Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Brookwood. 33 104 - 8/8/1977
Basingstoke. 50 043 - 28/10/1983
Salisbury. 50 021 - 11/8/1986
(All photos © Steve Sainsbury)
Once there was a great way to the West Country, using the Southern line from Waterloo via Basingstoke, Salisbury, Exeter and Okehampton. It was a busy and modern route, but the idiot Beeching decided that we only really needed one main line to the west and that was the ex-GWR route via Reading. At one time the Salisbury to Exeter route was - unbelievably - under threat of closure! Many of its branches were closed and in 1968 the route west of Okehampton - the priceless diversionary route avoiding the sea wall at Dawlish - was also, amazingly, closed. The branches beyond, to Bude, Padstow, Ilfracombe, Bideford, all closed without any consideration of future needs.
Of course the S&D intersected this route at Templecombe and a great deal of valuable exchange traffic took place here. But even Templecombe itself closed with the S&D on 7 March 1966. Many 'minor' stations on the Salisbury-Exeter route closed at the same time. Closure by stealth of the whole route was clearly on the agenda. The line was singled, creating huge delays, and the service became two-hourly. Freight vanished as did local trains.
This was the mindset of the 1960s and 1970s (still sometimes seen on our comments sections!).
How things have changed as we enter the last year of the first decade of the 21st century. Templecombe station reopened in 1982, perhaps being the first indicaton that the S&D would eventually return there, and now the section through Axminster has been doubled, allowing an hourly service on the line again. The line is now prioritised for electrification, and surely it is not now that long before stations such as Wilton are reopened and local trains reintroduced. The line will also be a very useful freight route. Future exchange traffic with the New S&D will bring even more trains and potential to the route. Beyond Exeter there are serious moves to put the link back to Plymouth in before the Dawlish section vanishes beneath the waves, and restoration to Ilfracombe and Bideford/Torrington (at the very least) can't be too far off.
Perhaps the Salisbury-Exeter route is a symbol of the whole network, its decline in the 60s, stagnation throughout the 70s - surely the worst ever decade for railways - hints of revival in the 80s, traffic building in the 90s and real moves to realise its potential in the 00s. It's great that this is one of the lines that the New S&D will feed into.