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!

Friday, July 31, 2009

turning points

(Abingdon 1985)

I was looking at the Waverley route site yesterday and one of the FAQs was - Why was the route shut down previously – was it not lack of passenger demand? Why should it be any different this time?

I liked the answer so much I've modified it and nicked it for the sidebar!

The original Waverley Railway line was axed after the Beeching Plan which predicted a national decline in rail traffic. It focused entirely on long distance intercity passenger and freight services without due regard to the needs of local areas. Since then there have been major improvements to rail technology. Railways are now increasingly important to solve local travel needs and reduce the environmental impacts of road traffic and road congestion. There has consequently been a major resurgence in the demand for rail travel. As a result there is much more government emphasis today on improving public transport in order to provide an integrated public transport network.

This really does hit the nail on the head. The Waverley route was closed really late in the hate campaign - 1969. It was, like the S&D, a main line. It served several large towns, particularly Hawick and Galashiels. Nobody locally wanted the line closed. It left the whole of the Scottish Borders devoid of any real transport.

Devolution has led both Scotland and Wales to push well ahead of England in restoring rail lines that should never have closed. The new Waverley route will not have as large a population catchment area as the new S&D. Yet they are years ahead of us.

To me the real turning point was in 1976 when the possible closure of the Settle and Carlisle was reversed. From that date there have been no major rail closures in the UK. Lines and stations began reopening soon afterwards, even in England. The Channel Tunnel was built as a rail tunnel only. The new link to the London Olympics is rail only, there is no car parking. The world is changing, and this is before Peak Oil really hits. Petrol and diesel are still incredibly cheap, yet already our railways are busier than they have been for over 50 years.

And now 'our' government is beginning to soften us up for the end of generally available personal private powered transport. New railways and tramways, road pricing, congestion charges, Sustrans as custodians of future rebuilt rail routes, even busways are part of this process.

More on busways next post. Make sure you're sitting down when you read it!
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Geoffrey said...

Except that the Waverley route did fit the bill of being a long-distance intercity line. No, the line's closure was part of the government strategy to shift as much off the railways onto the roads, using Beeching to bamboozle people with numbers. It didn't make sense then, it makes still less sense now.

In David Henshaw's book The Great Railway Conspiracy, he reports that a private organisation (the Borders Union Railway) offered to take over the running of the line, but British Rail demanded £10k in legal fees, while the Ministry of Transport wanted £170k for a bridge to carry the M6 over the line. That shows you where their real priorities lay.

Sunshiner said...


The line served both an Intercity and a local function, but obviously the local function was ignored, just as it was with the S&D. Just days after closure they had to reopen the line as the roads all around got blocked by snow, a common occurence in the Borders. rather than realising the stupidity of their ways it just encouraged them to rip up the track ASAP, which left the BUR in a very difficult position. In many ways the Border Union Railway was 30 or 40 years ahead of their time.

I suspect that once the line is reopened to Tweedbank it will quickly be extended to Hawick, which is far too large to be railless. And once it reaches Hawick there seems little point in standing in the way of progress and letting the line re-extend to Carlisle and once again take on an Intercity role, no doubt taking a lot of pressure off the other two routes to Scotland, particularly as internal air traffic starts to falter. This really is a strategic route and you can read all sorts of things into its reinstatement.

Anonymous said...

Just to point out one major error. After 1976, there where main rail closures
1)Manchester - Sheffield via Woodhead. I can't even think of a reason why one would shut a double track electic railway with a modern tunnel between the huge areas of South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester
2) Leamside line. Why would one shut a east coast diversion line serving the Nissan car plant, Tyne dock..

Geoffrey said...

What Settle & Carlisle proved was that people power could defeat the politicians on the railways. The line was put up for closure in 1984 and after a strong local campaign the govt refused consent to closure in 1989. No other major passenger route has closed since then, although some freight routes did close, like the Leamside and Princes Risborough / Thame.

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey is right on the ball with his comment.
David Henshaw's book is the book that turned around my thoughts, and the reason i decided to jump ship, so to speak, from job in road haulage to a job as a signalman on the railway. I read his book while trucking around the UK back in 92/93 and realised it was politics, not economics that did for the railways. the railways are the transport for the future and this will become more apparent as time marches on and the oil used....
After borrowing this book from the library so often, I’ve just last week bought myself a copy on amazon.