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, 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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Geoff said...

There would appear to be support at Shillingstone, BBC South Today on thursday 26/08 had a very good item from there where the suggestion was that the eventual aim was that the whole line should be brought back into use.

Steve Overthrow said...

You will always have people who dont believe that things greater and bigger than erecting a garden fence are possible. These are a very exclusive and widespread group of people I know as 'The Defeatests'. And ofcourse, when somebody didnt think of the idea first, they will always put it down. If your in any doubt about the whole route getting re laid, go onto you tube and type in (FLANDER AND SWAN, THE SLOW TRAIN). Have a listen to this and tell me your still not determined to get the whole s&d back.

Freddie said...

Anyone who doubts what you say should go to Settle, where you can see a preservation standard station on the national network and providing excellent facilities - unlike Keynsham and similar stations round here.

Anna Metcalfe said...

I hoped to get to the Shillingstone EGM but in the event couldn't make it as we had family visiting that weekend. I would hope that things are back on track there now.

With regard to Swanage - the more time I spend there the more professional the whole setup appears to be. To say that they are commercially aware and looking to grow to meet the needs of the future is if anything a great understatement.

Anonymous said...

Fact One: There are more passenger miles being travelled by train in this country than ever before.

Fact Two: The number of working boats at the canals' peak was a fraction of the number of pleasure craft there are now.

Good luck from the Peak District where we have high hopes of Peak Rail.

Anonymous said...

You need to record all the "it will never happen" messages. I wonder what people said when a start was made on the WSR? Probably the same thing.