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!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

a very sad story

When the original S&D closed 'replacement' bus services were implemented as a sop to those who rightly lamented the end of modern transport along the route. These services didn't last long as they obviously couldn't begin to offer the speed and comfort that the trains had - even in pre-modernisation days.

Wellow, which once had a superb rail service (along with Shoscombe and Single Hill to the south) was thrown back into the transport dark ages with villagers having to either move back to civilization (ie to somewhere with a train service!) or, horror of horrors, having to buy a car to keep themselves mobile. Because of the lie of the land and roads the replacement bus services couldn't begin to compensate for what the villagers had lost. This is what passed for progress in the horrible sixties.

When the replacement bus services inevitably stopped the villagers came up with an idea - to buy their own bus and keep some semblance of belonging to a wider world. This was four years ago. Today that bus (or more correctly minibus) hit the road.

This was featured on the local TV news. It was one of the most achingly poignant pieces of reporting I'd seen for years.

Poor Wellow, once a stop on the world famous S&D, with regular local trains connecting with expresses to the south coast, Midlands and north, site of numerous heavy freight workings, was reduced to relying on a tiny, uneconomic toy bus to keep their foothold in the 21st century.

But of course it won't be that many years before Wellow gets its trains back. With regular PPMs and electric units once again connecting at Bath, the villagers of Wellow (and Shoscombe and Single Hill) will once again be able to get where they want to quickly, cheaply and cleanly. This brief few decades where they were abandoned by the rest of the world will soon be forgotten. Roll on the New S&D! Perhaps we'll even nab that minibus for our museum of transport!
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Monday, August 30, 2010

so wrong, so right

There's nothing that winds me up more at the moment than that awful Co Op Insurance ad that proclaims that 'your car is one of the family, it's part of you', and then proceeds to show pictures of gormless families with their cars that they've NAMED!!!!!!! To me this is evidence of mental instability ...

Locomotives of course are a totally different matter. For a start they are much longer lived, much more in the public eye and, many would claim, have a personality of their own. And they are very rarely given human names.

It does highlight the incredible difference between ephemeral private transport and almost permanent public transport. Public transport belongs to us all, even if we rarely use it, it unites us and brings us together. Private transport does pretty much the opposite. Your car isn't 'part of the family', it's something we would all rather do without. It's everyday, it's just a tool and it won't be around much longer.

Whatever next - cemeteries for cars? We can but hope LOL ...
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

when heritage rail meets peak oil

I had a strange phone conversation the other day. It wasn't about the S&D but drifted towards it. The person on the other end of the phone was an S&D fan but also involved down at the West Somerset Railway. He was quite amused when I mentioned our plans, coming out with the time worn classic cliches 'of course it will never happen' and 'you're dreamers'. Hmmm.

Well firstly I really would like to know exactly how we're going to get from A to B, or Bournemouth to Bath, without the railway in a couple of decades time. Are we really expected to just stay rooted in our towns and villages, never venturing more than five miles from home? Because that's what they're saying.

And as for dreamers?? WTF? I wouldn't waste a second of my time on any unproductive activity, and anything less than a fully restored entire S&D is, to my mind, a total waste of time. And I think that applies to every member of the New S&D, a membership that is growing daily and is poised to overtake other S&D groups over the next year or two.

Of course there were two clues to his attitude - his age and his allegiance to the WSR.

Most people over 50 were totally immersed in the (now totally daft) paradigm that railways - all railways - were finished in the 60s and 70s. Some (like myself) have shaken this perverse, and now totally irrelevant, paradigm off, but far too many still want to believe that railways are an anachronism, that steam trains, paying tourist families and playing at railways has some sort of future. It doesn't of course, once peak oil effects really kick in the infrastructure will be simply snatched back and converted to 'real' railways again, unless the heritage lines transform themselves into community railways pretty sharpish. A few, Swanage and (ironically) the West Somerset, are already doing this, but too many are still at the playing trains stage.

All of this will of course wash over the future passengers and freight suppliers along the lines themselves. They have no interest in social history, steam trains, ancient rolling stock or any of the other arcane and uneconomic accoutrements of the heritage railway. They'll just want to get from A to B, Bournemouth to Bath.

But if we're really careful we can save the S&D heritage as part of the whole line revival. There is no reason why our stations and infrastructure can't be as they were. The railway station will soon become once again the centre of every city, town and village. A basic station is not an option, even at the village level. Villages, towns and cities will reorientate themselves around their stations and railways, the stations themselves will become incredible hives of activity with restaurants, shops etc - big, elegant buildings will be required!

There's no reason why in 2050 a double headed steam train can't recreate the Pines Express of 1960, carry paying passengers and slipping effortlessly between the regular electric services on the route - particularly if the locos are fuelled by sustainable wood - serving elegant and substantial stations en route. Nobody wants bus shelters any more - particularly when our passengers in 40 or 50 years time won't even know what a bus is!

Perhaps a start towards squaring the circle and preparing heritage railways for a very different future would be for the various S&D groups to actually start acknowledging the existence of the New S&D - displaying our leaflets at Washford, Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone would be a step towards our inevitable working closely together as doors open all along the route!
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

yet more swiss lessons!

The view from our hotel room. This is the east end of the Gare Cornavin, Geneva's main railway station. The trams are running to and from the United Nations building.

Superb new high capacity tram on the new route to Meyrin.

Meyrin's main tram 'station', unusually a terminus rather than a loop.

Trams waiting to return to the city from Meyrin.

Back from Geneva. As always a trip to Switzerland reinforces just how far behind we are in the UK.

Geneva once had a tramway network of 75 miles, running numerous interurban lines into France as well as serving the city. Incredibly the main station at Cornavin lost its trams in 1965 and for thirty years there was just a short 5 mile line south of the Rhone serving the far less important station of Eaux Vives on a route from Moillesulaz to Carouge.

Fortunately this section of line survived until more sensible and forward looking opinions prevailed and the trams were reintroduced to Cornavin in 1995. Since then there have been several extensions, and last year the brand new line to Meyrin opened on 12 December 2009. The line to CERN should be open by the end of 2010. And it doesn't stop there - there are several more extensions planned and it's perfectly possible that the new tramway route mileage will far exceed that of the old system. New routes are planned to go into France as many people live in France and work in Geneva.

Travelling on the Meyrin tramway last week I got, for the first time, a real sense of the end of the car age as we passed queueing pollution spewing cars jammed on the roads as we whizzed past them at high speed. What Geneva does today everywhere wil be doing over the coming decades.

For anyone who doubts that the second Golden Age of Rail is upon us - visit Geneva!
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

others' doings

I am off to Switzerland until next Wednesday so there won't be any posts for a week or so.

Moorland & City Railways 'MCR' is pleased to announce that subject to the ongoing renewal and upgrade work currently underway on the Leekbrook Junction to Cauldon Lowe line and final inspection by the ORR that it should be in a position to return the line to passenger traffic for a celebration event on the 13th & 14th of November 2010.MCR was specifically setup to purchase the line from Stoke on Trent to Cauldon Lowe for commercial freight traffic. Given the generally better than expected condition of the infrastructure this opportunity has arisen to allow a passenger operation to be promoted ahead of the freight flows.

In collaboration with the Churnet Valley Railway (1992) PLC 'CVR' MCR are planning an intensive 3 train service over the weekend of the 13/14 November 2010 featuring some interesting steam motive power. The weekend of the 20/21 November 2010 will see a repeat of this with the addition of diesel locomotives to recreate a 1960's theme. This new section of line will see the CVR expand operations from an 11 mile round trip to a 27 mile round trip.

The MCR line closed to passenger traffic on the 30th September 1935, to freight traffic on the 8th February 1988 and has seen only a selection of trains over the weekend of the 16/17th April 1994 with the final charter running on the 28th May 1994. Since then it has remained mothballed.

The route comprises 8 miles of steeply graded railway line offering truly magnificent views of the Moorlands unseen for many years. Steam and diesel locomotives will be working almost at full capacity to pull 6 & 8 coach trains up gradients ranging from 1:40 to in 1:59. The summit of the line at Ipstones is a staggering 1063 feet above sea level. These gradients will give the opportunity to see and hear the locomotives in action working hard.

Locomotives currently booked for this truly amazing event include (and subject to availability) 71000 'Duke of Gloucester', Stanier Mogul 42968, 8f No. 48624, Large Prairie No. 5199 and a surprise visitor as yet unseen in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Diesel locomotives will include Class 37 37075, Class 33/1 33102 and a return visit by a truly local class of diesel loco. These will be joined by the CVR resident Class 104 DMU.Pre booked tickets for the event will be available via the CVR website closer to the event at http://www.churnetvalleyrailway.co.uk/. Special tickets will be available by pre booking only to ride on the first passenger train over the complete line that being the 09:55 ex Froghall to Cauldon Lowe on the Saturday which will be hauled by 71000 Duke of Gloucester.

NATIONAL PRESERVATION FORUM SPECIAL Saturday 13th November 2010The special will depart from Froghall station at 19:15. The train will be 12 coaches (approx 450 ton train!) and hauled by 8F No. 48624 and banked by 5MT No. 42968 for the run up the 8 miles of 1 in 40 - 1 in 59 gradients to Cauldon Lowe.

The train will run non stop from Froghall - Cauldon and the same from Cauldon - Froghall. The train will arrive back at Froghall at 21:12. There will be a train leaving Froghall at 21:30 to allow passengers to travel back to Cheddleton if that is where they started their day from.

There will be food and drink available at Froghall until the special leaves at 19:15, there will also be plenty of beer and nibbles on the train.The prices for the special are;£10 on the night for the special only£5 extra if you have a day rover ticket.

Free if you have a weekend rover ticket.

Tickets will be available via an online ordering system that is due to be launched on the 1st September 2010 and will also be available on the day. I will advise of the link to this website once it is available.

The CVR and MCR are delighted to confirm that the LNER Beavertail Observation Car No. 1719E will be visiting the line for the duration of the event.

Special thanks go to Railway Vehicle Preservations Limited and the Great Central Railway for making the visit possible.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010


I try not to put dry economic articles on here as I know they leave a lot of you cold - and people who know me are always a little surprised that underneath my no nonsense exterior there is a very overeducated academic trying to get out!

But I do think that this is not a bad place to put a few musings on the way economics will direct all future land transport policy towards various forms of rail.

One of the upward pressures on the oil price is the lack of refining facilities. This is one of the first signs of the looming shortages. Oil company managers, for all their outward appearance of being out-of-touch clowns, are aware of the finite nature of their industry. There does come a time when it's simply not worth setting up new refinieries because the cost of setting them up and maintaining them will never be met by the profits from refining future dwindling oil supplies. And they can't be used for anything else. I think this realisation was passed a few years ago, and hopes for any new refining capacity are simply dreams rooted in the past.

Rising oil prices, particularly at a time of stagnant or falling economic growth - now almost certainly the new paradigm - will inevitably reduce the use of roads. A lot of road travel is discretionary so can be dropped, or substituted, when times are hard. This reduces the tax take and consequently the amount of money available for maintaining the road network. A decline in standards, the consequent increase in congestion, even whilst roads are emptying, will set up a virtuous circle of decreasing road use.

The ability to transfer freight by road will actually decrease as it becomes more and more difficult for haulage companies to economically move freight - especially against a resurgent rail network increasingly favoured by government. There may be a brief spell when roads have a final golden fling, as the wealthy few that can still afford to run cars drive on almost empty roads.

Meanwhile the more intelligent and proactive oil companies will be switching to rail construction and operation, and the car manufacturers will switch to the production of locomotives, rolling stock and trams. Once this process starts nothing, short of total climate breakdown or societal breakdown will stop it. That process is about to begin.

And where will the S&D fit into all of this? Well, by starting early and building our contacts and skills now, we'll have a head start over most other communities that suddenly see the need to get their trains back. We will localise more as the transport costs of goods continue to rise (even where moved by rail), small businesses will sprout up along our route and will need their products moved to their market places. Passengers will flock to the trains, mainly to get to Bath, Bristol and Bournemouth to buy goods, but also to link with the main line network at those places and Templecombe. The whole agenda for rail will be one of reasonable and sustained growth and innovation, as the rails reach out to more and more places.

And the road network? Hopefully small sections in towns may continue to be served by some electric vehicles, perhaps even electric buses and taxis. But the intercity and intertown links will disappear back to nature except for those sections that are converted to cycleways, which will inevitably have to relocate from the formerly abandoned rail trackbeds that, for a few decades, were not used properly!
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

still searching

We are still looking for somebody to take on the role of Midford Station Project Manager - the previous applicant has had to drop out for personal reasons.

We now have full access to Midford but it's important that somebody takes on the position to coordinate the restoration of this most iconic of railway locations. Initial work will simply involve stamping the site with a New S&D presence, even if that is just some signage and publicity information. The main part of the work will be the physical reconstruction of the station building in wood. This will then serve as an office, information point for the New S&D, other railway restorations, environmental projects and local groups and businesses, and an S&D shop.

As Project manager you will have a seat on both the board of Wessex Links Ltd and the New S&D, but you needn't get involved with any other aspect of the restoration other than at Midford itself.

Ideally the perfect Project manager wil live within a few miles of the site (Bath/Bristol/Radstock-Norton area) and have some experience in this sort of work. Enthusiasm is the most important quality however, and if you are new to this don't be afraid to apply! It is of course an unpaid position, and membership of the New S&D is a prerequisite.

This will be a fantastic project, in a superb location and famous the world over. It's only a tiny first step in what will surely be the most important and exciting rail restoration in the UK, if not the world.

To apply please email leysiner@aol.com or write to New S&D, 10 Bellamy Avenue, Hartcliffe, BRISTOL, BS13 0HW.
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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

get your shovels!

We now have full access to Midford so anyone who wants to suggest a date/time for the first work party please do so in the comments section or via email!

This will be such an important date and event in the history of the S&D, even if it will be rather low key. The first work party will do some clearance work, also it will be a good time to put up signs/notices letting people know what is happening at this iconic location.

Hopefully we can start regular weekly work parties at the site very shortly, as well as start the job of rebuilding the station building, which will then be a very useful base, office and income-generator for the line.

Please either use the comments page or email me directly to declare an interest in the restoration work. My email is leysiner@aol.com
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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

well (nev)ard

We're very lucky to have Chris Nevard as a fan of the S&D. His photos both of the S&D and wider afield are about as good as they get, in particular he has a superb album of post closure (and pre reopening) S&D shots.

His website is here.
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