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, April 01, 2011

cycleways and railways - the future's big two!

We had an interesting email from a cyclist yesterday which brings up some interesting questions. I think the easiest way to address this is to simply reproduce the questions and answers here.
Personally I would like to see us broaden the aims of the New S&D to build a railway AND cycleway along (or near) the route, and would welcome your comments on this idea.

The email reads -

I am rather confused with the ambitious aims of this project which seem to contradict current policy within the local authorities.

Tremendous effort is being put in by North Dorset District and Dorset County Councils to re-open the line where possible for cyclist, equestrians and walkers.

Understandably, this has massive public support. Such use will be available to a wide range of users and hopefully those on low incomes to.It will have a minimum impact on the environment and will add to the public enjoyment of the countryside through which it passes. As this is predominantly a single track line I ask how you propose to re-open a railway and accommodate the Dorset Cycleway ?

I am aware how the Bodmin and Wenford railway intends to relay track on what has become the Camel Trail, however, there is room on the railway earth works to accommodate both. I do not believe that would be the case in Dorset.

Do you have the support of any of the local authorities ?

I find this a bizarre and perhaps over ambitious project. I am both a rail enthusiast and cyclist, but your project throws me completely.

I would be interested to hear from you.

My response was

The first thing to bear in mind is that this is a long term project, which will take decades rather than years to achieve.

The second point is that the S&D is predominantly a double track main line, there were a few short stretches of single track (Broadstone-Creekmoor, Blandford to Templecombe and Midford to Bath) so there is plenty of room for both a cycleway and a railway throughout. As far as I am aware the Dorset cycleway is mainly on double track sections of the route. Even where the line was single track most of the earthworks, bridges etc were built for double track – this was common on many single track railways, even branch lines.

It’s also important to bear in mind that we believe that Peak Oil and to a lesser extent Climate Change will force a huge rebuilding of the rail network, not simply a reversal of the Beeching cuts (which is of course already happening) but also lines to places that previously never had trains. We also believe that the road network will fall into gradual disuse, some of these roads may well then be converted into cycleways, bridleways etc.

The conversion of railways to cycleways was a bit of a stop gap measure to preserve the physical rights of ways of these lines which will be so essential in the future. We are just doing our tiny bit with a small project to ensure that the S&D gets to the top of the queue as railways are rebuilt. The fact that we are, in the main, railway enthusiasts too (with many cyclists on board as well) hopefully will ensure that the S&D is reinstated with the full participation of the people in the communities we pass through, rather than be bulldozered through by a government intent on restoring railways at all costs, which will be the most likely outcome as Peak Oil hits full on.

We already work closely with Sustrans at Midford and certainly intend to create both a top class railway and cycleway between Bath and the coast. The best thing is to get involved to ensure that your views are always to the fore, though as sustainable transport enthusiasts we are all just as keen on cycleways as we are on railways, rather like yourself!

DCC is certainly supportive of us but we have deliberately kept the project low key until recently, but a rapidly increasing membership is changing that! How things are now are not really much of a pointer as to how things will be in the future, but I’m sure you’ll agree that rail will be an enormously important part of the sustainable transport mix in an energy constrained future. For all of a bike’s utility we can’t really expect them to ever haul 1000 tonne loads over the Mendips! That will be our job ...


David B said...

Having recently walked the trackbed from Tucking Mill to Midford and on towards Wellow, it is obvious that there is plenty of space to allow a single track railway line and a cycle path to coexist. Cyclists might have to dismount and walk their bikes along the platform though, but this shouldn't be any great inconvenience... if tired, they may even be tempted to buy a train ticket for the journey home.

will said...

A well said response.

Another good point would be that a train across Somerset would enable long distance journeys for bikes - the bike could be used for both ends of the journey. I live and cycle around Wells, but I don't think I could take it on the bus to pedal around Bristol (I haven't tried). You could (and i would) use the bike for any journey on the route!

I believe modern railways have along much of the route a 'cess' - where works vehicles can drive alongside the railway to work sites. Surely with a little fencing and surfacing this cess (which is necessary anyway) could double as a cycle track?

You mentioned it in the reply the possibility of rail freight - it would be hugely advantageous for cyclists to have fewer of those great big trucks running around the country roads.

Anonymous said...

As an ex-cyclist and partially-sighted non-driving rail user, each operating rail system is a 'degree of freedom' (whether or not I get to use any given line). With Peak Oil, my non-car usage will become less strange.

As such, the post and Sunshiner's reply, have directly addressed a question that has been on my mind for a while, especially given the large sums spent by the local authorities on transforming the formation.

Your given time-line of decades, though, leaves me wishing for a more hasty re-development. At the point that my situation improves, I will offer my own experience and approach in supply chain management (and other committee skills) to contribute to optimising the NS&DJR rebirth. That is, if the necessary rapport arises?

Very best wishes all.

Sunshiner said...

I think the disability issue is one that is often ignored or avoided. My own son is registered blind so this is something very close to my heart. Whilst he has cycled as a passenger on a tandem (the little bugger wouldn't pedal!) he's never going to have the freedom of mobility to ride a bike on his own. But he will of course be able to use the train.

Rail is clearly the best option for blind and partially sighted people even today, and the idea that their future mobility will be taken from them to allow what is - at least today - a small group of people to enjoy recreational cycling along essential pieces of transport infrastructure can't be justified.

Cycleways will be everywhere in the future - former roads! They can easily relocate from existing ex (and future) rail routes to abandoned roads, or even simply relocate to a new greenfield site that in many cases may even be more direct than the old (and future) railways which often had to veer to reach the centre of towns.

I'd also like the restoration of the S&D to happen in years rather than decades but the political and economic landscape needs to change a lot before that happens. It is changing and the pace of change will of course speed up - the important thing is that we have staked our claim early. Even when the will to rebuild the network is there the resources may be thin on the ground.

Freddie said...

The Welsh Highland has special cycle wagons so that they can take plenty of bikes. Maybe the S&D could look at something like that?

Sunshiner said...

Every S&D passenger train will have room for plenty of cycles and each station will have secure storage facilities for bikes - starting with Midford and Spetisbury.

lonesomehobo said...

I'd love to see the morning train in from Radstock being a 3 car D/EMU with one carriage more or less entirely given over to cycles. It will definitely be needed.

And for any cyclists worried about the loss of the cycle tracks, I wouldn't worry, Sustrans will be given all of the motorways eventually...