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, October 29, 2010

the impossible takes a few years longer

Firstly some little rails in a UK public roadway and look, nobody is getting squashed. This was reportedly the first rail movement since new colourlight signals put in at Britannia Bridge, you can see white paint going over the rail crown. The diesel loco is called Moelwyn and I think was one of the American Baldwins made for the WW1 trench warfare meat mincer.

This picture shows how history can run in reverse as the original track here was rooted out in 1960's when it got in the way of increasing road vehicle traffic. It was only left in until then so the armoured Simplex loco could visit the local petrol station when it required refuelling, nobody imagined the track could ever have a serious use again. (Picture via Festiniog website, via Brian Clarke)

The natural pessimists among us always tell us 'it can't be done'. It doesn't even have to be a big thing - to them nothing is possible. My mum and dad used to say the same thing - which is probably why I am of the polar opposite persuasion! The classic was the person who said that Midsomer Norton would never reach Chilcompton because there was 'a garden in the way'!! I'm sure psychologists would have a field day with 'em. Needless to say the S&D revival has brought them out in their droves!

So this is for them. Of course the Welsh Highland revival could never happen either LOL! And the business case for this is minimal compared to the S&D case ...

Original story.

The final step in the creation of Britain's longest narrow gauge railway will be taken this weekend.For the first time, the Welsh Highland Railway will carry passengers along the whole length of the newly-laid line between Caernarfon and Porthmadog.

When linked up with the Ffestiniog Railway at Porthmadog's Harbour Station, it will be possible to travel by steam for almost 40 miles through the Snowdonia countryside.

The new line will open to passengers in April 2011, but this weekend's trips have been laid on especially for those who've helped contribute more than £2m towards the restoration work and the volunteers who gave up their time to lay the track.
WEEKEND TIMETABLESaturday, 30 October, 9am, first train leaves Caernarfon, crossing Britannia Bridge, Porthmadog, 11.25am.

Second train departs 11am, arriving at Porthmadog 1.40pm.

Trains return to Caernarfon at 12.50pm and 2.55pm.

Sunday, 31 October, 1.15pm, train departs Porthmadog hauled by Lyd, the world's newest steam locomotive, built at the railway's own workshops.

Other enthusiasts can watch the trains running down the tramway section on Porthmadog's High Street for the first time since the original railway closed 79 years ago.

The trains will also cross over the Network Rail line at Britain's only standard gauge/narrow gauge level crossing.

"It will have the first train running the length of the line with genuine passengers," said Andrew Thomas, spokesman for the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway (FWHR) who are responsible for all the track between Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

"The journey will currently take around two hours, because it takes a few years for the new track to bed in. Eventually, we will be able to run at the maximum of 25mph, and the journey will take one and a half hours."

The work on this line began in the early 1990s and has cost £28 million in total. Partly funded by grants, the rest of the money was raised by donations from sponsors and the public.

Over 1,000 volunteers have helped lay the track, and Andrew is delighted they and their families will be the first to enjoy the trip.

"Everyone always says the best part of the line is through the Aberglaslyn Pass, because it's much better than driving it in a car," said Andrew.
Economy"But my favourite part is the flat section down towards Porthmadog, mainly because you're surrounded on three sides by mountains. You have a majestic, panoramic view of Cnicht and Snowdon; it's really impressive."

The FWHR say the steam railway generates up to £15m a year for the Gwynedd economy and creates an estimated 350 jobs in the area.

Special sherry and mince pie trips from Porthmadog to the Glaslyn Valley will be held from early January when the Ffestiniog line will be closed for maintenance work for six weeks.

There will also be trips from Porthmadog to Caernarfon during February half term.

the S&D community

There are rumours - probably apocryphal - the an 'important member' of the S&D community recently refused to give an interview with a video company about the S&D because 'everything that could be said about the S&D has been'.

This highlights two big points. The first is that the potential interviewee clearly considers that the S&D exists purely in the past. This is the big fracture between the nostalgists who knew the old S&D and the far bigger demographic that see the S&D as primarily a present and future thing. There is of course a third group, people like me who see the S&D as a phenomena of the past, present and future.

The other point is the ease that somebody like me, who normally detests the PC, modernist and rather lazy use of '(insert anything) community' finds it so easy to use in this case. Because there really is an S&D community, and it's a growing, very cool and dynamic thing. It is very much an idea of the future more than anything. And I suspect that everyone that reads this blog is very clearly a member of it.

There are some VERY silly differences between people currently restoring the S&D. As the New S&D we have kept very firmly apart from this, and always intend to do so. We are a unifying rather than dividing force. We quite simply want to see the whole S&D restored, both as a linear work of art and as a modern, forward-looking, transport system. We can clearly see the benefits of restoring the bulk of the 1950s/60s S&D infrastructure - it will encourage steam specials on the route, will give the whole line a human scale, will increase the potential employment prospects of the line, will allow us to sieze a myriad of profitable opportunities and make people like us! But we also see the absolute necessity of being an economically viable, super efficient common carrier for freight and passengers in the 21st century. As the road network fails we need to be in place, as simple as that. If for the next couple of decades we can ride on the back of the heritage movement as we restore sections of the route then that will help all of us.

You can see where this is going. The New S&D has something for the WHOLE S&D community. Not only can those who love steam and loved the line as it was see that what we will do will appeal to them but also the people who live along the line - who really just want their trains back - can see that we also want to give them that, a super efficient, cheap, climate-friendly and sustainable way to keep moving as the oil age collapses.

The S&D community is HUGE, certainly numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. It embraces the original S&D community - the workers who knew the original line. It encompasses a good proportion of railway enthusiasts who loved this line, whether they knew it or not when it was running (and where of course I originally came from!). It includes all those people working towards making the UK a sustainable economy. It also includes all of those people in the railway industry who are developing our primary transport system in the 21st century. But the biggest tranche of members come from those hundreds of thousands of people that live along the route and will be the main users of the trains when they return.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the future

A couple of articles that came in via finance emails over the last two days. Money men are wonderfully unsentimental and usually years ahead of the general public. The rail future message is clearly getting through ...

From MoneyWeek Asia
 This week’s email comes from Malaysia. I’ve travelled down here from Singapore. If you hadn’t realised that was possible, you’re not alone. Even some Singaporeans and Malaysians have no idea there’s a rail link between their capitals.There’s a good reason for that. The journey takes seven hours, in carriages that were once quite luxurious but are now shabby. And dining options are limited.Sure, it’s not as bad as third class in India. You’re not squashed in among the chickens. But you may find yourself sharing a seat with a freeloading cockroach.However, on the plus side, you get to see something of Malaysia outside the cities. And it also tells you a great deal about relations between Malaysia and Singapore…

Britain’s parting gift - a traditional railway farce
The railway was built when what are now Malaysia and Singapore were British colonies. After independence in 1963, the two were briefly part of the same federation before parting ways in 1965. However, the railway station and track within Singapore remained Malaysian property. This was held by Malayan Railways (KTMB) on a 999-year lease.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused problems. Space in Singapore is at a premium. So the Singaporean government wanted to develop the prime land occupied by the railway. But agreeing a deal proved difficult. And so the railway has become a popular way for the two sides to needle each other.

For example, Singapore’s extensive metro system doesn’t include a stop near the station. The closest bus stand is directly across from the terminus. But you have to cross a busy carriageway to get to it - and there’s no pedestrian crossing.

Kuala Lumpur’s options for retaliation are more limited. But for many years a provocative “Welcome to Malaysia” sign hung above the door.

The high point of the farce came in 1990. A deal was struck to move the station and redevelop the land jointly. Singapore built a new station and immigration checkpoint at the top of the island. Then Malaysia decided to delay its relocation. But Singapore went ahead anyway in 1998.

So today, you pass through Malaysian immigration before you actually board the train. Then you ride a bit further down the line and get off to pass through the checkpoint out of Singapore. It’s the only place in the world I know of where you supposedly enter one country before leaving another.

Pulling together at last
 But if you want to take this unique trip, you’d better do it soon. Earlier this year, the two countries finally agreed a deal to relocate the station from July 2011.

This is good news for more than just railway passengers. It should mark the start of much greater cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore. And that should benefit both countries.

Singapore is wealthy. Land is scarce and wages are getting too high to do much manufacturing work. Malaysia is a middle-income economy that still needs more manufacturing jobs, especially in areas such as Johor Bahru, which borders Singapore.

So it would make sense to relocate factories from Singapore into Malaysia’s Iskandar Development Region, just across the straits. This should be good for everyone involved, similar to Hong Kong firms’ moves into China’s Guangdong province in the 1980s and 1990s.

It’s not just manufacturing. Malaysia also wants to increase skilled service developments in the area, such as healthcare, attracting investment and clients from Singapore. These can benefit from Malaysia’s lower labour costs while allowing workers to move into high-value sectors. This is crucial to keep ahead of competition from countries such as China which have hurt lower-end employment.

The possibilities don’t end there. For example, Singapore is one of the world’s leading financial centres, while Malaysia - where Islam is the main religion - hopes to make Kuala Lumpur the global hub for Islamic finance: the two could clearly be complementary.

More broadly, Southeast Asian countries will need to work together in the years to come to deal with the rise of China and India. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), long derided as a talking shop, finally seems to be evolving into something more. It has the potential to become a major free trade and investment area. As the two most advanced economies in the region, Malaysia and Singapore will obviously be key players in such a trend.

Malaysia is investing in the future againA trip down the railway also shows you how things are changing in peninsular Malaysia. The network itself is being upgraded. And you also trundle past new roads, residential buildings and other construction projects.

This is encouraging. Malaysia desperately needs investment - in infrastructure and elsewhere - to stay ahead of regional rivals and make the leap to developed status in a decade or two.

The country suffered several years of drift under its previous prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. He was well-meaning and relatively honest by the standards of Malaysian politics, but showed little determination.

But his former deputy Najib Razak, who succeeded him in April 2009, shows more promise. He seems to have a clear idea of what Malaysia needs, plus the determination to push it through.

For example, the latest budget included a RM40bn (£8.2bn) plan to expand Kuala Lumpur’s woeful metro transport system to cover the whole city, along with other infrastructure and skills spending. And moves have been made to attract more foreign companies, especially in areas such as financial services.

Meanwhile, some of the bumiputra rules that discriminate in favour of ethnic Malays and against other races are being relaxed a little. These affirmative action policies were intended to lift the standard of living for poorer Malay groups and had an important purpose at first.

But they also made much of the country feel like second-class citizens, discouraged investment and exacerbated racial divisions. So for the last year or so, Malaysians have been bombarded with the “1Malaysia” campaign, which attempts to smooth over these differences and persuade everyone to work together.

Of course, this is extremely cynical. The same politicians who are now promoting this campaign were happy to pander to racial divisions when that suited the agenda better. The metro is plastered in pro-equality quotes from Abdul Razak, Najib’s father, who as prime minister in the 1970s was responsible for introducing the bumiputra policies in the first place.But it reflects the new reality. As China and India become more important, Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese and Indian populations and their connections could be very handy - but only if they don’t feel rejected by their country. So it’s encouraging to see that top politicians are pragmatic enough to recognise this and change track.

And from today's Money Morning
 To the average British rail commuter, the notion of sleek, efficient, high speed trains seems laughable. Just finding a train that can get you from point A to point B at somewhere near the promised time is an achievement. Doing it without bankrupting yourself is another thing altogether. High-speed rail links are a dream that's been promised to the British commuter by various governments for years. Yet it never seems to come true. But the outlook for commuters elsewhere in the world is far more promising. While you were slogging your way in and out of work yesterday, China was unveiling the fastest train line in the world. And this isn't some bold but ultimately doomed 'prestige' project like Concorde. It's merely the latest addition to an already extensive network of high-speed rail links. Indeed, I reckon high speed rail could be one of the most important investment themes of the next few years. Here's why...

The world's fastest train runs between Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the city outskirts. As it glides along the track, LED screens in the carriages show the speed tick up to as much as 431km an hour (that's 268 miles per hour). A return journey costs £7.50. That's less than the price of a peak-time London Underground ticket. By contrast, one of Britain's high-speed trains, the Virgin Pendolino, travels from Birmingham to London at about 200km an hour (or 125 miles per hour). When it comes to high speed rail, China is thinking big. By 2020, all major cities in China will be connected by trains that run at 350km per hour. Beijing is investing $300 billion upfront. The World Bank described the project as "the biggest single planned program of passenger-rail investment there has ever been in one country". The rest of the world is now playing catch up. Billions of dollars are being poured into high speed rail - and just a handful of companies are equipped to scoop it up.

How China took the lead in high speed rail
 The Shanghai train is a 'Maglev', short for 'magnetic levitation'. It actually floats just above the track. Magnets propel it forward silently and the lack of friction allows it to reach phenomenal speeds. Ironically, the world's first commercial Maglev ran from Birmingham International to Birmingham airport back in 1984. But the UK let the technology slip through its fingers. The route was dismantled in 1995 and replaced by a bus. Meanwhile, Beijing has eagerly sucked up all the cutting-edge rail technology it can find. When it announced its plans back in 2004, the companies that came forward to bid for the biggest rail contracts in history were a who's who of rail technology: Bombardier (Canada), Siemens (Germany), Alstom (France) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (Japan). In the competition for contracts, the companies agreed to onerous terms and conditions. Production had to occur in China, and they had to agree to 'technology transfers', effectively helping to set up their own cheap Chinese competitors. Beijing has a word for this acquisitive process: 'digesting'. Six years later, high speed rail companies are now having to compete with the Chinese rivals they created. Two Chinese manufacturers, CSR and CNR, are already among the world's top four train makers, as the chart below shows. These companies are now snapping at each other's heels to land contracts world wide. We're about to see the biggest expansion of rail since the days of the Wild West. Billions of dollars are being pumped into high-speed rail projects worldwide, from Bologna, to Argentina, to California. It could be one of the most lucrative investment themes of the decade. Why are governments so taken with high speed rail? First off, there's the 'green' vote - 'greenhouse gas' emissions can be up to 90% lower than flying. It makes economic sense too - better transport links mean a more mobile, productive workforce, which makes life cheaper for companies. And rail schemes are also big employers. The Beijing-Shanghai link alone employs 110,000 workers. In the US, $8bn of stimulus funds has been set aside for high speed rail projects. A $2.7bn project in Florida is set to open in 2015, and a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco link costing upwards of $40bn should open in 2020. And on Tuesday 28 September, Amtrak unveiled a $117bn, 30-year vision for a high speed rail line linking the entire East Coast. Political grandstanding by the Republicans may cause problems for some of these projects. But the US is just one of many countries looking at high-speed rail. Here in Britain, construction on a line linking London to the northern cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is due to start in 2015. And projects are also underway in Spain, Italy, South Korea and India.

absentee landlord

I won't be able to get up to Midford today. I'm off to the Caribbean for two weeks in a fortnight's time so my workload has been rather telescoped which means I'll probably only get one chance to go up before I go away.

Still, it's pretty clear that you don't need me to be up there all the time, so if you're planning to go today, or indeed at any time, please just go ahead and get stuck in!
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midford again

The above is for those people who claim that it will be over 100 years before track returns to Midford so what's the point ...

This is the codicil in the lease agreement that requires Susrans to relocate the cycleway when we relay the line. Bear in mind also that as a public railway we will have full compulsory purchase powers so it's not an issue in any case. It's really up to us when we put the line back in, though personally I don't see a lot of point in laying track until we run real trains, so we're looking at a 20-30 year timeframe for Midford, though not of course on other sections of the line.

Of course the intention is to build a railway AND cycleway between Bath and Bournemouth, and along any other stretch of line we rebuild, so there won't be any conflict, no matter how much some dinosaur types try to talk it up LOL!
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Monday, October 25, 2010

midford sunday

Members Stuart and Tom were up at Midford yesterday and the main job was burning a lot of the cut undergrowth that has built up over the last 5-6 weeks.

There was a lot of interest and support shown by walkers and cyclists during the day.

It's usually quite quiet on a Wednesday so I'd like to actively encourage members to go up at the weekend whenever possible to work. If you are planning to go up please ask me  to send you some of our leaflets so that passers-by can see what we're doing and hopefully join!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

midford progress

15.9.2010 - first clearance day.

Today, just over a month later, the work is beginning to show results!

There have been work parties on four of the last five days, which is pretty good going! Remember that any member is entitled to go up at any time to do work on site.

We've now started moving all the cut vegetation and scrpaed earth from the platform, which is being dumped at the far end of the platform, where hopefully most of it will compost down in time. Most of the back wall has now been cleared, as has almost all the floor of the station building site.

It won't be long before we put in for planning permission to put the buildings back.
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midford - Saturday, Monday and Today!

February 1986 - the sensible way to move loads - by narrow gauge skip! I do have a skip and some track but it's 7¼" gauge and perhaps a bit too easy to steal! So it'll be a wheelbarrow today ...

1986 - replica Midford sign and seat.

(Above 2 photos © Brian Clarke)

(These two photos © Kevin Brettell.

This Monday - before and after.

I'm going up to Midford in a few minutes for my usual Wednesday afternoon work out. We've now had people up there three out of the last five days, which is excellent going. We're getting quite a few Midford locals joining now and of course it's easy for them to just walk down and do some work.

I'm particularly pleased with picture four as it shows just how clear the station's becoming!
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

midford saturday work

The first rail revival presence at Midford on a Saturday for many years took place yesterday with more of the retaining/back wall being cleared.

I'll be up Wednesday with the main aim of moving the cleared material by wheelbarrow to the north end of the platform to improve the access.

Remember that members are permitted to go up to Midford at any time to do clearance restoration work! Don't be shy ...
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Friday, October 15, 2010

switzerland - ahead of the game as always ...

The Swiss have today just completed the tunneling for the world's longest tunnel. It's the 35 mile long Gotthard Base Tunnel, which avoids the steep bad weather-prone climbs up the ramps to the existing tunnel, which will no doubt be retained. This will more than double capacity on the route which links Switzerland to Italy. Of course it's a rail tunnel - Switzerland is trying to force ALL through freight traffic off the roads and onto the rails, and realise that to achieve this they need to invest in infrastructure. The line won't be open for another 6 years by which time capacity constraints will no doubt be creeping up again - but I'm sure the Swiss will deal with that problem when necessary.

This is the future. Notice that all long tunnels are rail tunnels - even the backward Brits realised that the Channel Tunnel needed to be rail rather than road!
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

midford today

Unfortunately pressure of work means I won't be able to get up to Midford today but don't let that stop any of you lot going up! I was planning to clear more of the back wall - platform edge needs clearing and of course the platform surface too.
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

saving the past

(All Dawlish Warren 10.9.1984)

I've been having severe computer problems, with my Dell just about dead after about seven years. So I've been saving all my picture files, uploading them to the web. These are from Dawlish Warren, where I took my very first railway photo on 9 July 1971. These were a few years later though not a lot had changed.

My lovely new Vaio laptop has just arrived so hopefully everything I do will be speeded up by a factor of about three from now on!
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

hardly a surprise ...

... it is the 21st century after all!

Wednesday, October 6th 2010 14:00

27 local jobs have been lost with the closure of George Taylor Limited.

The firm based in Bedminster will no longer carry out any haulage work after over a century of doing so throughout the city.

Bosses have blamed the effects of the current economic climate for the business' decline.

The company employs 17 drivers and 10 other staff. Managing Director Roger Scarrett said: "It is with great regret that after over 100 years in the haulage business the company will realign itself and completely withdraw from all its haulage related activities. The company will continue to manage its property and other resources.

"We have taken the decision because demand for our quality service has declined in the global recession and we did not want to compromise on that quality, which the George Taylor name has been associated with for so many years."

"Sadly the loyal and dedicated workforce who over a long period of time have continuously produced service levels of the highest standard through their commitment and professionalism are the innocent victims in this. They are all friends as well as work colleagues."

"In the current economy customers are putting low prices above value and we are not prepared to compromise our service levels."The company was originally started by George Taylor and his horse and cart over 100 years ago.

All of the firm's equipment and vehicles, including some historic pieces will be sold at an auction this weekend.

This is happening all the time. Perhaps they should go back to the horses and carts - at least they have a future!

Businesses should be staying ahead of structural changes in the economy. Transport in the 21st century exclusively means railed transport. The roads are dying, costs are going through the roof and the whole business model is flawed. Transport companies should, like Eddie Stobart is doing, have been realigning themselves for years to switch their business to rail in one way or another. Either by developing rail freight or even by building the vehicles that will be needed in the future - heavy goods locos, freight wagons and industrial and light railway equipment. It's no good crying for a world that is changing before your eyes, you need to make the adjustments before your rivals do. This is the beauty of capitalism, and the underlying principle behind the New S&D.

Me? I left road haulage over twenty years ago as the way things were going was clear to me even then.
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Saturday, October 09, 2010

caution - may contain nuts

I heard the daftest thing the other day. Apparently a lot of people don't want to get involved with the New S&D - and by extension the S&D revival - because they have heard we're a 'bunch of nutters'!

I'm really sorry to disappoint them, and I know how horrible it can be when the truth hits home, but there's never been room in the New S&D for anyone who isn't as sharp as a knife, well educated and professional. We'd spot a nutter from miles off and they'd never get in.

Not quite sure how this rumour came about, or what mischievous types spread it, but I'm sure the progress at Midford and the rapid development of the New S&D, coupled with an almost universal appreciation that the Beeching cuts now need to be reversed, and quickly, will knock it out of play.

So if you are a nutter, and feel that joining the New S&D will introduce you to a plethora of like-minded friends, forget it. We have a serious nut allergy ... and intend to keep it that way!
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Friday, October 08, 2010

the wall emerges

(All © Brian Clarke)

When I left Midford at five on Wednesday new member Brian Clarke was still beavering away and he sent these progress shots, including one after dark had fallen!

Midford really is starting to look like a station again and the actual task of returning it to its proper role is nowhere near as daunting as it once would have been. Just a few Wednesdays and it's already starting to look transformed.

Remember that members are welcome to go up to the site at any time to do clearance and restoration work, providing they follow the rules on the sidebar of this blog. Please try to get up whenever you can!
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Thursday, October 07, 2010

my first ever visit to midford ...

... was on May 24, 1980, over 30 years ago! Just 14 years after the last passenger trains Midford station back then looked far more forlorn than it does today! It's hard to spot the platform amid the undergrowth. Fortunately two previous restoration attempts have left the job a lot easier than it was at the start!
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