Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Saturday, January 24, 2009
peak oil and the new S&D
(Bottom three photos courtesy Mick Knox).
Peak Oil is a worldwide issue but I think all any of us can do is concentrate on how it will affect us, our family, our community and our area.
The New Somerset and Dorset Railway is probably the first railway business in the UK to have Peak Oil as its principal raison d'etre.
I've just been reading Matt Simmons superb book 'Twilight in the Desert', a technical analysis of the prospects for Saudi oil production. It is a very sobering read and even if you take a more optimistic view Saudi oil production is already in decline, with no real prospects of new oil finds coming on line. Saudi Arabia is by far the world's biggest oil producer, when it begins to fail we all do. Notice how keen Saudi Arabia was to reduce oil production recently, claiming it was to force up the price (which didn't happen). It is far more likely that they are trying to rest their oil wells. Rapid production often leads to a larger percentage of unrecoverable oil.
Few people now dispute Peak Oil theory, oil is a finite resource and what's left (less than half) is running out quickly. But you still hear a lot of uninformed people blithely claiming science will 'save' us. Ask for sources or more info and they look blank. It won't. Science itself depends on cheap energy to make much of science possible. Hydrogen? Not a chance. It's not a fuel, it's a delivery method. Biofuels? A total joke and now being abandoned everywhere. All it does is compete with scarce land for food. Electric vehicles? How exactly will we generate the extra electricity to power all these inefficient vehicles? Nuclear power? Okay for a few more decades, but uranium is rapidly depleting with even the best estimates only giving it 60 more years before the lot has gone.
It may be that some of these technologies will fill some of the energy gap, but not enough. It is almost certain that in the future we will need to manage on a lot less energy. Things will get simpler but harder. We will get rid of most of the nonsense that currently blights us!
The one thing that will certainly happen is that transport will switch totally away from roads to railways/tramways, to bikes, to horses and walking. But rail will be the only high-tech option remaining.
Towns and cities will reorientate themselves so that rail becomes the prime mode of medium to long distance travel. Businesses needing transport will relocate alongside railways and tramways. Farming will become 100% organic (all fertilizers are made from oil, so will at first become expensive, then unavailable). Farmers will need to transport surplus product to market, probably no further than ten to twenty miles, by rail mainly. Most people will work from home or at most at a small business in their own town or village. There may be some residual commuting flows to serve a much smaller bureaucracy, but nothing like what we see today. People will holiday mainly in their own country (although hopefully a high speed European rail network should replace the dying air routes), nearly all holidaymakers will travel by train. Roads themselves will quickly vanish as the cost of repair quickly outstrips the availability of money from a falling motoring tax take.
For the New S&D this will mean concentrating on providing mainly local passenger services, but also faster services bringing holidaymakers from further afield to Bournemouth and beyond. Freight will be commonplace, with both local (to market) traffic and through traffic, taking up at least some of the slack from the end of road transport. We may even see renewed coal flows from the mines in North Somerset. People will still want to get about, I can't see us all withdrawing to our villages! There will be plenty of private sidings running into business areas, tram feeders in Bath, Bristol and Bournemouth and probably branch lines linking the classic S&D with villages and towns currently not served by rail.
This is not really a radical vision of the future, merely a realistic one. But it will inform the progress and detail of the New S&D.