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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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

deadly serious

Swanage Railway.

Welsh Highland Railway.

Gartell Railway. (John Penny).

Jinty at Midsomer Norton 2005.

One of the oddest things about all this New S&D thing is that I still occasionally get asked 'Is this a serious scheme?' It's deadly serious. I have studied the economics of Peak Oil, of transport and of railways and I still can't see any way - short of apocalypse - that this can't happen.

Consider two futures. One in which - somehow - economic expansion continues and some sort of alternative/s to oil is found. Roads would become increasingly congested, towns would continue to expand. Already our railways are bursting at the seams - new lines are not just desirable but inevitable. And in this (extremely unlikely) scenario economic expansion could lead to increased carbon output. How long before every government finally 'gets' what the rest of us have for years - that fuel efficiency is one way of reducing atmospheric carbon? Railways are at least FOUR times as efficient as road transport, much more than four times as efficient as air travel (which even in this scenario is doomed). Light and ultra-light rail are even more efficient.

The other future, the far more realistic one, will see economic expansion halt and even contract, and the road system grind to a halt due to a mix of sky-high oil prices, deteriorating maintenance of roads and ever greater limits on carbon output. This could happen over decades, years or even weeks. In this scenario rail expansion won't only be desirable but a matter of life or death, for communities if not for individuals. New railways will be opening everywhere, not just totally reversing the Beeching cuts but reaching places that never got a railway first time round, because in this scenario no railway = no way of continuing as an economic community.

The New S&D has never been about dreams, but more about stopping a nightmare. A New S&D is already needed, many feel that the original line should never have closed, in twenty years time only a few rocking lunatics won't see the need for it.

What we need - HAVE - to do is get organised NOW, develop our networks and contacts, within the rail industry, among local people, at local, regional and national political levels. It will be a struggle to get resources, human and financial. We will be competing with hundreds or even thousands of other routes desperate to reopen before the oil runs out. Serious? You could say that!
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Monday, July 27, 2009

you couldn't make it up!

I know this looks like some sterile Photoshop fantasy, but this madness is actually happening in Cambridgeshire. This is the guided busway that some loonies have been building - on a railway route would you believe - between Cambridge and St Ives.

In the words of one of our members - I have been meaning to go over and photo some of this meaningless busway before it opens, just as a warning to other railway re-opening schemes just what can be imposed by government if you're not careful.

I doubt very much that this would ever happen through the Mendip Hills, but it just goes to show that rather than accept the fact that they were wrong to close these lines in the first place, they will re-open them as busways instead, as it can mean less loss of face.

They won't last into the future, as its really a poor mans' railway, albeit at twice the cost!

I have to pinch myself looking at these pictures. What the hell are they thinking of??

This line has a vigorous campaigning group, seeking to have the (previously intact) route restored, electrified and ready to carry hundreds of thousands of former car users into Cambridge and on to the network. Instead they get this total joke, an oil-using monstrosity that peters out on the outskirts of Cambridge to just push more (inevitably almost empty) dirty buses to fight their way through the congestion to the sanity of Cambridge railway station - at more than twice the price of a restored railway (three times the cost of a modern tramway or light railway)!

So what poor St Ives gets is a time-limited joke, more oil guzzling buses that aren't even flexible. No solution to future freight transport. A one-off system with no ability to expand, a soon to be overgrown 'showpiece' that is unlikely to tempt anyone out of their cars once the novelty's worn off. It's already looking tatty, even before it's opened. It'll be no use in the snow. All it will do is encourage the citizens of St Ives to call for the restoration of their railway ASAP. What a total joke.

Mick Knox cleverly likens it to the Haytor Granite Tramway (below).

That also was a one off, and you can still see its remains high up on Dartmoor. This will be the perfect monument to this hopelessly failed government - an overgrown anachronism. A badly thought out 'solution' to the end of cheap oil, that appeals to no-one, doesn't do the job and was a total waste of money. All it tells us is that they have no intention of allowing us to own private transport in the future.

This caused a major upset in Cambridgeshire. 3800 people voted for the railway, 4 for the busway. 4!! And I doubt even they will use it ....
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Friday, July 24, 2009


I've got a host of posts lining up but still not recovered from swine 'flu so thought I'd just put a few teaser pics up to hold your interest and as an aide memoire!

Hopefully I'll get them done over the weekend.
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gartell weekend

(Details and photos courtesy John Penny)

This weekend sees 'our' railway - The Gartell Light Railway - hold the second of our Transport events after the success of last year. We had a lot of compliments after our first event of this kind, mainly because we are more relaxed than some other events of this type! This year Steve Rodd, the man behind it all, has organised a two-day event, with more exhibits than last year, and yet entry is free with your train ticket, although a donation is appreciated of course. Take a look at the NEWS section of glr-online.co.uk We're just South of Templecombe - you can't miss it. See you Saturday or Sunday!
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

rail future

Things have been buzzing around New S&D headquarters this week - and not just because of the swine flu! I've had a host of emails, letters and phonecalls. I will eventually dilute them all down to blog posts, but I'm still not 100% by any means ...

One thing we have done is join, as a group, Railfuture. It is the campaigning arm of the long-lived Railway Development Society Ltd. They must feel vindicated after all these years now that rail reopenings and developments are on everybodys' lips. Yet bad habits die hard and there is still a feeling of 'they're out to get us - this time with busways!' which I find more amusing than alarming! Fear not - busways are a 21st century version of the Blennie Railplane.

We'll be placing an ad in their next issue as this is a targeted market for us. I'd also advise all of you to join as individual members as this is a really good cause. Their website is here.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

toe in the water

The New S&D appeared 'out there' over the weekend.

It wasn't a New S&D stall, but the Wessex Society stall at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Show carried some hastily printed leaflets for us. Below is David's report back.

Take-up of the leaflets was very slow and I have most left over. Bob Craig took a batch of them over to the RMT stall, where they were apparently well-received.

I had three good conversations with folk who expressed interest, along the lines of 'nice idea, but it'll never happen'. They were all concerned at how practical it would be to deal with route obstructions. Buying-out what is now prize real estate and constructing diversions were both viewed as hopelessly expensive. Nevertheless, the idea of trying to secure whatever bits of trackbed come onto the market was applauded as very far-sighted. Although it was thought that the planning system might also have a role in protecting the route its limitations in this respect were appreciated. Where a route is safeguarded at all, it is likely to be no more than the width needed for a footpath or cycleway, as reportedly has happened at Radstock. A visitor from Midsomer Norton also welcomed the fact that New S&D would be looking at the line as a whole and hoped that it would enable the groups on their three different sites to work together more closely.

A teacher from the Blackmore Vale recalled that pupils used to travel by train to school but that the pattern of schools has now changed so that this would no longer be practical today. She did think that the Blackmore Vale - with the Dorset/Somerset boundary winding through it - was one area where an over-arching Wessex identity could help in addressing rural deprivation, especially access to facilities. She also recalled that the railways had had quite a socially divisive effect on Templecombe, as a barrier to movement within the village. She still finds bits of coal in her garden and wondered at the pollution involved in re-instating the railway.

There are some interesting points raised here. We overcame the 'nice idea, but it'll never happen' mindset years ago, but it's clear that we've got all that to look forward to again once we bring the message to new areas and new people. No problem! Many of the naysayers from a few years ago are now active members and supporters of the New S&D. At Radstock the protected piece of land is wide enough for a single track. In any case it is very rare that development takes place right up hard against a protected right of way, and it is more often that not just a garden extension, hardly a problem. It's also pretty clear that 90% of the population are still unaware of Peak Oil - or 'energy security' as our 'rulers' like to call it. It wasn't that long ago that 90% of the population were ignorant of climate change! As for development on S&D trackbed - there is very little, none of it is 'prize real estate' but poorish farmland. I doubt there are 65 dwellings on the whole trackbed of the S&D - but this number have been compulsory purchased and will be demolished as the Waverley route south of Edinburgh is rebuilt. This really is a non issue, and stems from ignorance.

To me the most interesting comments were those about Templecombe, that the S&D tended to be divisive there. How this compares with a motorway, A road or indeed airport runway wasn't gone into!

None of these are major issues, and we've been here many times before.

I'm really looking forward to the New S&D going 'out on the road' later in the year, bringing the message to those villages and, disgracefully, towns, that are still waiting for their trains to come back.
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

working together

It's really important that the four groups currently rebuilding the S&D and/or preserving its heritage should commit to working more and more closely together over the coming years. This has always been an important aim of the New S&D. It's very sad that in the past certain S&D groups barely acknowledged that each other existed!

I personally don't understand this attitude at all. We are all surely working towards the same thing?

I feel there are some obvious areas where we should already be working together. Joint membership would surely be a good idea, allowing S&D supporters to pay one membership fee that would allow them to work at ALL S&D sites. Joint events would allow us to throw all our resources together. There are some pieces of equipment and people with specific skills that could be applied to all the sections of line as they are restored. Also it would be great if all the existing groups could do an audit of stock and create one big ecommerce site to sell this on more efficiently.

What are your views on this because I've been hearing - at a 'high' level - that this is not a popular idea. The New S&D is committed to this but if you are a member of the other groups what is the general feeling in your neck of the woods? Please post comments to the comments section! And is the New S&D right in backing this, or should we perhaps think of ourselves only?
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Saturday, July 18, 2009


Apologies for my recent absence from the blog - been fighting swine flu and still not quite winning! I've got loads to post but I need a clearer head before doing so. Should be 100% recovered in a day or so.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

midford modelling

(Pic © Alan Jarvis)

Just found a very nice site all about Midford - modelling and prototype.

Check it out here.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

hard work!

(Photo Jeffery Grayer)

Filling the website with content proceeds apace! There are now six stations with their own pages, hopefully the whole line will be done by the end of the week.

We will always be extremely grateful for any of the following -

write ups, particularly with photos, of the current status of each S&D station

photos of the line both whilst open, after closure and as it is now

memories of the line (either written or on tape)

Also is there anybody out there with detailed knowledge of the following (all in an S&D context) - locomotives, train operation, characters, etc?

Remember that by joining the New S&D you can help to make a new S&D happen!
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

web input

(Photo Mick Knox 6.3.2006)

We're now frantically churning out copy for the website. One feature is content for each S&D station with history, present status and future plans. This is the entry for Wellow.


Wellow was opened on 20 July 1874 with the S&D’s Bath Extension. There were two platforms and a neat limestone station building. This was a particularly attractive station, fitting in very well with the adjacent village. It was once quite busy with goods traffic including watercress, corn and agricultural equipment. It closed for freight on 10 June 1963 and completely on 7 March 1966.

Current status

The station building survives as a private house, as does the signalbox.

Future plans

The station will once again see trains when this section of the line is restored. It is hoped that the building and signalbox can be purchased before the reopening.
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derrick returns!

Great news is that Midsomer Norton is no longer in the market for a replacement for Derrick, the Roadrailer. He's back at work on the extension. It seems that the stringent rules that MN thought they had to adhere to only apply to the main line, and that Derrick is up to scratch. So progress on the Chilcompton extension should now proceed without hindrance.
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

clearer view

Jeremy Woodrow has very kindly sent the original pic previously lifted from the MMOG newsletter so here is the new coach in all its glory!

I can't wait to see this coupled to the other coach which has now made its way off site for the final refurbishment. Then it's back to Midsomer Norton and hopefully, soon, being pulled by a genuine S&D steam engine on regular passenger trains. This will be such a momentous event in railway preservation that nobody should miss it. I know I won't!
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arrived today

Just arrived today is a large range of 1/6th scale peelable S&D totems. These are priced at just 95p each and most S&D stations are covered. You can find them here.
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Saturday, July 04, 2009

fancy owning a bit of a coach?

(Photo Jeremy Woodrow MMOG newsletter)

Midlands Mark One coach number 26049 is now resident at Midsomer Norton - and it looks superb! (Sorry for the quality of the picture - it was taken directly from the newsletter - better quality shots are welcomed!!)

It is so important that the S&D restoration captures the feel of the line as it was in its prime. These Mark One coaches are every bit as iconic as Midford station, Midsomer Norton box, Templecombe, 9Fs, Ivo's Bentley and Prestleigh viaduct.

There are still a lot of costs looming to get the coach fully restored inside and to this end the MMOG are asking for further donations. If you would like to help with this please send a cheque made payable to 'Midlands Mark One Group' to Jeremy Woodrow, 1 Bathway Cottages, Bathway, CHEWTON MENDIP, Somerset, BA3 4NP. You can also make regular payments by standing order - again if interested please contact Jeremy at the above address for a form. (We will also do a pdf of this form on the New S&D website after David returns from his holiday this coming week, but please don't wait).
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Friday, July 03, 2009

live at last!!!

I finally persuaded our perfectionist webmaster to let the website go live just minutes ago!

There's still a lot of work to do, there are a few text sections to go in (blame the tennis for the delay!) and many photos, but we both agreed that it was time to put our toes in the water.

David has also agreed to join the committee, so we are now up to six. If you've been waiting until now to join the New S&D you will find Paypal buttons plus a pdf membership form on the new site that will allow you to do this easily. So what are you waiting for?
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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

spetisbury summer

I was down at Spetisbury back in February and was very impressed with the permanence of the place, particularly the brickwork which looks like it's been built to last a thousand years! There won't be a lot of work getting this place back on the network! The idiots who once thought the S&D was finished forever could never have visted this station!

Member Paul Beard popped down there the other day and has a small slideshow of the station here.
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