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!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

the future ...

Many small rural lines see resurgence in popularity


There has been a surge in the number of people using many small, rural rail lines, with passenger numbers on some routes almost doubling in the last few years, according to figures published by the Association of Train operating Companies (ATOC).

The rise in popularity of branch and Community Rail Partnership lines – smaller lines that branch off the mainline rail network into rural towns and villages – reflects the impact of the ‘staycation’ trend over recent years as people have increasingly chosen to holiday in the UK.

Many of the fastest-growing branch lines connect to seaside resorts and towns, and show spikes during the summer months.

However, train companies also report that growing numbers of local residents are opting to use trains that run on branch lines to get to and from work or simply to get out and about.

Local and rural rail journeys now total around 40million a year.

Community Rail Partnerships, which comprise operators, the voluntary sector and local authorities in an area, have also had considerable success in promoting smaller community lines, providing better rail services and helping rural regeneration.

From April 2007 to April 2011, passenger journeys from:

- Truro to Falmouth branch line rose by 91% (by 22% in the last year)
- Bristol to Severn Beach branch lines rose by 90% (by 19% in the last year)
- Derby to Matlock branch line rose by 86% (by 20% in the last year)

Edward Welsh, Director of Corporate Affairs at ATOC, said: “The staycation trend that has seen more people holiday in the UK over recent years has undoubtedly played a big part in the significant increases that we have seen on many of these small, rural lines.

“But a combination of reliability, value for money, comfort and better promotion have contributed to increasing numbers of local people using branch lines as a way to get out and about throughout the year.

“The resurgence of many of these lines is good news for rural economies. Having a rail link that brings hundreds of thousands of people a year into towns and villages helps to ensure vibrant and thriving rural economies.”

Neil Buxton, General Manager at the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, said: “Community Rail Partnerships are the Big Society in action – communities working with the railway industry and local authorities to revitalise their local rail services. A recent ACoRP report has shown that every £1 invested in a Community Rail Partnership can bring £4.60 in benefit and that Community Rail volunteers bring an astounding £27m added value to the rail industry. Community Rail is a real success story in bringing new life to local lines.”


So there you have it. Just imagine how flourishing the towns and villages would be along the S&D had it not been idiotically closed in the 1960s. And how those same towns and villages will be crying out for the rebuilding of their railway, especially when the price of oil begins to raise petrol and diesel prices from their currently ludicrously low levels.

So let's get on with it!!


Brian said...

Steve wrote:

"Many of the fastest-growing branch lines connect to seaside resorts and towns, and show spikes during the summer months."

This summer traffic spike was a big headache in past era of popular seaside family holidays by rail. At least one closed branch line was retained in part to stable rakes of forlorn carriages kept, in near derelict condition, just for a few summer turns to meet peak traffic demand. It naturally ended as road or overseas alternatives displaced rail for summer holidays, with "rationalisation" seeing those old carriages burnt & gas-axed. They could not in any case have staggered on much longer.Investment in new stock for such rare use was (and is) totally unviable.

The railway did not just give up on the idea though. As a kiddy in early 1970's I was easily lured into going on a "mystery tour" ticket deal, with train unsurprisingly arriving at Clacton ! There was no parental input, still less any encouragement. Their generation had said goodbye to the railway, all their holidays for rest of their lives to be by car. Junior was just experiencing a novelty, thats how they saw it.

Limited capacity is still going to be a problem on the railway with traffic patterns as Steve has outlined. The primary response so far would appear to be rationing by price.I dont know what the policy is right now for investing in new rolling stock, however it has been complicated by the peculiarly political invention of train operating companies with their short term (contract limited) view of future need.

A more robust earlier generation of youthful holidaymakers would get a summer job, save up the money then set forth on the road with bicycle, perhaps taking a train journey just to get them into chosen holiday area fast. Some of the well remembered photographers of industrial or narrow gauge lines got about this way, one describing a hard slog as casual labour drilling holes in steel sleepers at Robert Hudson Ltd to get his holiday money together ! Presumably they used spartan Youth Hostels, which seem to have gone though a phase (since I used them) of trying to become like Hotels.

Everything changes, yet perhaps some must "come around again".

Chris Warren said...

I visited Lyme Regis today. Beautiful seaside resort ruined by heavy traffic that once had a wonderful branch line from Axminster. What a gem of a railway journey that must have been. Nearly all of the trackbed remains as most of it ran through open countryside. Surely an economically viable line to reopen. All you'd want was a DMU trundling up and down like the service between St Erth and St Ives. Total cost? Using reclaimed track and sleepers, a couple of passing loops, basic signalling and a 25mph running speed. 15 million?? With an enthusiastic membership like at MSN thousands could be saved in labour costs. Big Society? How about the government setting up a proper scheme whereby volunteer organisations can aquire ex Network Rail rails, sleepers, ballast etc for free providing they give assurances the line would be completed in a certain period. For the guys at Bitton they could reach the outskirts of Bath and provide a commuter service between Warmley and Newbridge with buses taking passengers onwards until the rest of the formation is re instated.

Just a thought.

Brian said...

There might have been a fifteen inch gauge line on the trackbed Chris Warren just visited which could by now have been doing a useful job of work. It was built as the "Axe & Lyme" or some such name, by Les Anderson after he quit the line at Longleat which he had built and for a while run with his father. Les showed me photos he took of the train somewhere near Lyme Regis, all ready to go.

He had some very novel ideas for moving large numbers of people rapidly on this "minimum gauge" but only got to build one prototype train to demonstrate his principles. In fact it did give lots of service at Rhyl Marine lake, but thats another story. Sadly his undertaking at Lyme regis was not allowed to operate so it went bust with most assets sold off. We can only imagine what that line might have developed into. Perhaps somewhat like Seaton Tramway (though thats much wider gauge). Les went on to work as a school teacher and down the coal mines, to do with railways there.

I wonder how many folks now remember the early ambitions at Bitton, of building a useful commuter line. It was styled as the "Bristol Suburban Railway" before eventually morphing into a tourist attraction we now know as "Avon Valley Railway". Local Authorities and Sustrans have between them done much to keep lengths of trackbed intact but I seem to remember a chunk of it getting obliterated near Siston Common to make way for "road improvements". Various rusty old Midland Rly relics were turned up by the digging including a signal counterweight which is still in my garden. I find it hard to accept the "logic" of destroying the trackbed there, either from the railway revivalist or bicycle users point of view.

The idea Chris Warren set forth for making it possible by HMG initiative to transfer ownership of closed railways in favour of those motivated to operate them is not new though I cannot now quite remember when it got proposed. That nothing came of it then is no reason to dismiss the idea, maybe its due another try now or is that too optimistic ?

Anonymous said...

logic has nothing to do with building on trackbeds. its mostly done deliberately to this day to stop the likes of us forming societies in every town and village and reopening our railways.

the latest telegaph, for instance says that roger saul's mulberry factory is expanding over the trackbed at old down, chilcompton. currently only the car park eats into the curve where the moorewood run away catch points / down distant / fogmags hut stood. why in @!*^@ name is the trust and mendip district council allowing that to happen?


Sunshiner said...


I can't see how that could be true. Thirty years ago perhaps, but nowadays even the thickest politicians knows that rail has to make a comeback.

Because how exactly would it work? Does the government instruct companies to build over trackbeds? That company will doubtless need rail transport in the future, for its products, workers and customers.

How does it 'stop' societies forming? All structures can be demolished, and any blocking trackbeds will be. I just don't see the point. I can't imagine anyone promotinga rail reinstatement gives a tinker's cuss about encroachment - I certainly don't. In many cases some forms of encroachment - footpaths, cycleways and roads - act as excellent protectors for the routes.

The railway at Moorewood may not return for ten or even twenty years. What's the harm in using the trackbed in the short term? The company no doubt realises that it will have to demolish the extension in future, and has almost certainly built that into its costings.

Anonymous said...

There was an article in the Somerset Guardian about building on ex railway land and incorporating a new road layout to cater for the increased road traffic!
This is in the centre of RADSTOCK!!!
Is nothing sacred??