records, CDs, maps, cassette tapes, magazines etc etc.
Blogger seems to have been affected by a bug making photos load then disappear over the last couple of days. It may be flood-related as we've lost our phone for about 12 hours now, and Broadband is down in many parts of the country outside of the flood area. Looks like Climate Change effects are already causing problems, as so often forecast on this blog.
Will try to make progress tomorrow! Thanks for your patience.
The astonomical flowerbeds are looking great despite the strange weather this summer. It's amazing what a sharp edge-trimmer and a wholesale qunatity of bedding plants can do in the way of transformation!
Thankfully Midsomer Norton has been spared both of the big deluges of the last month or so, though we only just missed Friday's. But it's a timely reminder of the sort of conditions we'll be facing more and more as the atmosphere warms up. Rail is being pushed as one of the biggest 'cures' to Global Heating, particularly where sustainable energy is used. With Peak Oil finishing off cheap oil and most road use over the next 20-30 years everything is moving towards a huge revival in rail. It's still hard to determine exactly how this will effect the S&D, but revival of lengthy sections of the line is probably the least we can expect!
With new photo opportunities opening up all the time both on the restored sections of line and the waiting-to-be-restored remainder, we've now started up an S&D Photographic Group on Flickr, which anyone can submit their photos to. Please click here to join.
Very hectic at Midsomer Norton today. 48 kids up from the local school, a visiting film unit, plenty of ordinary visitors and more volunteers than I've seen in a long time! If this is what we can manage on a middling Monday before trains are running just imagine the crowds when we're running regular steam at weekends!
Sometimes when you look at the work needed just to restore from Radstock to Shepton you wonder how long it will take to restore the S&D proper, relay the track, demolish incursions, repair the engineering works, rebuild the stations, put the signalling back in, raise money, train staff, complete all the legal arrangements, rebuild Prestleigh Viaduct, purchase locos and stock, negotiate running agreements with other lines (Network,East Somerset,North Somerset,North Dorset,Gartell) etc etc.
And then you can see just how easy it can be by looking at the restoration of the Welsh Highland from Carnarfon to Portmadog, 25 miles of line closed 30 years BEFORE the S&D, now likely to be fully reopened in just two years time. Or look at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire, now ten miles of busy line where there was once just empty trackbed and demolished stations.
And then remember that our line is the S&D, possibly the World's favourite line, and that our work lies ahead, in a world of unstable climate and Peak Oil, both which work totally towards rail and against the old-fashioned and dying 'alternatives', and suddenly it all seems so easy ...
We should never take what we've achieved at Midsomer Norton for granted. Britain is littered with failed preservation schemes, from the Westerham Valley Railway sacrificed for a motorway(!) to the above (Shoreham-Beeding), a line that should have been preserved as it would have tapped into a huge tourist trade. And of course schemes closer to home including Radstock to Writhlington and the Midford set-up.
The interesting thing is that many of these schemes seemed straightforward - track still down in many places, or short routes with little obvious obstructions.
Other lines that looked doomed from the start - Kent and East Sussex, Swanage, even Minehead - have really flourished. And did any of us really see the Welsh Highland reopening throughout?
It seems to me that the lesson to be learnt is - be ambitious! It's mainly the smaller schemes that have failed - they probably just did not ignite real enthusiasm, did not build up a head of steam and did not attract the real players.
The scheme at Midsomer Norton seemed to take ages to take off - the original plan to just restore the station and - perhaps - a small 'demonstration' length of track would never have worked. The S&D deserves a REAL preservation attempt - miles of track, big engines, plenty of stations, all the grandeur and iconography of the original line. This is what we're now working for - the Mendip Main Line. Midsomer Norton to Shepton at the very least, with the line to Bath happening at the same time or very soon after. And Shepton to Templecombe isn't really that far ...
Midsomer Norton is secure, but it's taken us fifteen years to get as far as we have. Over the next fifteen years progress will be a lot faster as we move into the post Peak Oil world, and as the new S&D becomes more widely known. Even now we still rather hide our light under a bushel, but this blog, the website, the superb Telegraph Magazine and an increased media presence shows our determination to change that!
The First Arnos Castle Rainbows visited the station tonight for a meal and tour. They loved it! We're getting more and more visits from small parties, it's particularly good seeing the kids at Midsomer Norton as they'll be the ones running the line in the future!