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

living in electric dreams

As another riposte to the conucopian viewpoint of some observers out there, here is an excellent article from member Anna-Jayne Metcalfe, designed to add to the ongoing discussion re the possibility of electric cars.

Electric Cars and the National Grid.

When I did my engineering degree 25 years ago one of the subjects we covered in some depth was power generation, and how the National Grid was managed. A central tenet was (and still is) "hot standby" stations - i.e. the provision of excess generating capacity which can be brought online at very short notice to meet peak electricity demands. At the time oil and gas power stations were mostly used for this purpose (the Dinorwig pumped storage station being the obvious and very notable exception), with coal forming the majority of the generating capacity and nuclear fission (virtually all first generation Magnox and AGR stations) a substantial minority.

Since then the mix of power sources we use has changed fundamentally - the use of coal has significantly declined (with a consequent reduction in pollution such as sulphur emissions - when was the last time you heard of acid rain?) and the use of gas has shot up. All of the Magnox stations are now off the grid and in the process of being decommissioned, and the bulk of the AGR stations are likely to follow toward the end of this decade. As a result of long term public hostility and government inaction new fission power stations are some way off, and renewable sources - although gradually becoming more established - still make up a very small percentage of our generating capacity and have a much lower power output per installation than traditional fossil fuel or fission power stations.

As a result, our generating capacity is far more dependent upon fossil fuels than it was 25 years ago - and if media reports are to be believed we could face a shortfall of generating capacity once the decommissioning of significant numbers of AGR stations commences even if energy demand remains static. With UK fossil fuel assets in decline that will mean importing an even greater proportion of our electricity or fossil fuels from overseas, with the consequent vulnerability to political turmoil that entails (the recent disruptions to gas supplies from Russia to several EU countries illustrate this all too vividly).

The one potential game changer in power generation is of course nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, although fusion (magnetic bottle and laser initiated) technology is starting to show glimpses of its potential, commercial fusion power stations are still many years away and so can't help us with this particular conundrum. The magic bullet just isn't anywhere near ready yet.

When faced with such a challenge, governments tend to take the easy way out (e.g. leaving it until almost the last minute and then flailing around announcing new windfarms everywhere and/or taxing everyone) rather than planning ahead. I'd hate to think of electricity rationing or blackouts occurring again, but it could all too easily happen.

The bottom line is that unless significant new generating capacity is put in place by the time the AGR stations start being decommissioned we could face a significant shortfall in power generation capacity on the grid. If that happens, increasing consumer demand significantly by shifting the dominant fuel source for personal transportation from fossil fuels to electricity sourced from the grid could all too easily prove to be beyond our capability. That could all too easily have significant effects on the pricing and availability of electricity supplies in the UK.

If generating capacity is somehow increased correspondingly that 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.

The bottom line is that this is - climate change and Peak Oil aside - a very real problem, and one for which there is no easy solution in sight. The politicians are being as impotent as ever, and unfortunately technology can't yet provide a straightforward answer either. In such a situation it is an unfortunate truth that it is always the public who - one way or another - ends up making the most sacrifices.

Before too long, plugging in your new "green" car could become trickier and more expensive than you expect. Electric cars may indeed prove to have their place, but they are certainly no panacea.

Postscript: For completeness, the current operating capacity and estimated decommissioning dates for the remaining operational nuclear fission stations are:

Hartlepool (AGR - 1190 MW) – Decommissioning starts 2014

Heysham 1 (AGR - 1160 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2014

Hunterston B (AGR - 840 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2015

Hinkley Point B (AGR - 1140 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2016

Dungeoness B (AGR - 1090 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2018

Totness (AGR - 1250 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2023

Heysham 2 (AGR - 1230 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2023

Sizewell B (PWR - 1188 MW) - Decommissioning starts 2035

[AGR = Advanced Gas Reactor]

[PWR = Pressurised Water Reactor]


M. Simon said...

Polywell Fusion now being funded by the US Navy is closer. And the best part? We Will Know In Two Years or less.

Anna-Jayne Metcalfe said...

Knowing a technology implementation is feasible and building commercial scale (> 1000 MW) reactors are of course two very different things, but news of any significant steps forward in fusion research is certainly a step in the right direction.