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!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

the built environment

Above two - Midsomer Norton South signalbox 2008

Pontins' terraced chalet - 1950s

Multi storey car park - who cares?

Take a look at the signalbox at Midsomer Norton. Every aspect of it is human scale, attractive but functional. Inside it is cosy but also efficient, the large windows connect immediately with the outside world. The whole scene is one of pleasantness.

Contrast it with pics 3 and 4. The Pontins shot shows that it's not age that gives the built environment its attractiveness. And as for the multistorey - what were we thinking of?

The entire rail infrastructure in its classic form was a magnificent synthesis of humanity and engineering. What more attractive scene could there be than the wayside country station with a steam train at its platform?

Much of the nastiness of 'modern' life's infrastructure is the fact its been built around the car, it's been created with built-in obscelescence and with no care. Money is always involved, everything has to be done as cheaply as possible.

The future, the one the New S&D will be such a part of, will be totally different. With no cars or roads towns and villages will reorientate towards its railway stations. With labour freely and cheaply available, and the artisanal skills which originally created the built environment of the past back in favour big time, once again we'll be able to create buildings that people can relate to, that people want to work in and be near. The New S&D will be architecturally magnificent, from the humblest platelayers' hut to the mightiest viaduct.

Peak Oil isn't all bad by any means!
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Friday, January 30, 2009

we are definitely not alone!

(Bottom pic Mick Knox)

Just posted to the message board -

I'm afraid the problems with aiming at restoring any railway, seem to be people who have no interest in providing a SERVICE eventually. Its all about playing ( ! ) "choo - choo's" and thier own self importance. There are several railways where this attitude is prevelant.

To my way of thinking, the ULTIMATE aim should be LONG railways LINKING towns, villages and other population areas that will provide an alternative to overcrowded and unsuitable roads. I imagine quite a few people who are dead because of road traffic accidents on poorly maintained and overused roads would possibly be alive and well today HAD the railways been left and used, and they had the option of travelling by rail.

However, the point of the exercise above all else in 'preservation' should be, first and foremost, track mileage and the aqquisition of such mileage BEFORE any stock or buildings are envisioned. Maybe the East Somerset COULD have reached Wells or EVEN Cheddar by now HAD the priority been track miles as opposed to engine sheds etc! All very pretty, but what use is 2 miles of track which terminate NOWHERE ! People soon tire of the short little 'hops', but if the S&D could link, say Sturminster to Blandford for example, there would be a possibility of providing local people with regular, safe and reliable transport for shopping, business and leisure also, but not least: The railway would provide JOBS from staff, to engineering to all aspects of training YOUNG people towards a sustainable and progressive industry on the rails!

Ideally, the COMPLETE restoration of S&D metals to the south coast and Bristol Channel again, with ALL towns and cities LINKED once again. Wells, Glastonbury, Bridgwater, Wimborne, Blandford, Poole and Bournemouth with 'main line' rail links at Templecombe, Poole, Bristol and Highbridge so it would be possible to travel CONTINOUSLY by rail to say Minehead via GW and West Somerset or Portsmouth via Poole and Southern main line etc etc. In other words a new NETWORK.
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midsomer norton extension

Thanks to Nick Howes for this.

Planning permission to extend the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, south up the 1 in 53 grade, from Midsomer Norton towards Chilcompton is expected to be granted next month by Bath and North East Somerset Council, following an 18 month long planning submission by dedicated trustee Peter Russell.

It is hoped that doubling the current route mileage from 1000 to 2000 feet will enable the commencement of passenger steam trains and attract owners of BR engines to have a thrash at the formidable and legendary Southbound Mendip Mainline incline.
The double trackbed will once again by available to receive rail, although initially only the down main will be laid. The current "jungle" walkway, currently used by a few locals will be accommodated outside the up BR fence boundary with permission from 2 farmers to fence in a new path hugging their field boundary which parallels the line.

Careful selected tree removal will take place where the vegetation hinders trackbed grading, drainage, track reinstatement, the loading gauge envelope and safety lines of sight, but nearly all of the 43 year down side boundary growth will remain. The up valley side, offering the views across the Somer valley, to Midsomer Norton, Ston Easton country park and Chilcompton will be carefully thinned out. New trees will be planted elsewhere along the down side boundary to compensate, including a thick section of hedge to protect a house owner.

The current 990 foot double track works its way through the platforms at 1 in 300 on a slight reverse curve, then climbs hard left at 1 in 53. At the end of this left curve, phase 1 of the new extension will begin.

Phase 1 of the planning permission is expected next month, taking in the next 1047 feet dead straight at 1 in 53. This incorporates rebuilding the permanent way hut made of bolted sleepers and beyond this, a non original 430 foot down engineers siding will be laid on the 1 in 53 verge with trailing connection into the down main.

Before any track laying can be done, the concrete and wire fencing must be repaired, the down cess drainage pipe checked out, roots removed and levelling of the trackbed. 440 feet beyond the railhead, 500 tons of the up main trackbed has been dug out. This eats across the "6 foot" to nearly the outer down ballast shoulder in one place and is 300 feet long by 3 feet deep maximum. Along with outer up shoulder gabians, this can be filled back in at no cost by "top skimming" 6 inches off of the old weed choked BR ballast right the way up the extension.

Following the civil works, track laying on concrete sleepers and flat bottom rail can begin. A runaway trap point will be laid at the current down railhead, to protect the station limits, followed by a left hand c switch, linking the up main as the second, southernmost crossover. 10 panels of plain line take us to the right hand trailing c switch into the 7 panel down engineers siding. A further 5 panels takes us from Farmer Shearn’s trackbed to the Stage 2 boundary and Mrs Well’s trackbed and another planning application!
Phase 2 takes in a slight right hand curve, followed by another straight to the BANES/Somerset administrative county boundary, another 1037 feet.

Phase 3 takes the line slightly left over the old Mendip hunt occupation crossing then another very long straight, including bridge 48a, up to the in-filled Chilcompton Tunnel cutting, another 1918 feet.

Total line length will a little over 5000 feet. When Chilcompton tunnel infill is reached the down main will burrow left off the original formation into the hillside on the level, for 300 feet only, enough to build a medium term 3 coach halt (Somervale halt) on the level, due to health and safety regulations governing brand new stations. The 4000 feet of up main will then be laid to "catch up" with the down, enabling the spectacle of any combination of visiting engines to pass on the S&D mainline, a truly mouth watering prospect!

Total extension, 4022 feet of double track =
268 lengths of 60 foot flat bottom rail,
3216 concrete sleepers,
3216 tons of ballast.

Following consolidation, a huge fundraising drive will then strive to re-bridge silver street or dig out the quarter mile, 44 feet deep cutting of its clay capping and 170,000 tons of household and builders rubbish.

Since 1995, Midsomer Norton South has been restored to its former glory from an overgrown ruin, with a 6 figure sum being spent on the project, including 300o feet of quality permanent way, station, platforms, rolling stock and up and coming stable museum, not to mention the fabulous working replica signal box by Graeme Mayes and John Rideout. Over 800 members support a core of 30 volunteers. Please join us today and help us extend the Somerset and Dorset Mendip Mainline Project!
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Thursday, January 29, 2009

it begins

(photos Mick Knox - S&D 6.3.2006)

I had a frantic email from Mick Knox today. He was off - immediately - to photograph the Bletchley-Claydon line. The engineers were out clearing the route ready for an engineering assessment prior to reopening. This is part of the Oxford-Cambridge line, closed - incredibly - in the 60s. He had hoped to get shots of the route before any disturbance.

Also I've just read that the Waverley route rebuilding will start a year earlier than planned, in 2010. This was another double track main line closed (in 1969), against the wishes of just about everybody. The new section will be the 35 miles from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, the cost of restoration is only £250 million. Compare this with the money wasted on road building! It will still leave Hawick rail-less, though this shouldn't be for much longer, the locals are already clamouring for its reconnection. Hawick is far too large a town to lack any form of modern transport. No doubt Peebles and Biggar will also want reconnecting to the 21st century once the rails start reappearing in the Scottish Borders.

This is good news for the S&D. Where Scotland leads England will no doubt follow. It is ridiculous that large towns (and a city!) like Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Shepton Mallet, Wincanton, Wells, Glastonbury and - incredibly - Blandford still lack any sort of sustainable transport as we approach the second decade of the twenty first century.

Our task becomes easier as each day passes.
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this'll make you sick!

Steam Train from Misha Werder on Vimeo.

This is from John Penny. One watch was enough for me, but then I've never been very good with fairground rides (despite working on the dodgems as a teenager!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

facebook group

Don't forget the S&D Facebook group - yet another forum for S&D fans!
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network history

A few shots from the past (1987). When I was taking these they were just photos of the everyday, but they've already gained a historic element. Locos, liveries, signage, cars, infrastructure, fashions are all different.

Whilst we can recreate bits of the past we can never totally do it. So any attempt at 'preservation' will always be a sort of compromise.

Perhaps I should also encourage everyone to record the day to day railway scene of today. It may seem bland and boring, but it's amazing how quickly things change. Photographing the everyday is always far more important than photographing preservation and steam specials on the network!
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Today we've just hit 100 views of this blog - this is a fantastic result! Despite the Midsomer Norton Trust breaking their link to this site we are now getting about double the number of visits we did back when we did have the link.

Of course once I'd been told (by a regular blog reader) of this totally daft and self-harming action I went and created links to dozens of other websites (S&D and Peak Oil) so really they did me a favour.

It does look a bit daft that what most people consider to be the primary S&D restoration group doesn't even have a link to this unique S&D blog with its huge photo archive and (often) day to day record of MN activity but then I suppose the SDRHT website does it all so much better than I ever will ...
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Photos Mick Knox

A few shots around and about Cole. This was a particularly attractive spot on the line. Top shot shows something that really shouldn't be happening in the 21st century - a house being built on/near the trackbed. This is pure madness.

The policy for dealing with encroachment on our trackbed will be quite simple -

a) Divert where possible.

b) Tunnel/bridge if a not possible.

c) Where a or b are not possible then the properties will be purchased, rented out to recover the capital cost (or part of it if the line is quickly relaid) and then demolished with the bricks etc recycled and sold on. Whilst we would always prefer that this can be done by agreement we will certainly use compulsory purchase powers where we have no choice. This power is available to any public railway offering a proper service, and has been used recently at Croydon (on houses built only a few years earlier on the Tramlink ex-SR trackbed) and on the Waverley route in Scotland. Similar powers were also used against a particularly Neanderthal farmer on the Welsh Highland Railway!

d) Any costs incurred would be claimed against local/regional/national government where appropriate.

All railway trackbeds should have been protected even back in the 60s as it was obvious that no matter what happened (Peak Oil or business as usual) these routes would need to be rebuilt at some time in the future.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for anyone that has bought a house on a railway trackbed. They should have been aware that the property would almost certainly at some time in the future be demolished where no other options were available. But I suspect that 9 times out of 10 diversion will be possible. Remember that the inhabitants of the house will also desperately need the railway!
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the end of cheap oil

(Photos Mick Knox)

From Peak Oil News

By Nick Ferguson Finance Asia

Forget about cheap gasoline, today's low oil price masks a looming energy crisis that could dwarf the current economic problems.

If you thought things couldn't get any worse than a collapse of the global financial markets, think again. The economic meltdown is a good reason to be gloomy, for sure, but an under-reported study by the world's leading energy agency recently raised the spectre of a collapse in the global energy market too.

The steep fall in oil prices during the last few months of 2008 prompted many people to think that the run-up to $147 a barrel was an aberration – driven by speculators or another artefact of the credit bubble. But some industry analysts say that today's prices are the real aberration and, in fact, oil production is dangerously close to going into a permanent and unstoppable decline.

Indeed, the collapse in oil prices is accelerating this trend. Non-traditional projects that were profitable when prices were high, such as Canada's oil sands and fields that are deep underwater, are now being postponed or even scrapped. At the same time, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) cut production targets in December in a desperate bid to reverse the decline. That move seems to have had some effect, but there is now a fear that supply in the oil market will be dangerously out of sync with demand when the economy starts to recover.

"We will work our way through these financial problems, but what would be really unfortunate is that once things bounce back, oil prices will bounce back too," said Matt Simmons, chairman of Simmons & Company International, at a roundtable held in mid-December. He says that supply shortages could help oil prices soar through $147 as unhindered as a hot knife cuts through butter.

It is no longer just conspiracy theorists that are worrying about a looming energy crisis. Today, even the International Energy Agency (IEA) is sounding the alarm bells. The agency, which has very close ties to the big oil companies, quietly dropped a bombshell in its World Energy Outlook 2008 when it revealed that its first ever real-world survey of existing oil fields shows production falling at a much faster rate than its earlier guesses.

At the current rate of decline, says the IEA, oil production from existing fields will fall to just 30 million barrels a day by 2030 – or roughly 73 million barrels short of the expected level of demand. New sources will make up some of the difference, but to fully meet future demand, the world's energy companies will need to discover the equivalent of six new Saudi Arabias during the next 20 years. Simply maintaining today's levels means discovering four new Saudi Arabias.

Not even the IEA expects this to happen. Its 2008 report represents the most optimistic outlook, but is nevertheless dire. Its executive summary starts with a quiet, but very important statement: "Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable." And concludes with a similarly potent call to arms: "Time is running out and the time to act is now.

"Put simply, there is no quick fix to meeting the world's future energy needs. "There is no fix actually," says Simmons. "The only fix is making a sprinting retreat from our use of oil today. If you get smart people looking at the data it doesn't take more than a couple of minutes for them to say, 'This is awful.'

"It may be too late already. Forecasts for production declines are based on the depletion rates of large oilfields, but almost half of the world's oil supply comes from tiny fields that produce fewer than 400 barrels a day – and these small fields are known to decline much quicker than big fields.

"Oilfields aren't like emptying a bucket or taking boxes out of inventory," says Robert Hirsch, a senior energy adviser at Management Information Services, speaking at the same roundtable as Simmons. "You can't keep pulling oil out of the ground at the rate that you did in the past because of the basic geological processes.

"In the midst of a global recession, much of the explanation for falling prices has focused on the supposed collapse in demand for oil, particularly from Asia's rising economic powerhouses, but talk of China's falling oil imports is misleading. It is only growth that is falling – from 28% in October to 17% in November.

According to Simmons, the story of supply destruction is a more immediate problem. "We're unwinding supply right now just as fast as we've ever done and it's like a bulldog chewing on somebody's behind," he says.

As the IEA says in its report, the era of cheap oil is over. And, unless drastic measures are taken to reduce energy consumption and speed up the development of new energy sources, the world could be headed for a serious energy crisis as soon as 2015. If that happens, our current economic woes will hardly merit a mention in tomorrow's history books.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

the future

Nick Howes asked, via the message board -

The S&D was the best most legendary line in the land and I often wonder why we are still struggling after 13 years as a very minor heritage set up, when we occupy a slice of the famous S&D. Just where are all the enthusiasts and supporters? and why are so many other "new generation" projects up and down the country overtaking us? we have to ask, is there severe apathy in the wider bristol region, do we portray our aims as too fantastic, do we look like a no-hoper project ? hemmed in by a missing 5 million pound bridge and 5 million pound filled cutting? what do you all think?

I quickly knocked out the following reply -

I think the problem is that quite early on we got the reputation of only being interested in setting up a 'steam museum with a short demonstration track'. This was such a throwback to the 60s when preservation was only just taking off.

I did a lot of shows a few years ago and although we got a lot of interest I was amazed by the number of people who thought the MN setup was a bit of an insult to the S&D. This was at least some of the impetus behind the rebranding to 'Mendip Main Line Project'. The problem now of course is that we are going nowhere fast, and that main line seems just as distant now as it was five years ago.

Also the original Midsomer Norton Station Project was exactly that, one project within a far more all-encompassing SDRHT which, constitutionally, claims the whole route and the eventual setting up of 'projects' at various places. That seems to have been forgotten now. Where are the trackbed stewards and the lobbying for preservation of the trackbed throughout?

There's still a tragic loss of focus. There is no way that Midsomer Norton to Chilcompton, or even Radstock to Shepton, is anything like ambitious enough to pull the real support for the S&D out into the open. The S&D was the finest line in the UK. It had unbelievable goodwill from enthusiasts and country lovers alike. A restored S&D will be a fantastic asset to Somerset and Dorset, whatever happens in the future.

That's really why I'm helping to set up the New S&D, because it will first and foremost be a lobbying organisation pushing for at first protection then rebuilding of the route, for real passenger and freight trains. Existing heritage set ups on the S&D need to fully engage in this process as well.

We won't get those big engines to MN until we have at least 4 or 5 miles of decent running line, and even then it will be a compromise. There's a huge amount of work to do and that's why we have to appeal to railway enthusiasts, local people along the route, Peak Oil types and country lovers. We need to build on the 'brand' serendipitously created by the likes of Ivo Peters, Mike Arlett and others who were lucky enough to know the line first time round.

We can do it.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

down in the woods something stirs

(4th pic by Mick Knox)

A few shots taken over the last couple of years showing the changes at the far end of the line at Midsomer Norton. 1st and 3rd shots were before anything had happened. Shot 2 is looking towards the station and shows the same sleeper pile that has moved to the extension land by January 2009. Shots 3 and 4 show how much is changed. The footpath through the woods is of course part of the main line. The final shot may look a little bare, but once the track is laid and everything settles it should regain some of its former rural beauty. That's what the S&D is all about - the prospect of superb steam trains running through glorious countryside.
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