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, May 28, 2009

the vision for midford

These two shots are of Hulme End station, on the old Leek and Manifold Railway in Derbyshire. Although this is not connected to an operating railway it really captures the railway atmosphere and serves a very useful purpose as both an information point and a tourist attraction.

One feature is a model of the railway which is certainly something we should consider for Midford - perhaps a representation of the S&D at Midford in the 1950s. Notice the easy to use and non-intrusive window shutters which allow security overnight but keep the place light and airy in the day.

We are still getting a regular flow of donations for Midford which should increase through the summer as the railway press recieve a barrage of press releases and articles from us!
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

missed - and future - opportunities

The old S&D served three major national venues, and the New S&D will do the same. One was there even in 1966, one has sprung up since, coincidentally on the route and the third was actually inspired by the S&D. All will be served directly by the New S&D.

First off is the Bath and West Showground at Prestleigh. This actually is already rail served, but only internally and on the 7¼" gauge. The Bath and West Show is a really big event, and is on at the moment. As road traffic falls it will, if it plans to survive, need a rail link. This could either be a standard gauge branch off the main line, or a narrow gauge feeder route that also serves the showground internally. There are regular events at the showground, many of which attract thousands of people, so the route would be opened many times a year.

Second is the Great Dorset Steam Fair. This was inspired by the S&D and the operating company is currently looking at an internal narrow gauge permanent railway to service the site in future years. No doubt the wheel will turn full circle and the restored S&D serve the site, again either with a standard gauge branch from Blandford or an extension of the narrow gauge internal railway to a new S&D station.

Lastly is the Glastonbury Festival. This is one of the most famous and important music events in the world. Currently special trains are run to Castle Cary during the festival with onward transport by buses (LOL!) Interestingly the old S&D Highbridge branch trackbed currently serves as an internal road within the festival grounds - so building a station within the festival site will be a doddle.

Railways in the future will serve the areas they operate in far more intimately than the old lines did with many branches, tramways and ultra light rail systems connecting to the main routes. The S&D will hopefully be a leader in this new form of community transport, linking communities to each other and to the wider world.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

midford then and now ...

(Photo Mick Knox 6.3.2006)

Top shot. Midford as it is now.

Bottom shot. Midford in five years' time? With your help, yes!

To contribute to the Midford Appeal please see the side bar.

I've already put my name down to reconstruct the block wall in the foreground.
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from our friends across the sea

More insight from James Howard Kunstler -

Waking Up from the Happy Motoring Dream

Something like a week remains before General Motors is reduced to lunchmeat on industrial-capital's All-You-Can-Eat buffet spread. The wish is that its deconstructed pieces will re-organize into a "lean, mean machine" for producing "cars that Americans want to buy," and that, by extension, the American Dream of a Happy Motoring economy may be extended a while longer.

This fantasy rests on some assumptions that just don't "pencil out." One is that the broad American car-owning public can continue to buy their cars the usual way, on credit. The biggest emerging new class in America is the "former middle class." Credit kept the remnants of the middle class going for decades after their incomes stopped growing in the 1970s. Now, their incomes have stopped coming in altogether and they are sinking into swamp of entropy already occupied by the tattoo- for-lunch-bunch. Of course, this has plenty of dire sociopolitical implications.

Unfortunately, the big American banks did their biggest volume business in their biggest loans at the very time that that the middle class was on its way to becoming former. Now that the former middle class is arriving at its destination, the banks are so damaged by bad paper that they won't make loans to even the remnant of the remnant of the middle class. In other words, the entire model for financing Happy Motoring is now out-of-order, probably permanently.

Even assuming some Americans can continue buying cars one way or another, I'm not convinced that we can make the kinds we fantasize about. Notice, nobody talks about hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars anymore. Why not? Because the technicalities and logistics could not be overcome at the scale required -- i.e. at the current scale of mass highway motoring and commuting. Sure, you could build a demonstration vehicle and run it around a test track a few times, but could you build a mass production car by the tens of millions that would run for 150,000 miles without a hugely expensive fuel cell change-out? No, at least not within the time-window that the liquid hydrocarbon fuel problem presented. Or could you construct a hydrogen fuel station (and product delivery) network replacing the old gasoline stations? Fuggeddabowdit. Hydrogen, as an element, was just too hard to move and contain. It's teeny-weeny atoms leaked out of valves and gaskets remorselessly and you couldn't pack enough into a tanker truck to make the trip to its destination worthwhile. Schemes to generate hydrogen on-board all ended up in the "perpetual motion" sink.

The current wish is that the dregs of GM and Chrysler will hire low- paid elves with no pension or health benefits and pump out hybrid and/or electric cars. It's conceivable that we could "reverse-engineer" a Prius or an Insight, but considering what a lousy job American car companies did on reverse-engineering everything that Japan or Germany pumped out over the past thirty-five years, the odds are pretty high that these new products will be just lame enough to fail against the established competition. What's more, they also present logistical and technical problems. For the hybrid, gasoline is still an issue (and Jevon's Paradox comes into play: the more efficient you make a means for using a resource, the more of that resource you will use). For both the hybrid and the electric car, the issue of how to get enough lithium for the batteries obtains, at least for now, given the current state- of-the-art battery technology. Most of this rare metal now comes from one place, Bolivia, and everybody wants "a piece" of it. Electric vehicles in large numbers depend on either coal or nuclear powered electric generation, each presenting special hazards. Both hybrids and electric cars would depend on the old installment loan purchase system -- at least to work in the current mode of suburban living, long-range commuting, and interstate highway travel.

Boone Pickens's plan of last year for converting the US car fleet to natural gas was another fantasy with wide appeal. But it depended on the companion fantasy of building massive wind-farm infrastructure on the great plains to shift natural gas use from power plants to vehicles, and the financial crisis has destroyed the capital necessary to even begin planning that project -- it even destroyed a large part of Mr. Pickens own capital reserves. Anyway, I would not be so sanguine about the long-term future of the shale gas plays that this scheme was based on. The depletion rates of these wells is horrendous and the amount of steel needed to keep production up is not consistent with the realities of the available infrastructure.

All the technologies under consideration are not likely to extend the Happy Motoring era. A prayerful reflection on them can only reinforce the specialness of oil and its byproducts -- cheap oil double-specially -- as well as reinforcing the reality that the cheap energy era itself is over. And, of course, in the play of events over the past several years we can see the relationship between cheap energy and easy credit, and how our entire economy has run aground, one way or another, on resource limits.

The implications of all this in the sociopolitical and geopolitical realms are pretty daunting. As long as we maintain Happy Motoring as the normal mode of existence in this country, we are going to see an ever-growing class of very resentful citizens pissed off at being foreclosed from it. In my oft-repeated scheme-of-things, this leads very quickly to the trap of political extremism, perhaps even corn-pone Nazism, as the system becomes increasingly difficult to prop up except by force. In geopolitical terms it leads to ever more dangerous international contests over the world's remaining oil reserves.

All this leads to two conclusions.

One is to accept the fact that the Happy Motoring era is over and to devote our remaining resources to re-localization, walkable communities, and public transit. It obviously requires a very drastic revision of our current collective self-image, of what we aspire to and who we are. If the car companies have any future at all, it should be based on making the rolling stock for public transit -- and for now the most intelligent choice for us is to fix the existing passenger railroad lines instead of venturing into grandiose new transit systems requiring stupendous capital outlays. Let the car era wind down gracefully. Triage and prioritize the highway maintenance agenda -- we won't be affluent enough to keep repaving the whole existing system -- and let other nations meet the diminishing demand for cars in the USA. This would be a "best case" scenario. (Other nations may decide to go further up the Happy Motoring road at their own eventual peril.)

My second conclusion is not so appetizing, namely that the bankruptcy of General Motors may set in motion a chain of events that will accelerate the destructive unwind of the bad credit economy, the damage to our bond values, the loss of faith in our currency, and the authority and legitimacy of our leaders. This last dire outcome might be allayed if, say, President Obama directed his policy efforts to the items in the paragraph above, that is, a reality-based agenda for true change in how we live -- but who can feel confident about that happening these days? Maybe it will take a horrifying chain of events to get Mr. Obama there. And then, tragically, he may be overwhelmed by the chain of events itself. I hope not.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

bristol surprise

We went to visit the SS Great Britain today and this took me totally by surprise. It's the Bristol Harbour Railway, probably the only heritage line in the UK without a website, and it was running today. Currently it runs for about half a mile but will be extended in 2011 to the new industrial museum. Passenger vehicles are converted goods vehicles, which must have been great fun in today's heat and sun! This section of line was used a few years ago by a Parry People Mover. Unusually the line is operated by the city council, who clearly know a good thing when they see it!
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Saturday, May 23, 2009

first New S&D meeting

The first meeting of the New Somerset and Dorset Railway will take place on Saturday June 27th, 7.00pm for 7.30pm.

Venue is 10 Bellamy Avenue, Hartcliffe, BRISTOL, BS13 0HW

We'll provide an excellent dinner, possibly fondu or raclette. You'll have free access to our impressive wine collection too!

All members AND supporters are welcome, but please let me know you are coming. It's fine to bring partners. This will be a social and business meeting. Could members think about taking on committee roles so we can move things forward.

With such a long line and a wide range of members' home towns we'd like to change meeting venues each time so that we all share the costs (and time) of travelling. As membership grows and meetings get larger we'll look at hiring a function room somewhere midway on the line.

Invitations have also, of course, been sent to each of the S&D restoration groups (Midsomer Norton, Shillingstone, Washford, Gartell and Blandford Arches) to send a representative each.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

not in my back yard!

(Thanks to Mick Knox for this and picture).

An example of when the state run railway wants to reopen a line. Miles of palisade fencing that the average trespasser would take seconds to get over so is a complete waste of time & money. This is in Bletchley on the route to Oxford. This is not what the people of Somerset or Dorset would want on their re-opened line!

It is essential that as the S&D gets rebuilt it is seen as PART of the landscape, not a blot on it. Network Rail lives in a dystopian past. The fencing probably exists because there's money in it for someone. Most continental and US railways don't use fencing at all. Why should they? Our roads aren't fenced and are infinitely more dangerous as it's impossible to forecast where a vehicle may go. A kid from Hartcliffe was killed a week or so ago when a car, driven by another kid, mounted the pavement and hit him. No fences there. Yet the roads have a constant procession of vehicles, driven by amateurs, with barely a break in between. Even the busiest railways rarely have more than one train every two minutes.

This is the future. The image of railways in their prime is an image of the railway of the future. We need to fight to ensure that our railways are human scale, that they serve local needs first, that stations are manned and a delight to wait in, that refreshments are available everywhere and the whole atmosphere is one where people want to be, not flee.

The New S&D is all about this, just as the old S&D was!

PS Thanks for all the pledges and cash that came in to the Midford Appeal after Jeff Harris's very odd message board post!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Progress report 1

Well we've been up and running over 2 months now.

To date we have announced our presence via this blog and local newspaper reports. There has been a steady flow of new members including our first junior member and first overseas member (Sweden).

We are about to get the website up and running, possibly in the next week.

We have funds in the bank!

We have launched the Midford station appeal, wth pledges of over £1500 already, and press releases now with all the major magazines.

Over the next three months I will expect us to -

Increase membership by 200%.

Have the website fully operational with full e-commerce facilities etc.

Have reached £5000+ with the Midford appeal.

Launch fully along the route via local newspapers and magazines.

Hold our first meeting (please contact me with availability so we can set this up for June).
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

you're wasting your time!!

Classic misunderstanding of what we're about (via the message board).

i've taken a while back to look at this from an outsiders point of view recently and have come to see that this whole idea of your new s+d really is pointless. a lot of the whole idea of this seems to be to 'get back' at the midsomer norton project and bring down the image of it between yourselfs with stupid bitchy comments going back and forth, they will succeed with their aims. your aims on the other hand are going to require such a stupid amount of investment that the chances of them happening are slim to none. as much as i'd like to see the S+D back its not going to happen, to much development has happened in the poole/bournemouth area, i doubt that bournemouth station could cope with the additional services required. and before you say bournemouth west station rebuilding, SWT arent going to give up their maintenance depot, and isnt there a car park there anyway now? at the bath end of the line there is nowhere anyone could put a station beyond midford and theres not much point building a railway line to nowhere. at radstock there is pretty much no way you can get through there, to much development has happened now, i know there's going to be talk of me being a troll so im not gonna even look back to see what is said.

My reply -

This is not about MN and never has been. MN provide a valuable rail corridor on the route and as a life member I'll always support what they do there. I can't say I've seen any bitching anywhere - but then I haven't been down to MN recently! We're all working towards the same thing - a restoration of the S&D. Why would anybody involved in this try to run down other aspects of this great revival project??
Jeff, you're going to have to live a lot more in the future than I am! How do you expect to get around or are you going to just sit in MN and grow veg?

We have looked closely at approaches to Bath and Bournemouth. There is every possibility of a chord line north of Midford connecting via the old Limpley Stoke line to the Bath route, giving an approach to Bristol as well. At the southern end there are several ways of returning to Bournemouth, and connecting on via the Ringwood route to Southampton and beyond.

I don't think you really 'get' the New S&D. As the fuel crisis hits big time then the government will have no choice but to restore the rail network. This process - a reversal of Beeching - is already happening. It will accelerate. We need to make sure that we are at the head of the queue. Already 1969 and 1968 closures are being reversed. The S&D closed in 1966 - the time for reopening is rapidly drawing near.
With a base at Midford we can publicise what we are doing and be taken seriously.

Negativity is a very 1970s thing. The world has changed enormously. It's your generation that will be doing the rebuilding of railways. You need to get involved in a huge project like this because you have to!

So don't listen to a few oddballs that just want to run steam trains and look backwards. We have to live in the future, not the past, and the New S&D is very much part of the future, even if we will incorporate the best elements of the world that existed before you were born!
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

this week's gem from Kunstler

As usual I'm cutting and pasting Jim Kunstler's latest musing on the state of things.

Decoupling from Reality

The Great Wish across America is to resume the life of comfort-and-convenience that seemed so nirvana-like just a few short years ago, when the very constellations of the heavens might have been renamed after heroic Atlanta realtors and Connecticut hedge fund warriors, and the boomer portfolios groaned with earnings, and millions of graying corporate salary mules dreamed of their approaching retirement to a satori of golf and Viagra, and the interior decorators grew so rich installing granite countertops that they could buy their own houses in the East Hampton, and every microcephalic parking valet in Las Vegas qualified for a bucket full of Ninja mortgages, and Lloyd Blankfein could dream of divorcing his wife to marry his cappuccino machine.

At the moment, there is tremendous hoopla and jubilation over the start-up of so many "shovel-ready" highway projects around America — as if what we need most are additional circumferential freeways to enhance the Happy Motoring lifestyle. How insane are we? Is this the only thing we know how to do?

I remain confident that the months ahead will introduce the American public and our leaders to a range of horrors that will begin to penetrate our addled collective imagination. We’re far from done with the crisis of banking and money and the related fiasco in mortgages — which translates into the very real situation of many people becoming homeless. It remains to be seen what may happen on the food production scene, but the current severe shortage of capital and the intense droughts shaping up around the world will resolve into a much clearer picture by mid-summer. The price of oil has resumed marching up and has now re-entered a range ($50-plus) that spun the airline industry into bankruptcy last time around. Enough carnage has already occurred on the jobs scene that the next act among many chronically jobless may tilt toward desperation, anger, and violence. The sporting goods shops aro und the nation are already rationing ammunition.

It’s not just the stock markets that have decoupled from reality as we enjoy the fragrant vapors of spring — it’s the entire conscious consensus of everybody holding the levers of power and opinion. To put it as simply as possible, we’re still sleepwalking into the future.

Bad Collateral

The wishes of the "green shoots and mustard seed" crowd really hinge on whether the various organs of the suburban economy can be jump-started back to life — the production home-builders, the granite countertop outfitters, the mall and strip-mall gang, the national chain discount retailers, all the people who make Happy Motoring possible from the factory to the showroom, and, of course, the banks who shovel money into these enterprises.

All these organs of our now-former economy are gravely impaired, and a realistic appraisal of them would have to conclude that they’ve entered the zone of congestive failure. The choice we face really comes down to this: do we put our dwindling resources and "hopes" into resuscitating those dying systems, or do we move forward to the next chapter of American life, cut our losses, and make new arrangements more consistent with the realities on offer from the universe? To take it a step further, can we remain one nation, a common culture, without such a conscious re-purposing of our collective spirit?

The bizarre spectacle being played out right now by President Obama and his team only adds layers of mystery and mystification to this big question. It is so dispiriting to see Mr. Obama’s White House mount a campaign to sustain the unsustainable in the economic realm. Everything they’ve done for four months involving money management and enterprise policy — from backstopping hopeless banks, to gaming the bankruptcies of the big car companies, to the bungled efforts to prop up artificially-high house prices — amounts to a gigantic exercise in futility. Worse, it gives off odors of dishonesty or stupidity, since the ominous tendings of our system are so starkly self-evident.

Not least of the problems entailed in all this are the scary political consequences. It’s one thing for a business such as a bank to fail; its another thing for the public to lose confidence in banking, or their own currency, or the credibility of all the people who work in banking, or the authority of those charged to regulate these activities, or the courts and their officers who are supposed to adjudicate misconduct in them. When faith in all these things starts to go, all bets are off for even larger social constructs like democracy, justice, and the destiny of a federal republic.

The Obama White House has very quickly painted itself into a corner on these things. The so-called bank "stress test" couldn’t have backfired more completely. Rather than bolster confidence in our money system and the people who run it, it only made the system appear more obviously corrupt. It made the Treasury Department (and the White House by extension) look idiotic for concocting it. Worse, the game of allowing the banks to audit themselves, and cook their books under newly jiggered accounting rules, only made them look less sound and trustworthy, and their executives more venal and mendacious. The stress test scam also virtually guaranteed that the banks will not get another dime out of congress — even while it is common knowledge that they will desperately need quadrillions more dimes in the months ahead.

Who knows what the point of this ludicrous exercise was? Observers in all corners of the media saw through it, and the public has only been made more cynical, and is now so furious over related stunts like AIG using taxpayer money to pay back swaps bets to Goldman Sachs that there is a whiff of revolution in the American air for the first time, really, since 1861. A lot of reasonable people see a good chance that our society will sink into disorder if these trends continue, and these fears could beat a path into radical politics, even the frightful prospect of coup d’etat — not something that I advocate, by the way.

The president is playing with fire on all this. The old economy is not going to recover, and so far he has not used his rhetorical talents to articulate what the next economy is likely to be about. It is reasonable to wonder whether he even really has a clear sense of it — and, based on the fatuous utterances of his economic mandarins like Larry Summers and Austan Goolsby, this team is really behind the curve.

There are plenty of things you can state about the economy past and future with some confidence right now:

Cheap energy is over and our wishes for alt.energy are currently inconsistent with reality, meaning we have to live differently.

We have to downscale and re-localize our major economic activities: food production, commerce and manufacturing, banking, schooling, etc.

We can’t hope to have a stable money system unless we allow a workout of unpayable debt to proceed.

Even if we can do this, universal easy credit is a thing of the past. From now on, we have to save for the things we want and run our businesses and households on accounts receivable.

Major demographic shifts are inevitable as it becomes necessary to let go of suburbia and reactivate our derelict towns and smaller cities (and allow our giant metroplexes to contract).
We have to face the truth that our major social contracts cannot be met, namely the continuation of social security as we know it and probably all pension arrangements. We’ll probably have to change household arrangements to make up for these losses.

Health care will have to go through a revolution more comprehensive than just changing how we pay for it. Like everything else, it will have to downscale, re-localize, and become more rigorous.

We’re not going to rescue the banks. The collateral for their loans is no good and it will only lose more value. All those tract houses on the cul-de-sacs of America and scattered on the out-parcels of our tragically subdivided farming landscape will only lose value, one way or another, in the years ahead. Right now they’re simply losing inflated cash value — and that has been bad enough to sink the banks. In the months and years ahead, they’ll lose their sheer usefulness as the distances once mitigated by cheap gasoline loom larger again, and the jobs vanish and incomes with them, and the supermarket shelves cease to groan with eighty-seven different varieties of flavored coffee creamers, and one-by-one the national chain stores shutter, and the theme parks, and the Nascar ovals, and the malls, and the colossal superfluous cretin-cargo of consumer nonsense that we’ve been daydreaming in gets blown away in a hurricane of change that we we're not ready to believe in.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

food for thought - south end

Suggested by Nick Howes - views from our southern members particularly welcome!

Suggest a rebuilt Spetisbury to be your southern starting point. If you could then re-bridge Louse Lane, you have the best kept length “70mph racing straight” with shared cyclepath and single line from Moorcourt Farm to Blandford St Mary.
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Saturday, May 09, 2009

a giant leap for mankind

Things are moving quickly. We met up with David Bailey today who has agreed to get the website up and running. This is a really big step for us and we should soon have a very professional and modern website. He's offering his skills and time free of charge to us which is a real coup.

It also appears to be time to call the first meeting of the New S&D, as there is a lot to discuss. I'm more than happy to hold it here at home in Bristol. We'll lay on a nice meal and you'll have access to our impressive wine selection! As we're still small could you all contact me with some idea of when you are free and, of course, if you're willing to make the trip up to Bristol. We really need to get a committee up and running.

I envisage that meetings will take place up and down the S&D so that we all do a share of the travelling over the next year or so.

Also to counterbalance the Midford station project we should also set something up in the south of the line when the right location becomes available. We mustn't forget the branches either!
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Friday, May 08, 2009

the bottom according to kunstler

I think that James Howard Kunstler's peak oil informed approach to the unravelling of US society is always worth a read! Whilst obviously it first and foremost is a critique of the US almost all of it is equally applicable to the UK. This is his latest ...

The Bottom

Euphoria managed to out-run swine flu last week as the epidemic-du-jour, with “consumer” confidence jumping and the big bank stocks nudging up. The H1N1 virus fizzled for now, at least in terms of kill ratio, though we’re warned it might boomerang in the fall with a vengeance. No one was surprised to see Chrysler roll over like a possum on a county highway, but the memory of their muscle cars will linger on like a California surfing song. Here in the northeast, where Sundays are not spent at the NASCAR oval, the spring foliage reached the tenderly explosive stage and it was hard to feel bad about anything.

For now, the “bottom” is in — that is, the bottom of this society’s ability to process reality. It may continue for a month of so, even after the “stress test” for banks is finally let out of the massage parlor with a “happy ending.” But events are underway that are beyond the command of personalities. We’re done “doing business” in all the ways that we’ve been used to, but we just can’t get with the new program. Let’s count the ways:

1) The revolving credit economy is over. It’s over because we can’t increase energy inputs to the system, which is one way of saying “peak oil.” Of course hardly anybody believes this right now because the price of oil crashed nine months ago, along with global manufacturing and trade. But nothing has changed on the peak oil scene — except perhaps that ever more new oil projects have been cancelled for lack of financing, which will boomerang on us (even if swine flu doesn’t) in the form of much lower future oil production. In any case, the credit fiesta is over, and the “consumer” economy with it, because industrial growth as we have known it is over. It’s over globally, too, though all regions of the world will not experience its demise the same way at the same rate.

The Asian nations may swap things around a while longer but China is basically screwed. They have less oil left than we have (which is saying, not much at all) and they won’t corner the rest of the global oil market without starting World War Three. Meanwhile, they’re running out of water and food. Good luck becoming the next global hegemon. Oh, and Japan imports 90 percent of its energy; India over 80 percent. Fuggeddabowdit.

Credit will not vanish everywhere overnight — even in the USA — because it is not distributed equally everywhere. But it will vanish in layers, and here in the USA a very broad layer of the lower and middle classes are now losing their access to it in one way or another — personally, in small business — and they will never get it back. Anyone who intends to thrive in the years just ahead had better plan on doing it on the basis of accounts receivable — and what they receive might not even necessarily come in the form of US dollars. It may come in the form of gold or silver or in the promise of reciprocal services rendered.

This has enormous implications for two of the items in which our credit-dispensing operations are most deeply vested: houses and cars. Unfortunately, these are exactly the things that economic life has been based on for decades in our nation, which leads to the next categories:

2) The suburban living arrangement is over, along with all its accessories and furnishings. Taken as “all of a piece,” the suburban expansion was one sixty-year-long orgasm of hypertrophy. We did it because we could. We won a world war and threw a party. We had lots of cheap land and cheap oil. It made lots of people lots of money and all its usufructs have become embedded in our national identity to the dangerous degree that the loss of them will provoke a kind of national psychotic breakdown. In fact, it already has. The completely unrealistic expectation that we can resume this way of life is proof of it.

The immediate problem is that we can’t build anymore of it. The next problem will be the failure of the stuff that already exists. The first stage of that is now palpable in the mortgage foreclosure fiasco and, just beginning now, the tanking of malls, strip centers, office parks and other commercial property investments. The latter will accelerate and become visible very quickly as retail tenants bug out and weeds start growing where the Chryslers and Pontiacs once parked. The next stage, which involves large demographic shifts in how we inhabit the landscape, has not quite gotten underway.

3) The Happy Motoring fiesta is over. You’d think that with Chrysler crawling into the bankruptcy court, and GM just weeks away from the same terminal ceremony, the news media would begin to suspect that the foundation of everyday life in this country was cracking. Instead, all we hear is blather about “market share” shifting to Toyota. News flash: not only will we make fewer automobiles in the USA, but Americans will buy far fewer cars made anywhere. We’ll keep the current fleet moving a while longer, but when it’s too beat to repair, we won’t be changing it out for a new fleet — despite all the fantasies about hybrids, plug-and-drive electrics, and so on. The masses will be too broke to buy these things. What’s more, they will be very resentful of th e shrinking economic “elite” who can afford them. And, anyway, our roads and highways are destined to fall apart very quickly because there is no way we can sustain the necessary rate of normal maintenance. Meanwhile, we remain completely un-serious about public transit — even about fixing the vestiges that still exist. The airline industry, of course, will be toast inside of five years.

4) Our food production system is approaching crisis. There’s no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services. The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem — perhaps a result of the diet itself. President Obama and Ag Secretary Vilsack have not given a hint that they understand the gravity of the situation. It is probably one of those unfortunate events of history that can only impress a society in the form of a crisis. It also happens to be one of the few problems we face that public policy could affect sharply and broadly — if we underwrote the reactivation of smaller, local farm operations instead of shoveling money to giant “agribusiness” (or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs, or AIG. .). I maintain that this may be the year that the crisis gets our attention, because capital is suddenly harder to get than fossil-fuel-based fertilizer.

All these epochal discontinuities present themselves, for the moment, as a season of muted “hope” and general apathy. The days are suddenly mild. We’ve resumed old and happy habits of grilling meat outdoors and motoring to those remaining places that were not blanketed with franchised food huts and discount malls. We have a new, charming president with an appealing family. Newly minted dollars are flowing to the “shovel-ready.” The new bad news is less bad than the old bad news (or seems to be). And the year just past has been such a bummer that our hard-wired human nature tells us that good things must be just around the corner.

Personally, I think a lot of good things await us, but not the ones we’re expecting — not a return to buying slurpees on credit cards. It will be very salutary to leave behind the junk empire we’ve accumulated and move into an epoch of quality and purpose. For the moment, though, our hopes reside elsewhere.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

network travel - swiss style

We took the train up to London yesterday for a trip to the Body Worlds exhibition at the 02 Centre.

It hurts to be hauled by a loco called 'Isambard Kingdom Brunel' if you're an S&D fan as we still blame his bloody GWR for the unneccessary closure of the S&D! But all credit to First Great Western we left Bristol just 4 seconds late, arrived in London dead on time, left London dead on time and arrived back at Bristol 30 seconds early.

For all the popular press bleatings about the inefficiencies of our national network this is actually far more my experience of our privatized network with trains running on time, clean and cheap. Perhaps some of the people who never use our trains but have an awful lot of stereotyped 1970s-style things to say about them should actually USE our railways and see them as they are - a superb, quick, clean and sustainable form of transport that will survive Peak Oil.

It was all very Swiss, in fact better than our last Swiss trip in December, when we were assailed by avalanche problems and arrived an hour late in St Moritz after travelling across from Geneva.
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Wednesday, May 06, 2009


If there was any doubt in my mind that we should go for the purchase of Midford then that was soon allayed by the many messages of support - and the picture above.

What a gem this will be!

Yes, I know there's currently a cycleway on the trackbed, and that there was a previous preservation attempt here, but the world has changed enormously in the last ten years. We are not talking about shuttling a DMU up and down from nowhere to nowhere. We're talking about a stategic and low cost piece in a jigsaw, set in an area of amazing natural beauty with a huge catchment area of visitors within a ten mile radius. There won't be track of course (at first) but restoration of the buildings would be a great way of showing the world what we're about, and would allow us a focal point for fundraising etc.

Remember that the New S&D will be a genuine working railway, but this doesn't mean we ignore the past or particularly the history of the Old S&D. I personally believe that neat, manned stations are a huge improvement on unmanned bus shelters, and will encourage even more people to travel.

Pledges of monetary support (non-binding) are welcome at this stage. It's been suggested we issue shares on this particular site. Everyone's views are welcome. Please either post to comments, the message board or email me.
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