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!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


When I get jaded at Midsomer Norton I always take time out from the office and take a walk around the site.

Yesterday was great - nice weather and lots going on. Dave from Devizes was repairing the retaining wall and the Monday Gang were gathered round a spectacular bonfire at the far end of the extension - they are almost the Chilcompton Gang these days!

Back at the station the signalbox looks great, with part of the frame in place inside.

I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I see the progress all around. It's amazing that a site that nearly vanished under bland housing has now almost returned to its 1950s condition and we're now only just over a year away from running regular trains on the real S&D again. It's also inspiring to think that this tiny part of the S&D will be the launch pad for restoration of this magnificent line, restoring a real transport service to this part of the world.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

21st century trains

This blog is rarely controversial - the only real conflict seems to be between 'nostalgists' and 'modernists'. Nostalgists seem to love steam, uniforms, the good old days and a sort of pointless 'wasn't it better in the olden days' attitude. Modernists seem to love the future, shiny clean things, beeps and flashing lights and an aversion to grime, hard work or humanity. How the hell do we square the circle and keep both sides happy?
The S&D attracts people from both camps and from every in-between shade.
So will the future S&D be 'Slow and Dirty' or 'Sleek and Diminished'?
Progress is an odd thing, it means different things to different people. I actually think the 1950s, when residents of Radstock or MN could travel to Bath, Bournemouth, Frome or Bristol by train, was far more advanced than today, where the roads are horribly congested, full of ignorant and bad drivers, and the railways are currently closed. Where's the 'progress'?
Restoring the S&D can only be progress. It will give at first an alternative to the slow grind of trying to struggle anywhere by car, later it will mean we can still travel when there are genuinely no alternatives.
But what will the trains be like? A few years ago the successors to BR were so ignorant that they produced new trains where the seats didn't even match the window profiles, so passengers if they were unlucky were stuck looking at a blank wall! Today many trains, even outside the peak, are horribly crowded. People need personal space and they need to feel comfortable and safe. The old mark one coaches did this admirably, with the open saloons allowing little personal spaces for groups of 4 to 10, the compartment coaches doing the same for families. Everyone got a window, normally everyone got a seat.
And if travelling is a series of images and atmopheres what better way than to have the sight, sounds and smells of steam lingering to heighten those atmospheres? Diesel (RIP) and electrics will never do it. Steam is both a simple and efficient way of powering vehicles. Our most advanced power-generating equipment (nuclear power) uses steam, there's nothing old fashioned about it. It's dirty, but what's actually wrong with dirt? Who likes sterility anyway? And the best thing about steam is that it can be made fully sustainable - by burning wood rather than coal. On my economics blog I always advise buying gold, land and forests. The future will be built on gold and wood. The simpler an engine is, the less transformations the energy sources have to go through, the less friction and inertia, the more efficient it is. Steam may have started the 21st century in retreat, but it will end it as the victor over all the exotic and unsustainable sources we currently use as if they will last forever.
So perhaps the circle has been squared. Because on the last day of this century I can see the S&D running powerful steam locomotives pulling rakes of mark one (or very similar) coaches. The rails will be full of passengers and freight, the stations will be manned and warm and welcoming and once your train has passed in the night the countryside will be quiet and peaceful again with no intrusions from cars and planes. Surely this image will appeal to both the nostalgists and the modernists - steam supreme in a sustainable and prosperous world?

traffic jams at bournemouth

One of the advantages of being involved in such a large and long-term project as rebuilding the S&D is that you can focus on a small section, a piece at a time. But you always need to keep the bigger picture in the back of your mind!
At Midsomer Norton we've put all our energies into rebulding the station and getting that first tiny section to Chilcompton rebuilt. But with a return to Radstock now beginning to take on a concrete dimension, and with the inevitable talk of rebuilding back to Bath, it's easy to forget that the S&D also powered south, all the way to Bournemouth.
The Bournemouth area is a bit of an anomaly - a large conurbation with no real rail commuter flows. Bournemouth is in a dangerous position with Peak Oil looming. It was once very forward-looking, with a decent rail system and trolleybuses right up to the late 60s. Now it's so car-reliant it makes you wonder just how stupid the authorities down there are!
Bournemouth should be a real winner in the Climate Change/Peak Oil future. With Peak Oil ending commercial aviation and Climate Change making most of southern Europe uninhabitable, Bournemouth is going to see huge development as a tourist destination. People will need a way of getting there, and a single rail route from Southampton is highly unlikely to be able to cope with the flows.
Prior to 1964 there were four routes to Bournemouth - the surviving line, the S&D, the line from Salisbury and the Ringwood loop. The last three were all closed between 1964 and 1966. They were all stupid closures, even without hindsight! Nearing Bournemouth they served a large suburban hinterland, connecting important places like Blandford, Wimborne and Ringwood to the outside world. No-one would deny these places rail connection now, even before Peak Oil. Had they been kept they would today be very busy routes, and the towns would be bigger too. Post Peak Oil all these towns will need to be reconnected. Somehow the S&D will need to also thread through this area to bring in long-distance trains, which will jostle with the suburban and freight flows. In particular Broadstone to Poole is going to be an extremely busy route! It may be that a tramway or metro will prove to be the best solution to local transort needs, possibly on-street, in which case the S&D could retain a dedicated route south of Blandford and Broadstone. Whatever happens rail development in the Bournemouth area in the coming decades is going to be spectacular and frenetic!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the swing towards rail

Thirty years ago rail was in decline and roads were in the ascendant. It's taken thirty years for everybody to accept that the reverse is now true. Railways did not close because they had served their purpose but because in the 60s and 70s there was still a cheap alternative - oil. Governments tend to think in 5 year cycles (which match the electoral cycle), the fact that oil would become scarce from 2000 and vanish almost totally by 2030 didn't figure in the Beeching Plan or even in transport policy a few years ago.
Now signs of the crunch are all around - initially increasing congestion as the rail alternatives are not yet in place but economic development continues, the pressure on air travel is growing daily, years before the true economic pressures hit, climate change is accelerating but, most notably, oil/resource wars are proliferating at the same time as the world's big powers juggle for position in the post-oil world, whether it's the US developing (fake) biofuel industries or the BRIC countries developing much of their industry and infrastructure in a sustainable way. Future cities in the developing world are being designed to be car-free - this is not a lifestyle choice but harsh economic reality kicking in.
There's no longer a case to be made for the end of road transport - the case has made itself through the twin perils of Peak Oil and Climate Change.
The actual choice is between two futures - a stay-at-home low activity locally based economy or a rail-based high tech national economy. Globalisation will only survive through the Internet - probably the most important technological development since railways. The probable outcome will be a synthesis of stay-at-home and rail. Economic activity will be based in small cities, market towns and villages with much produced close-to-home, but hopefully with some element of travel and inter-regional trade requiring a dense railway network to carry freight and people. Hopefully things won't get so dull and 60s socialist that travel and holidays for pleasure vanish entirely!
The outlook for the new S&D is looking rosier by the day, and progress on the ground is matching progress in the outside world. It may be thirty years before we can hop on a train at Midsomer Norton and ride all the way back to Bath quickly and safely, but each day that passes brings us a day closer!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

new for sale

New stock just in - Templecombe, Binegar and Masbury Halt S&D totem fridge magnets. Also a first for us is a Western Region Midsomer Norton and Welton fridge magnet in chocolate and cream. We now have just about the whole of the northern section of the S&D covered, Glastonbury on the branch and the first of the Frome-Bristol line totems. The aim is to cover the whole route including the branches in time for the launch of our super glossy sales and information booklet some time in the summer.

Magnets are £2.50 from the shop, some are available from our eBay shop and website and most should be on very shortly.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

inching ahead ...

More temporary track on the new extension bringing us out of sight of the station and deeper into the countryside. By next year this should be fully operational and ready for the grand reopening!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

verminous visitation

Today we had a meeting with the Washford Trust in the catering coach, which has led to some excellent ideas for future cooperation.

Whilst in the coach this fellow walked down in front of the museum block and sat posing for about ten minutes whilst we took photos!

Many stations have had station cats but are we the first to have a station fox?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

radstock - world heritage site?

For those of you who can get hold of a copy of this week’s 'Midsomer Norton, Radstock and District Journal' [free local paper], published 1/2/07, there is an excellent headline letter (1/3 page) from Trust member Michael Knox, who lives in Milton Keynes.

The general gist is that Norton Radstock need to abandon the idea of a few/several/way too many new houses on the old GW Radstock station site and instead go bold and establish a World Heritage Site for Steam, Coal and Railways !!! It makes my idea for trains back to Bath and Shepton seem quite tame !

It’s a nicely written article and I look forward to the various replies next week. It's good to see someone thinking way outside the box. Michael argues that the site of a 9F powering up from Radstock to MSN will bring people from far and wide (it will CERTAINLY do that!!) and that bold plans now will reap rewards in the future.

(Adopted from JW's email to SDRHT Departmental heads 1/2/07)
Of course this is exactly the sort of clever idea that -
a) Does justice to the uniqueness and importance of the S&D and
b) Challenges the lesser characters that still exert a small amount of influence locally to explain WHY this shouldn't happen!
In the meantime we'll keep laying a panel at a time - but I get a sneaking feeling that this WILL happen with the right support ...