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!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

argument or not?



I'd like to thank Ian who posted the following on the comments page of an earlier post. I think it should be promoted to the main page as it quite succinctly puts the conucopian view forward. We may still come up against this over the next few years, so it's worth analysing and criticising.

I am as keen as anyone here to reinstate as many disused railways as is feasible including the S&D but it is worth remembering some facts. Petrol is only as expensive today as it was in real terms when I started driving in 1981 nearly 30 years ago. I remember back then how the demise of the petrol car was anticipated yet the number of cars on the road has virtually doubled between then and now. People will pay the price for the transport quite simply because of the convenience and the fact that whilst rail travel is great for single travellers, if you have any more then one person travelling to the same destination it is virtually always cheaper to go by car.
I am trialling an electric plug in car which is excellent and will, as battery technology improves, be a viable alternative to petrol so we are going to need a different argument for modal shift from road to rail as the peak oil argument is going to be redundant.
I am also a fan of Eurostar and relish the thought of increased travel opportunities but living as I do on the south coast I fly from Southampton or Bournemouth to European destinations as you arrive there before you would even be in the Eurostar train in St Pancras, having to travel up to London in order to return by Eurostar to the south coast at Ashford! We need radiating routes from Ashford avoiding London (possibly upgrading the long straight Tunbridge Wells line west from Ashford).
I think we should concentrate on the issue of congestion as being the key reason why people would move from road to rail. The advent of average speed cameras which will slow down the traffic flow on major roads, together with the above mentioned doubling of car volumes on the road is our best bet for persuading people who do not share our vision for the railways in the future to join us on the railways.
 
My reply follows. My main point is that he has not addressed how all this extra electricity generating capacity will be acquired. This is the heart of the Peak Oil dilemma. It's not just about oil, but about energy in its entirity. The conucopian view has been created by an unholy alliance of politicians and classical economists, the first group believe that truth is flexible, the second that nature is flexible and will always provide substitutes. They are both wrong!
Hmmm. Interesting argument, though a little hard to grasp as you don't give any facts. You claim Peak Oil will vanish as we all switch to electric cars, but how exactly is all that extra electricity going to be generated? We are already being told that we may well face power cuts from 2013, that's without the huge extra demand for electricity that running cars on electric will make. I think I read somewhere that we'd need to increase generating capacity by 300-400% to cover this. This is the real question, not the rather minor one of method of propulsion - it's about scalability, and all the technical reports and articles I've read bring this up as the main problem.
This then leads to allocation of resources and also pricing. With a huge undercapacity in generating ability price would have to rise to ration demand, if supply could not be upped. Remember that even sustainable energy sources often have upper limits - wind power is variable, hydro is almost fully tapped and nuclear will suffer from uranium shortages sooner rather than later. In many ways all energy prices will reflect the price of oil, which will inexorably rise as it begins to run out. This is because much of all generating capacity, even sustainable, has oil inputs.
All this will lead to a fall off in road traffic, not an increase, making arguments about congestion look naive in a decade or so's time. That's not to say it shouldn't be an argument we put forwards NOW, in a popularist way, but we need to be careful not to place too much importance on it and to drop it at the right time. We don't want to look stupid, banging on about congestion, when it will be clear to everyone that their own car use and others' is falling in the real world.
Your one valid point re cost of a car trip for a family versus a rail trip for a family will need to be addressed, at least whilst road is still an option. Families travelling on a family card priced at say 50% above the cost of a single person would be an idea for example.You need to look behind the facade that's been carefully constructed by those with an interest in keeping inefficient road transport limping on to the bitter end. They are counting on us being stupid. We're far from stupid, and our analysis goes way beyond that of the average tabloid newspaper journalist! This is all about economics, and what journalist ever understood that subject LOL??
 
To be honest I'd rather congestion was the problem, but of course it will become less and less of a problem over the next few years. It would be, to me, a cop out to use this argument in a big way. I think perhaps pointing out the terrible inefficiency of road transport would be a better angle to take, although again that problem will diminish in time as the roads empty.

Congestion and capacity on the railways will be far more of an issue, and one that will need to be addressed. That's really what the New S&D is about, adding capacity to the network, as well as bringing more towns, currently lacking modern transport, back into the 21st century.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8489780.stm
today's news.... now why are we doing that I wonder if the worlds power isn't diminishing?

Ian said...

Taking your point concerning electricity generating capacity, I have no doubt that this will be increased by expanding the nuclear programme as proposed by the government and pursued by the French. Some capacity will be provided by renewables like the Severn barrage and off shore wind. Underground coal gasification is probably the most abundant form of fossil fuels available in this country as we still sit on a raft of coal which is predicted to last some two hundred years.

The electric car I am using takes no more power than an immersion water heater left on overnight and currently costs me around ten pounds per week to recharge (and I drive around four or five hundred miles a week) on cheap off peak electricity. I am in no doubt from my experience of driving it that it is the power storage medium of the future.

I do not see that road congestion will fall as you say our roads will empty of cars. the only thing that causes that is recession. When the economy is in growth people need their cars to provide the flexibility of transport that they need. We simply travel billions of miles more than we did before the rise of the car and once people have that freedom they are not going to give it up. The fact that we travel as far today on a much depleted rail network as we did when the S&D was in existence along with the rest of the pre Beeching network back in the 1940s and rail travel still accounts for less then ten percent of overall miles travelled is indicative of that. Twenty years ago we were predicting tele conferencing and decreased commuting. I am not aware that there has been any such decrease in private travel.

People make sacrifices in order to keep their cars on the road, whether it is paying through the nose for insurance or paying exorbitant costs for fuel. The private car will be the last thing to go on most families' list of priorities. It provides too much freedom, flexibility and security of travel (especially for women travelling alone). The private car is not replaced by a bus on weekends due to essential engineering works, nor does it run to a limited timetable of one per hour with the last journey being made at an inconveniently early hour. It also does not charge you twice as much for the same journey because you are travelling before 10.00am.

We need to show how reinstated railways will complement car travel, and persuade people to make modal shift with increased use of parkway stations near major motorways.

We need to provide viable solutions to fright users in order to sell them the benefits of rail travel and the significant investment in infrastructure that it will require. By contrast it is easy to obtain an operators licence and set up a lorry based freight operation. People will not just gravitate towards the railway, they need to be persuaded.

Sunshiner said...

But you're not actually giving us an idea as to how electricity generating capacity will be maintained, let alone increased, especially in a more competitive world slowly running out of all the easy and cheap fuel sources. Your theories are more ones of wishful thinking than cold, hard, analytical thinking.

No one will give up their cars out of choice - but the rising costs of running cars, plus the increasing additional costs, will begin to cull us. It doesn't matter how much we want something, if it's not there we can't have it.

This isn't an argument about attitudes or wishful thinking. It is purely economic. We don't need to persuade anyone to use our trains, economics will do that.

You claim that charging up your car is only the equivalent of boiling some water, but what about the energy inputs that went into mining the materials, building the car and the ongoing energy inputs such as maintaining a road network, charging points etc etc? How much will that add on to the energy cost of an electric car? This isn't an argument based on a point of view, but on cold facts. Nuclear will not solve the energy crisis as surely that would be the conclusion of every nation on earth, making uranium incredibly expensive and of course the energy generated. The end of cheap energy is upon us, our resources will be aimed at those transport systems that use it most efficiently, which is always rail.

It doesn't matter how much we want something, or how more convenient a car is (tell that to anyone trying to get from Portishead to Bristol in the rush hour!), or how safe a single woman feels driving a car (until it breaks down on a country road), if the fuel ain't there it ain't going to happen.

We can't hold on to the past, try to hold back progress, or break universal physical laws, no matter how much we want to.

The New S&D is all about progress and the 21st century, I can't see us ever trying to convince our passengers that we're still in the abundant congested 20th century. Those days are gone. It's just that 99% of people haven't quite realised that yet.

Anna-Jayne Metcalfe said...

The electric car I am using takes no more power than an immersion water heater left on overnight and currently costs me around ten pounds per week to recharge (and I drive around four or five hundred miles a week) on cheap off peak electricity. I am in no doubt from my experience of driving it that it is the power storage medium of the future.

Quite possibly, but the next two nuclear stations are planned to go offline in 2014, and by 2020 we'll only have three of the existing stations left. Fission stations are (from industry figures) currently responsible for 20% of generating capacity, so there will undoubtedly be a bit of a hole.

With the best will in the world I'd be very surprised if new nuclear (fission) capacity can be brought online to make good that loss that quickly - and although our use of renewables will (must!) expand these technologies do not yield anything like the energy density provided by fission and fossil fuels.

With a potential power generation capacity shortfall looming (and one which a mass take-up of electric cars would make much worse) it doesn't take much to predict that the generating companies are likely to hike prices to keep demand under control until they can bring new capacity online....and what if they ration supplies to individual customers or apply fuel duty style taxes to electricity supplies used to recharge vehicles? If it comes to that would you rather charge your vehicle or heat your water?

Food for thought, certainly. It's very likely we'e all going to have to make changes one way or another in the coming decade or two, but it will be far less painful overall if we're pragmatic about it rather than reacting to each potential change as a threat to our very existance. Of course it's very hard to learn not to jump in the car at every opportunity, certainly (believe me, I've done it - and realised how much I was addicted to driving before) - but in many cases it's do-able if we have the will and take care to structure our lives appropriately.

Sunshiner said...

Of course the other problem that you just touched on is that the loss of revenue that the government will see as conventional power sources dry up will almost certainly need to be replaced by other taxes, and these will almost certainly fall on what will be considered a luxury by 2020/2030 - personal private transport. Once again this will display the way that ALL energy costs are linked. Price will be the mechanism that determines one's ability to contemplate owning private personal transport, and that will mean for most of us the reluctant reduction and then abandonment of the private car REGARDLESS of the way it is powered.

The other important point is that as private travel falls the roads themselves will come under attack by reduced repair and maintainance budgets, caused by both public disapproval of spending on roads which will quickly be seen as both anachronistic AND elitist, and by the increasing costs of repair caused by rising costs of energy inputs, both in plant and asphalt, which of course is oil-based.

Ian said...

"...and what if they ration supplies to individual customers or apply fuel duty style taxes to electricity supplies used to recharge vehicles? If it comes to that would you rather charge your vehicle or heat your water?"

I will dust off my wood burning stove with a back boiler and heat my water with logs the way I used to before we had central heating installed.

The Government will not be able to identify between domestic use or transport use electricity as I can just plug in my 13 amp car recharging lead into a domestic plug socket so the only way to tax me off the road is a congestion/usage charge, taking me back to my original point that we ought to be concentrating on congestion on the roads as a reason to switch to rail.

Sunshiner defeats his own argument against using congestion as a reason to switch from road to rail in the above post when he comments on the journey time in the car from Portishead to Bristol. What more argument could you need for reopening the Portishead line?

Any examination of feasibility studies by local authorities into reopening rail routes highlights the fact that justification for reopening is based on the number of lorry miles removed from the roads by the alternative rail service, lessening congestion and carbon dioxide (but not acknowledging the carbon dioxide emitted by the locomotive).

I do not buy the argument that there will be no more road travel for the masses and that it will be the elitist luxury described by your post, nor do I accept that people will suddenly realise that the train is more efficient than the car and therefore switch to rail. If that was the case, why do people still drive everywhere?

Turning to Sunshiner's comment regarding the energy required to manufacture vehicles and factories etc, this applies equally to railways. The energy required to make and renew the rails and vehicles also has to come from somewhere.

No one has commented on underground coal gasification. (A point does not go away just because you do not address it). This is a tried and tested method in Australia and test bores are being arranged in the UK. Anna, with your engineering background do you have any view on whether this will provide a feasible means of tapping the undoubtedly vast coal resources under the UK without sending vast numbers of people back down the mines?

Sunshiner it will be a case of encouragement and persuasion, not economic compulsion, to get people to switch from road to rail. Using bold type and exclamation marks, and insisting that things will happen just because you want them to will not change that fact. I am with you on the need to reinstate the S& D but perhaps we are doing it for different reasons.

Sunshiner said...

Ian

I hardly tread on my own argument by pointing out the Portishead road/rail problem. Nobody is saying that congestion isn't a problem TODAY, only that it will become less of a problem as fuel costs rise. We saw a reduction in road transport at the start of the recession, and when fuel prices rose to over £1.20 per litre back in 2008. Even I changed my driving habits, and I'm about the biggest petrolhead you will ever meet.

Using bold type and exclamation marks, and insisting that things will happen just because you want them to will not change that fact.

This is a classic. Aren't you doing exactly that?

Why on earth would I want driving to become more expensive? If you think I want that you couldn't have got me more wrong. I have no idea how I will manage when I can no longer afford to run a car. My hope is that public transport will be so developed within 20 years that I can do most of what I do now without needing a car.

Can't you see that this is part of the process? By thinking ahead now, both individually and nationally, we may be able to come through Peak Oil relatively unscathed.

You can dream all you want about an energy rich future, where exotic untried technologies will suddenly deliver energy too cheap to bill, where the dregs of fossil fuels, through the input of vast amounts of energy and water, are produced to keep the oil addiction going, but in the end reality will hit all of us.

As for the energy and resource inputs of building railways surely you realise that in an analysis that has been developed over many years that this was considered very early in the process and the concusion was that it was best to throw valuable resources into those transport modes that were most economically effective and energy efficient, and which had the greatest flexibility in energy delivery systems?

And one final point. 'Economic compulsion' is not some sort of Big Brother technique to force people to change their behaviour, but a totally neutral market utilising resources in an energy-poor world to reduce overall energy consumption. Building a 21st century rail network is part of that process.

As you say, we may have different reasons (which are both subjective and as predictions can only be tested by the passage of time)for reinstating the S&D, but surely that's the point? We will all have different reasons for doing this. That doesn't mean we can't work together towards bringing it about. We have widely different views on the committee, but work together very effectively!

Ian said...

"You can dream all you want about an energy rich future, where exotic untried technologies will suddenly deliver energy too cheap to bill, where the dregs of fossil fuels, through the input of vast amounts of energy and water, are produced to keep the oil addiction going, but in the end reality will hit all of us"

"...The successful demonstration in 1999-2003 near the town of Chinchilla, some 350 km west of Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia has resulted in a surge of interest in the technology. The demonstration involved the gasification of 35,000 tonnes of coal, and resulted in successful environmental performance as per independent audit reports..."
"Underground coal gasification allow access to more coal resources than economically recoverable by traditional technologies. By some estimates it will increase economically recoverable reserves by 600 billion tonnes. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimates that using UCG could increase recoverable coal reserves in the USA by 300%. According to Linc Energy, the capital and operating costs of the underground coal gasification are lower than in traditional mining" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_coal_gasification

It is neither exotic or untried. Siemens was trying it out 100 years ago and the Russians developed plants in the 20th century, all but one of which were superseded by natural gas. One pant remains operational in Angren near Tashkent in Uzbekistan and the Chinese are exploiting it as fast as they possibly can.

Sunshiner said...

One thing about being immersed in Peak Oil is that I read this sort of thing every day. It usually revolves around one or two test cases which, by themselves, deliver the goods, but these things are never going to replace cheap and easy oil.

All it does is illustrate the inevitable - energy becoming harder to get, and consequently the price rising inexorably.

All of these alternatives are both on a much smaller scale than conventional oil, require much R&D and can only ever make a dent in the supply line.

It may also surprise you to learn that these unconventional sources are always included in Peak Oil projections, so it doesn't change anything.

And of course the Climate Change lot will almost certainly jump on any of these projects if there's a whiff of carbon being released.

Good try, but as I said these sort of projects, plus many that haven't even been started yet, are always included in Peak Oil projections. At best they may delay (or have delayed if you believe the Peak has already been passed) Peak Oil by a few years.

As I said before this isn't about oil, it's about energy. I still can't see increased road congestion coming out of any of this, and that's the real issue as you suggested we should exploit possible future congestion to promote rail. I still think it would be dishonest and would cause problems once reality hits.

Ian said...

But you are happy to be dishonest for now? see above.

Sunshiner said...

I'm not happy to be dishonest at any point. It only causes problems. We're not doing this for money, so what would be the point??

Ian said...

Earlier you said you were happy to use the congestion argument for now...
"That's not to say it shouldn't be an argument we put forwards NOW, in a popularist way, but we need to be careful not to place too much importance on it and to drop it at the right time. We don't want to look stupid, banging on about congestion, when it will be clear to everyone that their own car use and others' is falling in the real world."

Which is it? dishonest or tactical?

Sunshiner said...

There is congestion NOW and I think that it is very much an issue. Remember I'm a driver, I love driving, I've driven all over Europe, from Finland down to Hungary, across to Poland, through the Alps, on the corniches round Monte Carlo and up through the Highlands of Scotland. That's fun. Driving round Bristol isn't. Congestion is a nightmare and of course we should use it to encourage people to use trains and to switch frieght from road to rail to reduce it. This isn't in dispute. What is in dispute is whether congestion in the future will reduce or increase. To me it's so obvious that it will fall in line with energy prices rising that a reduction is inevitable.

That's the popularist view, and as a widespread organisation we can't ignore it. That congestion is a problem.

What would be dishonest is to claim that congestion will continue to get worse, when we all know it can't. It may get worse for a while but in the long run road traffic will fall enormously. So to use the congestion argument to my mind would be dishonest unless we say 'that is the situation as it is now, trains will relieve congestion'.

Far more fruitful would be to bring congestion into the argument that roads are a very inefficient form of transport. They carry anything from a horse, mobility scooter, tractor, artic, bus, private car or tank, all forced into the same road space. This reduces speed. Some A roads (think Pensford) are so narrow that two orries can not pass in places. They use a fuel source that is drying up. Vehicles are driven in many cases by people who have no idea how to drive. they inject pollution into our neighbourhoods, split communities, kill thousands of people and blight anywhere nearby with constant noise and pollution.

Contrast that with the modern electric train or tram. Driven by professionals on a dedicated route at speeds that cars will never reach. Safe, reliable, extremely energy efficient, smart and cool.

That's how we'll win people over. Congestion's a tiny part of it and dishonesty has no part at all.

Ian said...

You said "Vehicles are driven in many cases by people who have no idea how to drive....they inject pollution into our neighbourhoods, split communities, kill thousands of people and blight anywhere nearby with constant noise and pollution."

And they will continue to do so because if people have no idea as to how to drive, they will have no idea about the fact that they are polluting the world or splitting communities or killing thousands unless they actually kill a person themselves. They just won't get it.

You said "If generating capacity is somehow increased correspondingly that [electricity shortage] does of course become less of an issue, but the other issues (e.g. charging infrastructure and especially road congestion) will still of course remain."

It is congestion that is the issue, both now and in the future. You as much as say so yourself. The electric cars charge overnight when the electricity is abundantly available once people have switched off their televisions and suchlike.
There will only be a gradual take up of electric cars as petrol ones wear out over a period of some fifteen to twenty years. Remember millions of petrol cars are still being sold each year.

The other factor will be take up renewables which is set to accelerate markedly since the government announced yesterday the premium payments to micro generators exporting power back to the grid. At over 50 pence per unit of electricity generated (not exported) for twenty five years the Government is paying people to invest in their own micro generation plants on their roofs and in their gardens. The UK is likely to be self sufficient with millions of rooftop PV systems powering the railways and wind turbines topping up the cars overnight.