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!

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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James said...

I think the thing with Beeching was that he was told to 'make the railway pay' and everything was merely a snapshot. In these terms he delivered just what the government wanted.

There are a few mistakes, such as the York - Beverley line. My father worked for BR at the time and took part in the passenger number surveys on various lines controlled by Hull, not that they knew what they were for. I think he succeeded in his brief to reduce costs but as the report was based on a snapshot it didn't take into account the CTC scheme then about to start which was a real shame as the line would, I suspect, have become the template for many other cross country lines for operational practices. Especially now seeing the huge growth shown by towns such as Beverley, Pocklington and Stamford Bridge it seems like a wasted oppotunity. I also wonder if the towns may have seen expansion sooned had the rail link remained - but who's to know?

A lot depends on whether you believe the railway is a business or there to provide a service - this can be an interesting point to debate. Railways are a service to the communities they serve but their origins lie very much in capitalism.

I'm not convinced by some light rail options - lightweight vehicles are more intolerant to poor p-way standards. I think some people believe that light rail is a much cheaper option but it needs to be carefully managed. I think light weight heavy rail vehicles can offer a better compromise in many cases.

I do love your point concerning when "the level of traffic on roads falls to a certain point it will no longer be viable to keep roads open" - very nicely put! Can you imagine the public reaction to such a scheme?!

As mentioned above, some of the expansion of many towns and urban areas probably couldn't have been imagined fifty years ago and a number of what would now be well used cross country lines closed. I think there could be good cases for these reopening. I certainly think that there could be more benefit for many than new high speed lines. Locally the York - Beverley line would benefit East Yorkshire far, far more than a high speed line to Sheffield and Leeds would - it may even take longer to get to London from East Yorkshire via this than just using the existing ECML! Yet a much smaller investment on one cross counrty route could do far more good. Likewise I suspect, although I don't know the area as well, a rebuilt S&D could also be more benefit to the areas it could serve than any distant high speed link could ever be.

Knoxy said...

One of the problems associated with the Beeching/Marples closure era was the threatened lines had no local ownership. It was also the thinking at the time that railways were finished and it was time to send everything by road! The consequences of that sort of thinking have produced the transport nightmare we have today. Too much on the roads and not enough capacity on the rails. Before we have new high speed lines, we need local lines and local ownership. Would the businesses of Swanage & Minehead prosper even more with direct connections and services with the national network? Just a bit! So it's important that local businesses and residents buy a stake of their local line either directly or by electing in a council that funds the purchase and safeguarding of the trackbed.


Ben said...

Without getting into the debate of whether or not the Beaching Cuts were necessary, the track beds of closed lines should have at least been protected in case of future use. The fact this did not happen, and the fact that the sale of assets continues to this day, highlights the short sightedness this country's politics is renowned for.