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!

Monday, August 31, 2009

train at shepton mallet - 2009!

A used ticket for the train across the viaduct.

Tinkerbell and the train.

New S&D chair and Midsomer Norton shop regular Paul Mitchell cross the viaduct under steam power.

Well it WAS an experience! Steam over the big viaduct at Shepton Mallet in 2009. Okay, it was a miniature railway and the track was less than 200 metres long, and the whole thing was rather overwhelmed on a viaduct built for double track standard gauge, but this is early days yet. The fact that S&D infrastructure is beginning to see new uses is fantastic, and everyone who sees and uses this has the potential of joining the clamour for S&D revival.

Kilver Court is a fantastic destination both pre and post-New S&D. The gardens were built for the workers at Showerings' Brewery back in the 1860s and the viaduct sets them off fantastically. The new Kilver Court Gardens have made an excellent job of restoring the gardens and providing superb visitor attractions, such as the shop and cafe. John Baxter, Chair at Midsomer Norton, was manning a sales stand right in the entrance, so there was a good S&D presence there. Even as we drew into the car park we spotted Paul Mitchell from the Midsomer Norton station shop. Debs gave up her ticket so he could ride across the viaduct.

I'm hoping that this becomes a regular annual event and also that Kilver and MN realise they have a lot to gain by working closely together, Kilver providing an excellent interim destination for the railway currently bulding south from Midsomer Norton.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

roads and cars - musings!

Hmmmm - this was the scene from our Geneva hotel window when a Ukrainian coach driver tried to negotiate an impossible corner. It took around 20 minutes and a few squashed bikes to get him out ...

We flew easyJet then hired a car to get around in Switzerland. Normally we'd use the train as it's so easy but because there were four of us this time it actually worked out cheaper to use a hire car.

But we still took the train down to Aigle on the Saturday rather than drive. You can just make out the Leysin to Aigle road below the train here. It takes about four times the distance by road than rail. Imagine attempting this in winter!

A typical road in the UK. This is not efficient. Yesterday some people had to sit for up to six hours on the M5 because some fool had decided the Avonmouth Bridge was a good place to commit suicide. So everything ground to a halt, just as people wanted to get away for the last bank holiday of the year. Traffic was diverted through Bristol causing chaos all over. Today a similar thing has happened because of an accident.

Look at most drivers. They are not capable of driving properly. This country gives away driving licenses too easily. This is doubtless a political decision so there's not too much clamour for new railways - yet.

But as the cost of fuel does what the goverment should have done years ago - drive millions of useless drivers off the road - the clamour will become unbearable. Who will the government turn to first to rebuild Britain's transport infrastructure? Groups like ours that will, by then, have a ten or twenty year track record in the rail reinstatement industry.

To keep on my toes I always read stuff from the other, cornucopian, view on oil. That there is still plenty to go round, and if anything it will get cheaper. (This is a bit like saying air temperatures are falling and glaciers are advancing!)

There was a piece in Moneyweek this week that declared that Peak Oil just doesn't hold up. It goes on to state that there are ten trillion barrels of oil left in the earth, 35% of which should be recoverable. Three and a half trillion sounds a lot, but not when we are using 86 million barrels a day. I did the maths - this cornucopian view gives us 111 years of oil left. But, consider this. I have assumed NO increase in demand, and accepted that this highly contentious estimate is correct. In reality there is probably far less recoverable oil in the ground and demand will continue to rise, especially from China and India, relentlessly. Assuming these more realistic estimates I would suspect that the figure is closer to 50 years. But that doesn't mean cheap oil will be available for 50 years, then disappear overnight. It still means that the crunch will come within 10 to 20 years, pretty much the same timeframe that restoration of the S&D is working on. If anything these oddballs who aren't educated or scientific enough to 'get' Peak Oil can only make things worse by lulling the gullible into a false sense of security.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that rail, for many reasons, is far superior to road!
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Friday, August 28, 2009

our new leaflet

We've produced our first publicity leaflet which is now available to anyone who wants it. If you live near a sympathetic heritage line or similar tourist attraction please request a bulk supply so they can display it.

This is currently a home-produced effort, but soon after the next meeting we'll produce a glossy version, probably with a few changes. I'm quite pleased with this as I managed to knock the whole thing out in less than an hour!
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sid at gartell

(Photos courtesy John Penny 27.8.2009)

Three shots of 'Sid', a Maffei 0-4-0 of 1925 being tested for the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway following extensive work at the GLR workshops by John Uphill. Still a way to go as you can see, the chimney is only temporary and the boiler cladding will be put on at the L&B apparently. Certainly a very 'basic industrial' but it goes very well and rides quite well for a loco of this wheel arrangement. Interestingly, it still has repairs visible following an attack by a Spitfire. It will NOT be in steam over the weekend but the GLR IS fully open for services on Sunday and Monday over the bank holiday.

Don't forget that there will be (7¼" gauge) steam over the viaduct at Shepton Mallet this weekend as well, so there's never been a better time to come and see what's happening on the S&D. Combine it with a stop at Shillingstone and Midsomer Norton and you'll get a real feel for the potential our fantastic route has to offer.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

last look at switzerland - for now ...

At ten o'clock on a Sunday evening this Geneva tram was packed - and all on a line that wasn't even here five years ago!

One of the attractions at the end of one of the tram lines - the United Nations Geneva Headquarters. The chair is around 20 metres high and represents landmine damage. We were here around 10.30 at night on a Sunday with the trams operating every twenty minutes for another two hours. This is REAL public transport - and all FREE thanks to the tickets given out by every hotel which cover the whole public transport network in Geneva - including the boats!

There are more tram lines being built - every time we go something new has just opened. We visited my second cousin in Geneva, an engineer at CERN, and he was very proud that a new tramway was going to be built to CERN shortly. Other lines are planned to stretch right into France, bringing international trams back to the city after more than 70 years.

A step in the right direction of easing capacity restraints - double deck carriages. These were on a 14 coach train from Geneva Airport to the east. Not an option for us in the UK thanks to our stupid loading gauge - but perhaps an option for the new London-Scotland high speed line announced today?

Something for Mick Knox! New build COMPARTMENT stock. This was a real surprise as I wasn't aware of them. We will definitely be looking at providing the New S&D with new compartment stock. This is the most civilized way of travelling - not only by train but by anything!

Okay, it's back to Somerset and Dorset from tomorrow. I'm well aware of the amount of hate mail I get when I dare to move outside of certain readers' comfort zones LOL!!
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

swiss inspirations

Why do we sometimes worry that sections of the S&D have roads currently running on them? It wouldn't worry the Swiss - they'd simply run the trains down the middle, as here in Aigle. This line sees two trains an hour, one of which runs against the one way traffic flow. The Swiss have their priorities right! As car traffic falls and rail traffic rises this scene will become more common everywhere. In other parts of Switzerland ten coach loco-hauled trains regularly operate along roads.

This section of track is now disused, but this is because a new line has been built alongside the SBB main line which joins the original route a mile or so further south. This was the old AOMC line.

This is the brand new narrow gauge station at Aigle, where 3 metre gauge lines run up the mountains, serving many villages and towns. All three lines have an hourly interval service throughout the day. This was a major investment by a small company. The Swiss invest seriously in their railways, an example we should follow ASAP in the UK. These narrow gauge feeder routes are very successful, keeping many rural people connected to the outside world. All narrow gauge trains connect with main line services, making it very convenient to travel round Switzerland without ever needing a car. This is the future! And all powered by renewable electricity ....

Another view of the superb new Aigle station with AL (Aigle-Leysin) and ASD (Aigle-Sepey-Diablerets) trains waiting in the station. Aigle is smaller than Midsomer Norton but boasts a 14 platform station! It also has three or four other stations on the narrow gauge routes. Britain should hang its head in shame at the appalling provision of railways that we currently have to endure.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

back from switzerland

A few teaser pictures from this weekend's trip to Switzerland - content to follow tomorrow!
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

swiss interval

We're off to Switzerland tomorrow for the Nuits des Fees in Leysin. If you feel that being a railway enthusiast is a bit socially isolating you're blaming the wrong thing! I discovered Leysin in the early 70s, it was on the end of a metre gauge line from Aigle where, incredibly, three narrow gauge lines started their journeys up into the mountains, all using street running in Aigle. Not a lot has changed in the last three decades although the AOMC no longer uses it's street running section having built a new line alongside the main line. A few years later I spent nearly a year there, both summer and winter, discovered skiing and also managed to visit just about every line in Switzerland. I still have friends from my Leysin days.

What Switzerland taught me is that railways can easily become the prime form of transport if it has the proper support within the country. Since my first visits new lines have been built throughout Switzerland, many employing extremely long tunnels. Nearly all lines are electrified, using hydro electricity so are well up in the sustainability rankings.

Leysin, a town about a fifth the size of Midsomer Norton, has FOUR stations and trains at least every hour.

So I'll be away for five days. I may be able to post when I'm away but don't count on it. But don't worry - this blog has been running for over three years and a delve into the archives should be very rewarding. Otherwise why not visit one of the S&D websites (on the sidebar)?

Who knows, I may even come back more fired up than ever!
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

threat to heritage railways?

In climate terms, coal is the most damaging fossil fuel there is, and despite all the assertions from industry and government, the "carbon capture and storage" technology required to make coal "clean" does not exist.

What do you think? Do pure heritage railways using steam have any future? Please post comments in the comments section!
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

shepton update

(Photo Andy Lunness)

Info on the Shepton Mallet steam runs is hardening up!

Sadly it is not going to be a real narrow gauge train but rather a 7 1/4" gauge narrow gauge outline loco running across the viaduct. I've got 7 1/4" gauge in my garden so am quite fond of the gauge!

Bottom shot is almost certainly the loco that will be used, Tinkerbell no 3, which is used on the miniature railway at the East Somerset Railway, which opened in June this year. It's a pretty serious engine for such a small gauge.

I'd still recommend going as this may be the only chance to travel across the viaduct in the next ten years or so, although I suspect if successful this may become an annual event or, dare I suggest, a permanent miniature or narrow gauge railway may be installed, at least until standard gauge trains return.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

shepton surprise!

Well, wonders on the S&D keep happening.

This August bank holiday you will be able to travel - by steam train - over the magnificent 27 arch grade 2 listed viaduct that looms majestically over Shepton Mallet.

This is an initiative by the superb Kilver Court gardens that now lie beneath the viaduct.

It will be many years before standard gauge trains return to this section so I'd advise you all to take this amazing opportunity.

Now for the details (more in depth info has been requested)

Trains will be narrow gauge (probably 2 foot) and will be steam hauled, using a loco hired from the East Somerset Railway. The trains will operate on the viaduct itself, so expect fantastic views.

Trains will operate August Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday 29th - Monday 31st August 10am till 5pm. More details here.

This means that there will be TWO S&D stretches running narrow gauge steam over this weekend (the other is the Gartell of course). The S&D really is coming alive all over and diverse people are now appreciating what a fantastic asset this line is.

Hopefully a lot of you will get there - we'll certainly be going on one of the days at least! If you see me please say hello!
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

busway impressions

I'd promised a piece on busways weeks ago so I thought I'd do an impressionistic piece rather than a straight narrative as a few people have had a lot to say on this.

1. Today, after finishing nights I decided I would pay a visit to the guided busway near the A14. This busway replaced a railway that although closed to freight in 1992 still had track in situ and was reckoned to cost £50m to reinstate for passenger use. Instead the Tories on the local council decided to spend £116 million of taxpayers’ money on a guided busway, which only 4 persons voted for, with 2400 against!

With a spring 2009 opening date, things are obviously not going too well, but as they have spent so much money you will be told how much of a success it is, but my view as you might guess, is that it is just a pile of sh*te. It isn’t a road, nor is it a railway, but it looks more like a plateway as seen in the NRM and tried 200+ years ago. These boffins ought to get out their history books as see what has gone on before. I’m sure this was tried in Devon, a long, long time ago. Oh well, when it snows, floods etc, or the track needs tamping they’re going to find out how bad the whole thing is. All this to travel by bus! Smooth enough to drink coffee onboard they claim? Rightyo? Utter b*llocks there then?

And the freight will still be on the A14? I like trucking!

Anyway, like the open level crossing for the busway? Different rules apply there then? Someone will eventually jump the lights, as per railway crossings!

Ignore the weeds, they won’t grow much ...

2. 3800 voted for the return of the railway, 4 for the buses!


sounds like EU style democracy?

3. When the guided bus nonsense is finally abandoned, I have little doubt that nobody will be accountable for wasting the public's money. I believe that the Glasgow one is now being abandoned -any info? I don't think the Aussie one has been deemed a success either. I have also heard that there was a collision on one (info?) and both rail and road inspectors refused to get involved. Surely this comes under ROGS? 'Rail and Other Guided Systems'? (My italics) I think Cast Iron may well be able to stir things up big-time if there is an incident! But like you say Steve; you couldn't make it up.

4. Apparently according to a comment on your blog, Dunstable is next in line for a busway? Again the track is still in situ.

Do they Tory road brigade feel more threatened by the fact the rails are still there, and they need to deal with these former railways first?

Long term they’ll lose…

5. I got this today Steve. Guess what? Guided buses are excluded. What cr*p! They're guided for crying out loud! Other Guided Systems - Hah!


6. Caught the local news for Gosport last night (Meridian I think it was) and the Guided Bus fiasco has been given the go-ahead there now. The usual crowd of dip-sticks were interviewed for (pro) vox pop, and some bloke who was against it cuz his garden backed onto it, then a huge bunch of 'genuine' antis were shown but none were interviewed to give their view. Biased reporting I think it's called!!

7. Yeh; you're right Steve - the dozy sods try and drive alone railway lines so it's anybody's guess how long it'll be before there is a crash of some kind - head on twixt bus and car probably. Did you get my email re the ROGS? What a bloody fiasco! The guided buses are specifically excluded. Is it guided or what?! There was definately a crash on one somewhere and both road and rail investigators refused to have anything to do with it! Checkout the Glasgow one (found it somewhere on the web) It's being abandoned in favour of a tram apparantly. Incidentally, I've got a funny feeling that the inventor of this has actually come out and said it's a nonsense.

8. http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/transport/guided/

just heard on the local anglia bbc news that the busway is being delayed again and won’t now open until November….

Just in time for a bit of snow hopefully?

My own twopennyworth - This is all good fun - except for those communities that are going to suffer this barely believable misallocation of resources. I think this government, cravenly backed by certain opposition councils, is frightened of what will happen when the hornets' nest of rail reinstatement really takes off, for we are talking HUGE sums of money, and to get that they will have to accept and declare the reality of Peak Oil. We'll probably be drip fed the information, look out for a slight backing away from Climate Change and more emphasis on 'energy security', still a clumsy attempt to cloud the issue but at least a step in the right direction. This will probably all come out when the government (whoever it is) needs to start building nuclear power stations.

Busways will come and go, like monorails and other impractical pretend trains. I firmly believe that St Ives will get its trains back, but they may need to wait a few more years. In the meantime consider the busway as a custodian of the trackbed, a rather more expensive Sustrans!

None of this will affect the New S&D of course ...
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

freight - us and recession style

Most people think of the USA as pretty much backwards transport wise, but in fact as rail freight goes it is cutting edge. Most freight in the USA is moved by rail, not road.

So this piece, in an investment newsletter, caught my eye. To me it shows that rail is beginning to push itself to the front of the agenda, and also really does provide an indicator of economic activity, something our clogged roads can never do!

The No. 1 Reason I Don’t Trust This Market


The train drew round the bend and approached the crossing. The warning bells rang, and the barriers fell across the road. Then the engineer pulled four long blasts on his horn. Two 4,400-horsepower GE locomotives rolled past me at low speed ... bending the rails with their weight. This was an express container train bound for Chicago..."Shorter than normal," I thought. "And more empties than usual." Last week, I was on vacation in California. While I was there, I took the opportunity to gauge railroad activity. We drove a hundred miles beside Union Pacific's southern California mainline. This is one of the most important stretches of railroad in the country. It links the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles with the eastern seaboard. I was expecting to see dozens of trains. We only saw two...

Then we stopped in Los Angeles to ogle the huge tangle of idled Union Pacific locomotives outside the Port of Long Beach. There must have been over 100 of them.

Freight trains move our most important basic materials around the country... like coal, fertilizer, steel, and container boxes. By watching the trends on America's freight railroads, you can get an excellent feel for the strength of the economy.

Right now, the railroads are hurting. Railcar loadings are down about 20% from last year's levels, railroads have abandoned half a million freight cars and idled over 5,000 locomotives. CSX Railroad has even closed a local freight yard near where I live in Florida and is using it entirely for storage.

Here's the thing: Since the stock market started rising in March, and the news from the housing market has improved, everyone's talking about economic recovery and the end of the recession. Last week, the non-farm payroll numbers came out. They were stronger than expected, sending the stock market to a new nine-month high... So why is business in the railroad industry still deteriorating?

This month's issue of Trains Magazine features a study of the number of locomotives held in storage by the major, "Class 1" railroads. The number of idled locomotives has swelled 57% between March and June...

Each quarter, Economic Planning Associates releases its Rail Car Overview report. In the second quarter, orders for new rail cars by railroads and shippers tumbled to 2,165 units from 2,374 units in the first quarter.And finally, the Association of American Railroads released its weekly report on rail car loadings last Thursday...

For the first seven months of 2009, total U.S. rail car loadings were down 19%, while container and trailer transportation fell 17.2%. All 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw car loads decline in July. The biggest declines were coal (down 9.9%), metals and metal products (down 47.7%), metallic ores (down 58.9%), and crushed stone and gravel (down 25.8%).The message from the railroads is, the economic recovery is a mirage. Things are going from bad to worse. Until you see the railroads turn around, you should continue to be suspicious of the rally in the stock market and the "green shoots" story in the news.
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Sunday, August 09, 2009

prepare the stocks

(Evercreech Junction 1968 Jeffery Grayer)

I was leafing through a copy of Colin Maggs' 'The Last Years of the Somerset and Dorset' and found the chapter on the run down of the line really interesting. The S&D was closed despite an assurance from the (surprise surprise!) Labour government of the day that no major railway closures would be implemented without a review of the Beeching Report. Evil witch (surely an oxymoron?) Barbara Castle went ahead and closed the line anyway, making it the longest line closed under Beeching. The bits about the poor people of Wellow and Shoscombe (in particular) having to cope without their trains was heartbreaking. At one point a minibus was put on to replace the trains! Nobody on this side of a lunatic asylum could ever claim that was progress. From having fast modern transport using a dedicated right of way they were suddenly thrown back a hundred years and forced to crowd into a six seater bus that was expected to crawl along little single track roads and then fight its way through the Bath traffic. (This is starting to sound like the Cambridge Guided Busway LOL!)

This madness needs to be dissected in the 21st century to find out what really inspired the closure of the original S&D. Perhaps a few of the perpetrators are still alive and can be called to account. The deliberate switching of freight to less direct routes, the deliberate running down of stations and rolling stock, the dreadful timetable that made almost every journey unbearable if not impossible, the refusal to consider track rationalising or using DMUs - the whole thing was a national disgrace.

It merely confirms to me that the S&D should never have closed, which basically means that there is now no reason for it not to be rebuilt.

Next year the new limited company charged with rebuilding and operating the line will be born. Hopefully the board will, as well as including prominent local businesspeople, have the Chairs of Midsomer Norton, Shillingstone, the New S&D and Washford as members.

At the same time I'll be working on 'The Case for the S&D' taking an incisive look at the hard-to-believe mischief used to deprive hundreds of thousands of people of their trains. And the now unarguable case for bringing them back.

I'm glad I'm on THIS side of the fence and not theirs!!
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