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!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

our first tiny step

This picture shows the extent of the land now owned by the New S&D. Everything within the red line is ours and is now set aside - for ever - for the use of the railway. As well as the platform and trackbed to the Long Arch Bridge we also own woodland on either side of the railway. We even own a tiny piece of the old canal!

Although a forward looking organisation we are also very aware of the huge historical significance of the S&D and ownership has led to us inheriting a lot of old paperwork going back over 100 years. I'll put this on this site over the next few months, and use this as the basis for an article in the 'past' section of Right Lines 3.

Over the next few weeks I want to put together a 'Midford Team' that will clear and rebuild the station area. This set up will be copied all along the route as we buy more and more parcels of land.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

unsentimental sentimentality

A two parter today - I'm getting a huge build up of articles, ideas etc, which has to be a good thing!

Top photo is a superb atmosphere shot of Blandford in the last few weeks before temporary closure in 1966. Night photography back then was a real challenge and the photographer (Joe Robbins) is a real hero of the S&D. We've all seen the classic S&D shots, double headers hauling the Pines through Midford etc, but I love the atmosphere shots most of all.

I know, I'm a hard-headed business person, so this shouldn't appeal to me. But, to me, it taps into memories of waiting around on stations at night. There's no sense of threat here, not even one of foreboding which could be excused due to the circumstances! It's the solidity, the sense of quiet purpose, more importantly the sense of connectedness. You don't get this with roads - an empty road at night is a spooky place ... and even 'modern' railway stations lack a lot of this.

Think of Blandford today. Remarkably rail-less, even if just for a few more years, bland and characterless, with nothing like the above to make it stand out. Just waiting really, for the New S&D's time to come.

Sentimental? Not at all. To fill our trains in the future, and there will be an awful lot of them, we need to make the railway environment as comfortable, friendly, familiar and, yes, English, as the above shot. We don't want bus shelters, trains where the seats don't match the windows, services stopping at 9pm rather than 1am and starting again at 7am rather than 4am. There'll be almost as many trains at night as in the day, possibly more when you factor the freight trains in. We deserve a pleasant environment to do our stuff in. The harsh brutality of 60s architecture offers nothing to us 21st century types. The pathetic haste in which ESSENTIAL railways were closed under the most crooked circumstances should never be forgotten - or forgiven. This photo, to me, has the same redemptive - and predictive - power as the 'Perchance it is not dead' wreath at Barnstaple Town.

And completely unsentimentally here's the lean-to oil store at Midford as it was in September 1961 (photo © John Eyers). Had this survived, or been rebuilt, I'd have been up there today in the rain - but sadly the oil store will not reappear for a little while yet! This is a particularly nice shot as it shows all our trackbed up to the Long Arch Bridge.

Both these photos appear in the superb S&D Telegraph number 36, available to members of the SDRHT at Midsomer Norton and usually available at their shop, as well as other back issues.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

midford ...

Some views from the future railway around Midford - all courtesy Mick Knox.

A few points about Midford - so that everyone knows what's going on there!

Midford will be restored - subject to planning approval - to 1950s condition. It will serve as an information office for the WHOLE route, and will have an office, some sales items (books, souvenirs etc) and perhaps models of the area, plus a full information point for the station, line and area.

EVENTUALLY it will become a wayside station on the New S&D with regular passenger services to Bath and Bournemouth.

Until trains are viable (possibly 10-20 years' time) track will not be laid except for cosmetic purposes. The cycleway will continue as before and is fully supported by the New S&D.

Volunteers are welcome to go up to Midford at any time to do restoration work - but please bear the following in mind!

Please under no circumstances park in the Hope and Anchor car park at any time, even when the pub is not open. There is plenty of car parking on Twinhoe Lane, by the gate that gives access to the cycleway. From there it is a very pleasant walk to the station over the viaduct! Please carry tools etc by hand.

Please email or phone me first just so I know there is somebody there and to give you an idea of what work needs to be done.

Within a few weeks we will have New S&D reflective jackets available. Please wear these whenever possible.

You are an ambassador for the line. Please talk to anyone who is interested in the line and if you have them please hand out leaflets. Be friendly and professional at all times!

Please keep the cycleway clear of tools etc at all times.

Please take ALL litter etc home, including cigarette ends.

Please respect all the wildlife in the area, always check if clearing that you are not destroying a nest etc. If in doubt please leave well alone.

Please use the Hope and Anchor pub for drinks and food!
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

midford restoration 90s style!

The first picture was taken in 1984, probably early in the year and I think was the first one I took there. It shows the platform swathed in foliage and the trackbed thickly layered with green turf all over the ballast. Nobody had yet chopped or dug at anything since 1960's.

The second picture was taken in June 1985 and shows my Honda CG125 parked up where the lamp hut used to be (probably what you refer to as "oil store"). This had only just been cleared, was invisible in jungle.

The third picture was taken in June 1990 from the same viewpoint and shows a derelict incomplete hut where the original lamp hut used to be. The people are Henry Allen and his son David visiting from Basingstoke. Five years before Henry hauled many tons of materials onto site here, and a few tons away, driving hired lorries.

The fourth picture was taken in September 1990 and shows the platform with foundations for station building scraped clear. A total of twelve visitors were in this picture taking as great an interest then as you describe your effort attracting now.

Above 4 pictures + text are © Brian Clarke - all rights reserved.
The third picture is the most emotive for me as I'm currently spending one afternoon a week trying to get Midford back to this position! I was aware of an earlier preservation attempt at Midford, and hopefully most of you that were involved in it back then will come up and get it restarted. Of course the idea back then was to simply restore the line from Midford to Tuckingmill with a DMU shuttling back and forth. We have a direct link with this scheme as it was Laurence Skinnerton who personally purchased the site in 1997 and has now sold it on to us. The earlier attempt has also persevered in a way as Midford is now nowhere near as overgrown as it was in some of these shots!

Midford restoration part 1 was probably years ahead of its time, and also suffered from the lack of vision - a working modern freight and passenger railway - that of course the New S&D offers. This meant, sadly, that the locals didn't support it 100%.

We will be putting in for planning permission for the whole site very soon, with restoration of the infrastructure and a commitment to relaying the track as soon as we can. I've already noticed quite an increase in memberships and donations over the last few weeks since restoration started!

Do try to come along and help restore/rebuild this most iconic location! Simply email me at leysiner@aol.com for more info, or just keep checking this blog for the latest news. Members can of course go up at any time and do some clearance work but please email me first, or phone on 0117 3738973 to let me know that you're going and also to let me give you an idea of what needs to be done!
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

midford today

Excellent afternoon up at Midford, clearing back some more of the undergrowth in the station building area. I found this concrete foundation which is almost certainly the base of the parcels office. It's nice to think that the rebuilt station building should be able to utilise some of the original structure!

One of the passing cyclists was Rupert Crosbee, area manager for Sustrans, and we had a nice chat about the plans for the station!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

midford tomorrow

I shall be up at Midford (virus permitting!) from about 2pm to 4pm. Work plan tomorrow is to scrape back the undergrowth at the south end of the platform, and perhaps a little more cutting back.

If you're able to come up best tools to bring are shears, shovel and a wheelbarrow!
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Saturday, September 18, 2010


A very useful resource for the restoration of the section of line between Midford and the Long Arch Bridge is this excellent work by Mike Arlett, out of print but still available on Amazon.

As well as a comprehensive history of the S&D at Midford there are also numerous photos that will help put things back as they were.

Remember that restoration of Midford is now proceeding and all members are welcome to go to the station and do some work. At the moment we are still at the clearance stage, which will probably take a few months.

Just a few rules if you do go up - please email me first at leysiner@aol.com so I'm aware you are there and can let you know what work is needed to be done. If possible please try to go with at least one other person. All work is currently done at your own risk so personal insurance is recommended. It is a good idea to wear steel toecapped boots if possible. We'll be getting New S&D reflective jackets made shortly - when they are ready ideally we'd like all people working on site to wear them. This makes us look more professional and, more importantly, visible. If people pass and ask what we're doing please take time to let them know what our plans are. You will be ambassadors for the project even if you are shy or just want to cut stuff down! If you have them please take some leaflets to hand out - if you need some please email me. No fires please - just pile up anything that's cut down, clear of the platform edges and, of course, the cycleway. Try to buy a drink or meal in the Hope and Anchor and let them know why you are there. Don't leave tools or anything else on the cycleway - it needs to be left totally clear at all times, this is one of our obligations as landlord. Take home ALL litter, including cigarette ends!
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Friday, September 17, 2010



Recently posted to the National Preservation Forum - thought it might be fun to open this up here as well!

I have nothing against Sustrans or their goals and ideals per se - I'm not complaining about what they do. I just want to make it clear that they are 'lodgers' on railway land.

The trackbeds that rail used to run on was bought with real (private) money from land owners, under Acts of Parliament. Since nationalised in 1948 those trackbeds have belonged to the Government (the British People, really), and Sustrans would do well to remember that the land is primarily still a railway - even if the metals have been litfed - and could revert to being a working railway at any time.

In the meantime, using the trackbed as long-distance footpaths and cycleways is an excellent use - the level or gentle gradients makes ideal route for said activity - but not to the exclusion of one day re-laying the metals which belong there by right.If I see a freight train these days it is a novelty.

When I was a child (around 1960) freight trains ('goods trains' we called them) where everywhere. Successive corrupt governments have removed freight from rail, to satisfy their friends in road haulage, closed down railways, sold off vast swathes of trackbed to property developers and supermarkets in a bid to ensure rail never returns. Interesting move, as the land wasn't really theirs to sell... They only managed it on behalf of the British people.

We must, as a movement, ensure that the same thing does not happen with Sustrans. They must not regard the trackbeds as theirs; they are not - they are railway trackbeds, and I for one are happy to share those trackbeds and routes with Sustrans - but not hand them over.
My own views are slightly at variance to the above. I don't think there was any deliberate sense of selling off railway land to prevent railways being reopened, more to monetise what could be seen as dead land. Whilst some at the MoT may have thought that rail had had its day I'm sure there were just as many who were aware that oil was a finite resource and that the railways would return. This may explain why such a huge percentage of rail routes, even ones closed decades ago, are still clear of all obstructions.

Of course Sustrans was formed to shift the costs of maintaining many of these essential future routes. There's no real love for cyclists at either local, regional or national level, but Sustrans was created purely as a custodian for these future rail routes. We should be grateful to them for this.

I believe that cycling will become a very important transport mode in the future, second only to rail. Ideally there should be a railway and cycleway between Bath and Bournemouth. But obviously rail should have priority at all times and places. This is hardly controversial.

What perhaps is a little more controversial is the suggestion that heritage railways have been encouraged for precisely the same reason that Sustrans has - as a way of shifting costs away from the government and preserving rail routes. Heritage railways will have to morph into community railways offering real trains, passenger and freight, as well as 'heritage' trains, with the real trains taking precedence. This is the agenda, which will become clearer over time, which guarantees the restoration of the S&D together with thousands of miles of other temporarily closed railways. Our aim is to ensure that the S&D is rebuilt as we want it, not some distant bureaucrats.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

midford - day one!

Posters go up so that walkers and cyclists can understand what's going on. Within minutes we'd had people showing a great interest in what we were doing and leaflets were very popular!

The very first pieces of undergrowth fall victim to the long handled shears.

Will from Wells tramples down some undergrowth.

After an hour and a half a lot of the station building area has been cleared.

So the very first day's work party at Midford has come and gone. Being a Wednesday afternoon only me and Will Dowling could make it. First job was to put up posters at a couple of strategic sites explaining what we were doing at Midford. I then walked the whole length of the line we own to the south end of the Long Arch Bridge. Then back to the station where I tried to work out where the station building and the lean to oil store were situated. Will turned up at this stage and we started clearing the undergrowth where the station building used to stand, and got a lot cleared in a very short time.

Passers-by were 100% in support of what we were doing. Amazingly the very first walker was a member of both Washford and Shillingstone!

There's a lovely atmosphere up at Midford and the scenery is stunning. I'm hoping that I can get up most weeks to progress clearance and to sign up new members.

We both parked up by the old goods yard south of the station, there's a grass verge with space for about 4 cars and it's then just a 3 minute walk back across the viaduct to the station. There's restricted parking at the Hope and Anchor, but hopefully in time we can rent or buy a few spaces there.

The platform is in very good condition and the restoration should be quite straightforward providing the funds can be raised. We will be putting in planning permission soon, probably for the whole site, with the oil store being built first, so there will be a place to store tools and perhaps some sales items, and also be a shelter when the weather turns nasty!

All in all a fanatstic day at a fantastic place, which should soon be restored to its rightful place in railway iconography - right at the top!
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

50s and 60s style

Now available on the website are these superb 1:76 (OO gauge) model vehicles. All are brand new and boxed, prices ranging from £3.99 to £5.99. Great for 50s/60s S&D layouts - or just to collect. Each one sold raises at least £1 for the New S&D.

To view and order click here!

Monday, September 13, 2010

before its time

Just a slight excursion away from the S&D today. The Weston Clevedon and Portishead Railway has had an excellent DVD made about it by 1st Take, who have produced such a brilliant S&D DVD recently.

I've friends at Wick St Lawrence and still haven't quite made out where the line crossed the road there, but coming into Bristol airport you get an excellent view of part of the route!

The DVD is excellent, being a potted history of this most enigmatic of lines and at 90 minutes is superb value for money. Whilst not as upbeat about eventual restoration of this route as it is about the S&D, personally I can see a restored and extended WCPR as an essential part of 21st century transport. It needs to run as a tramway through Weston (like in the original plans) and perhaps use street running in other places, but it would be an easy reinstatement in the future with no real engineering works except to bridge the river at Wick St Lawrence. Hopefully it could connect with the GWR branch at Portishead and continue right into the centre of Bristol via the Bristol Harbour Railway. It is this type of rural light railway that will become a backbone to our modern transport network in the future, connecting with the heavy network where it can.

The DVD is available from the website, as is the S&D one. Sorry if you tried to order the S&D one yesterday, our initial stock sold out in hours but new stock is on its way so you can order again now!
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

midford - ready for take off!

The momentous moment when the restoration of the entire S&D begins will be this Wednesday 15 September 2010.

Characteristically low-key it will mainly involve me, plus anyone else who wants to come along, pinning up a couple of notices and cutting back a bit of undergrowth. It will also allow us to get a feel for what's needed to put the buildings back, which will proceed as soon as we get planning permission.

I'll be arriving at around 2pm and stay until 5.

Of course this isn't the first time work has started at an S&D site, but it is the first time that it has been part of a full line revival, which does mark it out as momentous.

So do try to come along, even if not currently a member. I'll have membership forms and some sales items available on the day.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

perchance we are all waking up!

Photo courtesy Welsh Highland Railway.


Narrow Gauge page on the Rail Thing website.

Look carefully at the photo above. It says a lot about the way things are going.

The lead loco is the new build 'Lyd', an authentic copy of the elegant and charming Lynton and Barnstaple Railway loco.

The Lynton and Barnstaple closed in 1935. It was a digraceful closure, robbing southern England of its second most charismatic railway. It served a prime holiday area and had it survived a few more years would now be one of the biggest and most profitable tourist attractions in Britain. On the buffer stop at Barnstaple Town some incredibly far sighted admirer placed a wreath stating 'Perchance it is not dead but merely sleepeth'. I suspect it was partly this image of optimism that encouraged brave preservationists to suggest in the 70s that the L&B should be rebuilt. The best thing is that the small start up group has over the years developed into an ambitious affair which intends to eventually restore the whole line, and in fact even extend it in Lynton to make it a more appropriate public service for the 21st century. Of course the original closure of the L&B was idiotic, it was a visionary line that has an even bigger role to play in the 21st century than it ever did in the 19th and 20th. Its time has come, and now one of its engines has returned from the past.

The second fascinating aspect of this picture is the track. Note that it's laid tramway style. This is the start of the section of line in Porthmadog that runs as a tramway. Who would have thought back in the 60s and 70s that this could ever happen? Again trams are possibly the most iconic 21st century transport system imaginable, and whilst this is not a tram or tramway in any normal sense of the word the return of rails to streets in other parts of the UK has made their adoption in a small Welsh town possible. It may well be that parts of the S&D in the future use tram like tracks in places, to save huge demolition bills. The Welsh Highland Railway has now been fully rebuilt giving tourists a modern way to explore the heart of Snowdonia. This is not preservation as such, but the first wave of a huge railway revival in Britain.
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

the new wave of S&D DVDs begins here

First Take's excellent 2010 DVD 'The Somerset and Dorset Railway' is now available through the New S&D. Remember ALL profits go towards restoring the line.

This is possibly the best S&D DVD yet. At 90 minutes it has plenty of time to give the background history of the whole route, including the branches. It also visits all the main stations and iconic locations en route, both through excellent archive footage (some Ivo Peters, some new) and present day visits. Midsomer Norton, Shillingstone and Washford are also featured - Geoff Akers is as eloquent as usual talking about the line on the up platform at Midsomer Norton.

One of the best bits for me was an in depth look at the importance of Bournemouth West, and the holiday traffic from the Midlands and the North, to the development of Bournemouth as a major resort. The S&D created Bournemouth, to a much greater extent than the LSWR, yet Bournemouth West is almost forgotten today.

But the best thing about this DVD is that, for the first time, it's looking also at the future of the S&D, and not just in the form of a couple of tiny heritage groups. It's almost taken for granted throughout that the S&D has an important role in the future as a vital trunk route, and that consequently the line will be rebuilt. The message is getting across and what was once considered a fringe or even impossible idea is now becoming more and more mainstream thinking.

Remember that by buying this DVD from us the profits will go directly to actually restoring the line as a proper community and trunk route for our children and grandchildren!
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Saturday, September 04, 2010

opening doors

Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World

The following is the concluding paragraph in Christian Woolmar's excellent book, 'Blood, Iron and Gold. How the Railways Transformed the World'. Whilst it's a little cautious and too backwards looking, and irrationally foresees a future role for buses, in most respects I think it says everything we've been trying to say!

Railways may have lost out to the car and the lorry, and in America and other big countries, to the aeroplane. But the fact that they survived and now thrive shows their resilience and flexibility. Trains may be of the past, but they are still the future. They will improve, not just on high speed lines, but elsewhere too as technology makes them more efficient, comfortable and faster. And there is the rather delicious prospect that they might conceivably outlive the car. It may be a fanciful idea, but then not even Stephenson realized quite what an impact his Liverpool and Manchester Railway would have. While in most places today, rail's modal share of travel is tiny compared with road transport, that situation could easily change. All this personalized mobility has not necessarily delivered any overall benefit to society. Are the Chinese better off now with their traffic jams and ring roads than they were twenty years ago when bicycles and buses were the dominant form of urban transport, and trains took them between the cities? Would it have been better if transport technology had atrophied at the turn of the century and the car had never come to dominate the world? With every town or village within a few miles of a station or tram stop, and buses for shorter journeys, a far more rational system of transport and land use would have been developed. Imagine a world without car parks, motorways or service stations. Sure, there might have been eight- or ten-track railways connecting major cities with huge termini and massive bus stations at each end, but it is an alternative vision that has many attractions. Think of all those delightful towns and cities not blighted by the permanent gridlock that affects them today. And all those horrible housing estates, accessible only by car, that would never have been built. We all know that the oil will run out at some point and as it starts to become too expensive and governments recognize it should be rationed carefully, trains may regain their place at the centre of the trasport system. Now there's a prospect to warm the heart.
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Friday, September 03, 2010

the biggest mistake of all?

Economists often talk of opportunity costs and misallocation of resources. I reckon that in 50 years time we'll all look back and see the Beeching cuts and the, once quite serious, belief that railways were finished and the policies that grew out of that huge error as the biggest misallocation of resources the UK has ever seen.

For a start the Beeching cuts didn't save the railways a penny - they made no contribution to reducing the costs of the railways. If anything they reduced the overall income as many people living on closed routes simply abandoned the railways altogether, rather than find alternative means to get to the railhead.

But even more importantly the consequent congestion effects caused by people being FORCED to use the roads, both for passenger and freight services, had a huge cost, massively outweighing any savings made by scrapping a few branch lines.

I know some people think that the second railway age will merely reverse the Beeching cuts, but remember that this assumption is based on some miraculous energy source being available to keep at least some cars running. In reality of course once the level of traffic on roads falls to a certain point it will no longer be viable to keep roads open. Rail will really be the only available option. So just reversing the Beeching cuts will nowhere near solve the problem, unless we're prepared to totally abandon whole swathes of countryside. But surely these will be the very areas that need transport to bring food to the towns and cities? So if lines will be needed to bring food in then surely it will be best to operate them as passenger routes as well? This supposes a huge expansion of light and ultra-light rail, bringing rail to every corner of the country. So as well as a total reversal of Beeching the trunk and branch lines will be accompanied by a Vicinal style network of narrow gauge and light railways. I do sometimes think most of us simply haven't taken on board the scale of the rail revival, and the benefits (and problems) that will bring!

And as for misallocation of resources - how many billions were wasted on developing a road system for a form of transport with a severely limited life, and what will the costs be to restore the network, particularly through developed areas, compared to the costs of keeping the routes open? These questions will keep transport economists in work for decades!
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