Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Friday, October 30, 2009
I'm away for a couple of days from this evening to enjoy the Halloween delights of Pontins, Brean Sands.
Still on the holiday theme just a few reflections on our previous trip to Majorca.
Majorca is investing heavily in its transport future with a rebuilt railway network, new metro and planned tramways. Everything is switching from road to rail, as it should.
Majorca is, of course, primarily a tourist destination and much of its economy depends on visitors, an excellent reason for providing cheap, modern and efficient public transport. But it's also an island, and this may cause real problems in the future. Almost all visitors currently arrive by air, but air travel is doomed, no matter how much we don't want it to be.
Whilst resorts on the mainland will be served by high speed rail in the future there's no such future for Majorca - the island simply lies too far off shore to be connected by tunnel. So visitors in the future will need to arrive by boat. Will people bother? If anything Majorca will have to make itself even more attractive so investment in public transport is likely to increase.
We had a comment the other day from a group in Majorca that are opposed to the extension of the Manacor line to Arta. They are quite seriously suggesting buses can do the job! To be fair to them they are not anti public transport, and think the money that will be spent on the Arta line will be better spent elsewhere. But they obviously haven't had their Peak Oil Moment yet. How exactly will buses carry freight? How will buses tempt travellers from their cars? They haven't anywhere else in the world, so what will be different in Majorca? Trams tempt people from cars, as do trains. Trains and trams can carry freight. They are also not subject to congestion.
The line to Arta will be built, as will the proposed branch to Porto Christo. The anti rail group are 100% wrong.
But then there are still people who think the Earth is flat!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
One of our big projects is to create a superb S&D website. Up to now it's mainly been about the future, but I believe there is a continuum right through from the original opening of the line in 1854 through the temporary closure period, to its current stirrings and through to its 21st century role as a vital sustainable transport link.
I feel that the website should also serve as an important resource for S&D fans, past, present and future. To this end we've already half completed the 'stations' section, and have just made the first steps towards building a 'locomotives that have worked on the S&D' section, which will be an enormous job!
The ideal is to have a site that first and foremost keeps our diaspora of fans and members in touch with what's happening on the ground, at Midford, Midsomer Norton, Shillingstone, Masbury, Gartell, Washford and Sturminster Newton but which also contains within its depths every single piece of information you will ever need to write books, articles, build models etc etc. I'd like eventually a huge photo resource of the line at all points in time, video library and even an oral history section (with transcripts).
To this end all photos, stories etc etc, as well as offers of help with content, from ANY angle (not just the historical!) are most welcome!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Peak Oilers generally are employed in the oil exploration or economics fields, but we're beginning to see Peak Oil break out of this rarified ghetto. Many investment advisers are now making the clear link between oil prices and the general economy and, surprisingly perhaps, the oil price is now being seen by some as the main determinant of an economy's performance.
This is a marker as to how things are developing, as are the huge price swings in oil since Hurricane Katrina. All of this was forecast by Peak Oil pioneers over a decade ago.
I know that Peak Oil is a far more technical subject than is (media-friendly) Climate Change. It doesn't have the same frisson or sense of excitement as does wild weather, we've not seen many films about it (the documentary Crude Impact is one, but no fiction as yet), no 'Day After Tomorrow' or the rubbish shown on Sci-Fi channel every week. There are only four novels using Peak Oil as a theme, though there are hundreds of factual works. But in many ways it is a far bigger threat to our way of life than is climate change, and certainly in the transport field it is of paramount importance. It still amazes me that most rail professionals and amateurs still don't allude to it. Whether that's through ignorance or fear is hard to say!
This is really an introduction to yet another pilfered article that these days arrive almost daily in my in box, coming almost exclusively from investment professionals. I know some of you don't like the Peak Oil stuff, others don't like my trips away from the S&D, but it is all grist to the mill. You can always skip these bits, but remember, this will affect you in the future and there are things you can do today to ease the transition for you and your family to a post peak oil world. I don't go for the apocalyptic approach, the situation is not only survivable but we should come out the other end living in a far better world, with different priorities and a different pace of life.
The biggest threat to the recovery – the soaring oil price
Oil cartel Opec is starting to get a bit twitchy about the soaring oil price.
The Angolan oil minister, Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos, reckons that $75-$80 a barrel is the optimum level for both consumers and producers. We’ll come back to that view in a moment. But he’s also worried. If the price keeps rising towards $100 a barrel, Opec members might be open to pumping a bit "more oil into the market," he says.
But why should Opec be worried by rising prices? And can they do anything about them?
Oil's threatening to escape its 'optimal' price
The world is gradually succumbing to the notion that we’re back in Goldilocks territory. Economic policy is "not too hot and not too cold" – it’s "just right". The one big blot on the horizon is the rocketing oil price.
Although it slipped back yesterday, oil has recently clawed its way above the $80 a barrel mark. That’s threatening to escape from its ‘optimum’ range of $75 to $80 a barrel, says Opec president, Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos. "I think a balanced price is always better."
Now I can’t claim to have any idea where Opec gets this optimal ‘balanced price’ of $75-$80 a barrel from. I suspect that it simply comes down to what they think they can get away with. Bear in mind that at any point in history other than the past two years, an oil price at that sort of level would have been deemed an utter catastrophe for the global economy. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, the highest the oil price rose was to just over $70 a barrel.
So it’s quite impressive that oil producers have managed to ‘sell’ the idea of $70 plus for a barrel of oil as an aspirational target price, rather than a horrendously expensive level for the world’s key raw material.
Why Opec is concerned about the soaring oil price
But now even Opec is concerned. For one thing, once you get to this price, countries and independent producers have much greater incentive to seek both alternative energy sources, and alternative oil sources. Investment in these areas has been hit by the recession, but it’ll soon pick up again if it looks like $80 oil is here to stay. So by a ‘balanced’ oil price, Opec means one which generates lots of profit for them, but is still not sufficiently attractive to encourage serious investment in alternatives.
And of course, there’s the little matter of the global economy. One of my key personal economic barometers is the price at the petrol pump. When the price per litre dipped briefly below 90p earlier this year, I felt that little bit richer. Now that it’s pushing £1.10 again, I’m wondering where to cut back.
As Neil Atkinson at KBC Services tells The Times, "if the oil price continues to rise in the next week or two, there is a danger that the economic recovery will be strangled at birth." A fresh collapse in the global economy would of course hammer the oil price again.
So Opec wants to avoid killing the golden goose. High oil prices sow the seeds of their own destruction, and the oil cartel would ideally like to find the ‘Goldilocks’ level at which they can make handsome profits while allowing the global economy to stay afloat.
But can Opec increase production faster than the world’s central banks can increase the money supply? If oil prices are being driven higher by the same thing pushing up every other asset class – cheap and free-flowing money – then Opec’s efforts to fiddle with supply and demand will have little impact on the price.
This is a serious threat to the current ‘recovery’. Andy Xie argues in the South China Morning Post that high oil prices in 2006 were the "final straw that tipped the US property market" – US consumers squeezed by rising petrol (gas) prices finally succumbed to the weight of their unaffordable debts. He also argues that the resurgence of oil in 2008 "pulled the rug out from under the derivatives bubble."
An oil bubble, he says, is different from others. It hurts consumption, and it also drives inflation higher, which eventually results in tighter monetary conditions. "Oil speculation is the party crasher, even though it destroys itself by destroying others."
How to protect your portfolio from the oil price rise
He reckons that there’s a good chance that we’ll see $100 oil again sooner rather than later. But that will almost certainly mean a "double-dip" recession in 2010, as once fiscal stimulus is pulled out of the economy, consumers are unlikely to pick up the slack, due to high levels of unemployment. John Mauldin of Investors Insight agrees – he also "firmly believes" that we’re heading for a double-dip recession in the next 18 months. And during a recession, he points out, share prices fall by an average of 40% – so "adjust your portfolios accordingly," he advises.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Traffic filled streets - this one seen from a passing train!
Typical off peak loading on Palma buses.
Electric traction is already in Palma - this is the very recently opened metro railway in the Placa D'Espanya.
Yet another packed bus!
Apologies for returning to Majorca whilst in the midst of a New S&D roll, but if I don't do it now I never will!
The buzz in Palma is that tram construction will start soon. Spain has been opening new tramways at a quickening pace so Majorca's missing out a bit. The Government of the Islas Balaeres decided years ago that they were going to switch from a road-based to a rail-based economy, solid evidence of this shift are the reopened railways to Manacor and Sa Pobla (see earlier post) and the brand new Metro to the University, as well as the amazing rail/Metro/bus/future tram station underneath the Placa D'España.
The first tramways will be from Palma to the airport and to Arenal. We stay in Arenal - probably the only Brits to do so as it is otherwise 95% German and 5% Dutch - so this line will be very useful to us. There are regular buses to Palma, via the backstreets(15) and motorway (25), running every ten minutes or so, but they are hopelessly crowded. As most of the users are holidaymakers they don't have access to cars so the bus is essential (and very cheap). And the Dutch and Germans love their trams!
Once buses reach this level of capacity - that's full to standing every five minutes (taking into account both routes) - then trams become the obvious solution. Of course they are also more 'environmentally friendly' as there's no pollution from the vehicles themselves, giving a cleaner atmosphere. They are also seen as modern and classy as opposed to the old, smelly and 'common' buses. Majorca should have little difficulty generating most of its energy needs from solar power as otherwise it's quite vulnerable to energy problems as a small island. This was probably also behind the government's transport strategy, even if not overtly stated!
Majorca does of course already have a tramway, at Soller, so it's hardly an alien concept. Palma itself had a decent tramway network until 1959 when it was abandoned in the rather strange atmosphere of the times.
I suspect that when the tramway is built, and construction is due to start very soon, other areas around Palma, and I'm thinking particularly of Magaluf, will clamour for theirs. I've already decided not to return to Majorca until there are new railways and tramways in place to tempt me back!
One last post on Majorca to follow very soon, then I promise S&D stuff - at least until I go away to Barcelona in February where, surprise surprise, there are new tramways ...
We are all in for a big reorientation over the next 20 to 30 years.
With respect to the rebuilt S&D we are not only looking at restoring the 'classic' routes, Bournemouth to Bath and Evercreech to Burnham, but adding extra capacity and flexibility by including new links to Brockenhurst via Wimborne and Ringwood and to Bristol via Pensford, and also looking at the whole provision of rail to Glastonbury and Wells by not dismissing the possibility of building a wholly new route from these two important tourist towns over the Mendips to a junction near Masbury rather than simply restoring the original route from Evercreech Junction. We also expect that the entire main line will need to be double tracked including the long Blandford to Templecombe section, though with the obvious proviso of physical limitations north of Midford into Bath!
In the wider transport field all communities will need to look at how they are actually arranged. Suburbs, where they are still viable, will need trams or ULR to continue to allow them to thrive. Businesses needing incoming and outgoing transport will need to be located next to a rail or tram route with larger concerns having private sidings. Many industries will need to reconnect using their own private industrial lines. Whole swathes of manufacturing and service industries will vanish with the withering of pure consumerism. Seaside resorts benefitting from an improving (warming) climate and the end of cheap air travel will need to ensure they are connected to the network and outlying parts of their resort connected to the nearest network station by tram. Everything will need to be sustainable both in embedded energy and energy used to operate. Farms will need to be connected to the network by light rail to allow produce to reach markets which will also, of course, need to be rail served.
And individually, and as families, we will all need to reorientate the way we live. Within 20 to 30 years the idea that we once all - or nearly all - had access to private motorised transport will seem incredible. The electric car, now the only serious option in a post-oil society, will wither on the vine as the roads themselves fail without affordable materials for repair and under the new political regimes that will do everything they can to reduce private transport, using the oil price first, then rationing then actually outlawing private vehicles. This will not of course be a concatenation of political decisions but economic imperatives, so will be applicable to anyone who is voted in. None of this is rocket science.
We'll need to change the way we work, many of us will have to relocate, as close as we can to rail transport, grow our own food and live more locally-based lives. Personally I hope we retain our love of travel even if many are counting on us giving it all up. I don't think this will be the end of history or of, indeed, progress. But I do think we are all going to have to sit back and relax for a few generations until everything is totally reorientated towards a truly sustainable society. Once that's in place technology can start to develop again. I'm sorry if I'm an incurable optimist, but it's a position I've arrived at after many decades of pushing the boundaries!
(Apologies for using continental European images for this article - but they are so far ahead of us!!)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
My last trip to Evercreech Junction was in 1980.
It was good to see that the main station building is still standing, ready for purchase by the New S&D in the future.
This iconic location - and not just from an S&D perspective - is a sad sight today. It should be bustling with life with trains coming every half hour or so. There should be shops and restaurants serving the thousands of visitors coming by train. There should be trains running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It underlines the utter desolation of certain places when they lose their trains and how desperately they need them back.
In fact the whole journey today from Bristol to the Gartell Railway underlined this economic apartheid. Binegar, Shepton Mallet, Evercreech Junction - all seemed dull and lifeless with few if any amenities. Conversely the two places we did pass through that are still served by trains - Castle Cary and Templecombe - seemed lively and alive. The car park at Castle Cary was packed on a Sunday.
This contrast will become sharper and sharper as the Energy Crunch bites harder. Those people clever (or lucky) enough to live on a railway will be able to continue to go about their daily lives. Their property prices will rise (or fall less) than those who suddenly find themselves out in the sticks, with just crumbling roads and hideously expensive cars and buses to rely on. There will be a shift away from these blighted areas to those that will have a bright future. Even today properties close to railways (or more precisely stations) are worth a good deal more than those that are bereft of modern transport.
This perception will ensure that as time goes by more and more people in these areas (which, currently, sadly includes most of the S&D route) will absolutely insist that their railways are returned. But they can't all be returned at once, there will be a distinct pecking order. We have every intention that the S&D will be up there with the usual suspects - Exeter-Okehampton-Plymouth, Oxford-Cambridge, Waverley route, Great Central, Skipton-Colne, Lewes-Uckfield etc etc.
Two above - track already laid on the gartell extension towards Templecombe. The existing route joins this line in the far distance.
Looking northwards on what will become the Templecombe extension. Judging by the inscription on the crane this land is already owned by the Gartell engineering business!
The sign that greets passengers who alight at Park Lane. It would be nice if, as a holding operation, the line WAS walkable all the way to Bournemouth West! Eventually of course this section will be relaid as a standard gauge main line. The New S&D will hopefully work with the Gartell to develop this unique narrow gauge (and eventually dual gauge) section of the S&D, the Gartell Railway becoming a valuable extra attraction on the route.
I do feel that narrow gauge railways will become very commonplace throughout the UK, for both industrial and passenger use, filling a vital gap in connecting industry and people to the main standard gauge network as the road network vanishes.
We had a really nice trip to the Gartell Railway this afternoon, the last open day of the season. There were two trains running, both behind steam. I was last there around five years ago and there have been a few changes including the construction of a superb cafe/function room.
We also got to go up in the signalbox where I finally met John Penny who has been a great source of info on the Gartell over the last year or so.
All in all the Gartell is an excellent pointer to how the New S&D could develop, with a really friendly feel and excellent facilities. It does the S&D proud.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
The following extract is from an investment newsletter, and shows how Peak Oil concerns have now very much entered the mainstream. Investment advisers, like New S&D promoters, are not affected by sentiment, nostalgia, wishful thinking or their own agenda, but by simple cold hard facts!
There are a lot of possible outcomes from the end of cheap oil. For our anomynous nostalgic chum (see yesterday's post) I've included some pretty pictures of diesel trains, which will of course be one early casualty, along with cheap air travel and road transport of freight, of this quantum shift in transport patterns and infrastructure. The rail future is clearly electric and sustainable (wood burning/wood waste burning) steam. You will only see diesels in a museum.
The Energy Crisis Just a Bit Delayed
Eighty-five million barrels a day.
That’s the most that can be produced. So when recession causes a temporary decrease in world consumption, it can seem like those 85 million barrels are enough. But consumption is bound to resume its upward climb, while those 85 million barrels a day are all we get. The day of reckoning has just been delayed for a little bit. “Can’t we get more than 85 million barrels?” some folks are bound to wonder. Let’s look into that.
Those Stubborn “Peak” Curves
This week I was in Denver, attending the 2009 conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas (ASPO). Despite all the happy talk in the Big Media about how the oil situation is under control, I assure you that the oil situation is NOT under control.The market meltdown and world recession of the past year has bought some time, or stolen some time may be a better way of saying it. All the “peak” curves are still out there, but are merely adjusted a bit to the right on the timelines.
As Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey likes to say on the television show Mail Call, “Wipe that smile off your face.” We’re staring at an energy problem that’s coming down the tracks like a runaway freight train. It’s just astonishing that more people don’t appreciate the looming impact of Peak Oil.
Meanwhile, the politicians are fooling around with the health care issue. Hmmm... I have some news for them. If you screw up energy, health care isn’t going to matter very much.
Oil Output Not Increasing
It might be a comforting thought to believe that world oil output can increase. Indeed, many policymakers in the U.S. and Europe apparently dream themselves to sleep at night pondering how the current oil volume of about 85 million barrels per day could move upward to, say, 95 million barrels per day — “if only the world oil industry were more efficient.”Yeah, right. Except the global oil industry is not that model of dreamland efficiency. Sure, there are some bright spots. The big internationals like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, etc. are good. There are some really good state oil firms like Brazil’s Petrobras and Norway’s StatoilHydro. Saudi Aramco is outstanding. These guys are all doing great work to keep the world’s pipelines and tankers filled.
But much of the rest of the world’s oil industry lacks the knack for capital discipline and crisp project execution. Venezuela’s oil industry is a basket case, what with the Chavez-led nationalizations and mass firings of recent years. Output is falling in Venezuela, and this from a nation with among the largest hydrocarbon reserves anywhere in the world.
Mexico’s national firm, Pemex, is nothing but a piggy bank for the politicians, who suck most of the investment capital away from the oil patch and into their own boondoggles. Thus is Pemex walking off a cliff of underinvestment, depletion and decline. According to Matt Simmons, Pemex may not be exporting any oil at all to the U.S. within 18-24 months.
Iran’s oil industry is in a slow death spiral, despite the occasional report of Chinese assistance with field development. Apparently, there’s a “Twitter Revolution” going on in Iran that includes people at the grass roots impeding the oil industry. Well, it worked to depose the Shah back in 1979. Perhaps the Iranians can rid themselves of their mullahs in a similar way.
Next door in Iraq, chaos reigns. According to Matt Simmons, the Iraqis “are in the dark about how to run their oil industry.” The Iraqi oil legislation is so burdensome that almost all players within the international energy industry are spurning Iraq, including the Chinese. Wow. When the Chinese won’t invest in your oil fields, there MUST be something wrong.
And so it goes. The bottom line is that we should expect a global oil shock by 2012, or earlier if global economic activity kicks into high gear. It should go without saying that despite any calamities that may come from such a thing, you would be very happy if you’d taken advantage of lower oil prices to stock up.
(Written by Byron King)
Friday, October 23, 2009
I got one of those absolute gifts in the comments box today which I just felt I had to share!
[T]here are powerful anti rail figures in this country with money finding loop holes to continually build on trackbed and encourage network rail to sell off everything and contine to beat the modern railway back to the core. [T]he relentless lifting of sidings and rationalisation will continue. The goverment wants the 20 billion subsidy reduced, and therefore network rail do not have money to do anything except essential renewals and capacity enhancements on the very core uk routes. overcrowding and fares will continue to rise and freight and sidings will be a distant memory in 15 years time. the railways are screwed and we all know it, thats why we live in our little nostalgic bubbles trying to enjoy the past we miss, during our lives.
I absolutely LOVE the way he or she is trying to tar us - of all people - with a big nostalgia brush! D'you suppose they even read this site? I suspect the character is speaking solely for themselves, and considering the post to which the comment was added has yet to experience their 'peak oil moment'. I love the little paranoid hint of conspiracy theory too!
To recap - this rubbish is pure 1970s left wing defeatism. It says nothing of today, let alone the future, or even of the recent past.
The owners and operators of railways into the 21st century will be the most important people in the economic firmament. They will be part of a new business elite that will help the world pass through the end of oil into a sustainable future. The nostalgists dread the fact this is happening, whether from a political, personal or business angle. They are swimming against the rip tide of history and, sadly, I think they know it. They are attempting to set an agenda that is shattering into a million discrete pieces.
We've done all this. We've gone through the 'no hope' stage, almost willed the end of rail, just to taste the bitter sweet honey of decay. There was a beautiful grandeur in the empty stations and trackbeds of the 60s and 70s. But things have changed faster than any of us dared hope. Roadbuilding has ground to a stop, air travel is in decline, the price of oil is starting to rocket again and nothing really is being done to address this apart from the building of thousands of miles of high speed railways and the reopening of lines and stations at a stately pace. This is our clue. Look around you. Look at where every supermarket is being built or has been built in the last twenty years - next to open or disused railways. Look at the Channel Tunnel - built as a RAIL tunnel. This hardly suggests the supremacy or even equality of roads, and these were decisions made years ago. Look at the lack of any replacement for Concorde - hardly a ringing endorsement of air travel.
Perhaps, to be generous, our troll poster mistook our reporting of events on the heritage sections of the S&D as some sort of nostalgic diversion. They are nothing of the sort. But having to post every day on here I feel that reports on events up and down the route - even if of a 'heritage' nature - will be of interest to most of our readers, even those of you whose prime interest is in modern and future transport systems.
And does he or she think we are stupid nostalgists for wishing to maximise the revenue and appeal of the New S&D? Of course we want to encourage steam visitors to the route - they will increase income and interest in our revived line. And steam itself - albeit in a modern and sustainable form - has an incredibly bright future. Nothing nostalgic in that, any more than there is nostalgia in a nuclear power station when uranium heats the water that creates the steam that drives the turbines that generate the power.
Nostalgia - the very word makes me reach for my revolver!
... visit the Gartell Light Railway for this season, comes this Sunday (25/10/09). They're open from 10.00 and first train is at 10.30. Clocks go back the night before so use the extra hour in bed to be refreshed and ready to go and see them! Signed from Templecombe in the North and Henstridge lights in the South, you can't miss it. Take a leisurely trip down the Blackmore Vale behind a steam engine - they have two, remember! Food and drink are available on site, and the GLR is an ideal family destination.
(There are Santa trains in December for which booking is essential).
I am going to try to get down on Sunday so hope to see you there.
(All photos courtesy John Penny).