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!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

south devon railway

Took a trip to the South Devon Railway last Saturday. I first visited this line in 1972 and nothing much seems to have changed! Buckfastleigh's nicely developed with plenty to do before making the return trip. At the Totnes end there's a fantastic hands-on Rare Breeds Farm.

Once a month the SDR uses diesel traction for one of its trains and we took this up, utilising the fantastic observation car, all for £1.50 extra first class.

We travelled by train from Bristol - the interchange at Totnes is about a 400 metre walk, not bad at all. SDR trains did once run into Totnes BR station, but apparently the charges were too high and in the end they built their own station at Totnes (Littlehempston) using the building from Toller on the Bridport branch.

I do feel that only heritage railways that have a network connection can survive in the long term. people are already abandoning their cars, eventually none of us will have the option. Heritage lines will also have to adapt to carry genuine passenger and freight flows. The SDR does eventually intend to return to Ashburton, which will be an excellent traffic generator for the line, so I reckon it will survive.

My first choice for last Saturday's trip was the Seaton Tramway but there's no rail connection, second choice was the West Somerset, also written off though we ironically passed its connection with the network south of Taunton - this is surely one piece of line that needs to be opened sooner rather than later?
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Knoxy said...

the West Somerset must eventually run into the empty platform bays at Taunton and then the day trips to Minehead can begin.

Brian said...

Once the main line connection of West Somerset Railway went out of use, it fell victim to changes in layout of signals done ignoring any possible future need for a junction or branch trains running into the bay platform at Taunton. The cost quite cynically quoted for sorting this out (in times perhaps less sympathetic than now) left just an idirect but useful connection through Bulmers, which continued then to use rail traffic. There was also bitter opposition from Trades Union interests in bus services which had replaced trains (I think that was in 1971 but stand to be corrected. Still remember seeing the BR last train on black & white TV news, with a brass band playing on board !)

The WSR people have worked hard over many years, at first getting sections of the branch line operating back ever closer to the main line. Look at old magazine photos, you can see flags planted between the rails where trains had to stop other than internal works ones. The pannier tank, "Flockton Flyer" (named for TV series) with hole in side of chimney and odd whizz, smak, whizz, smak sound would proceed into the weeds from time to time on such adventures. One time she broke something with a lound thud (was it the cranked axle?) so fire had to be dropped and all did the long walk back. Taking her apart revealed of course how generally dire other things had become, she was in bits a long time. Memories fade by now for most, of the WSR "Super Bagnalls" Victor and Vulcan, particularly it was Victor which made an impression on me and I was sorry to hear those engines went elsewhere. They used to shunt trains of newly made cars, was that at Longbridge.....

How different things are now with the WSR, after good investment in new facilities and vanishing of the overall threadbare desperation which certainly prevailed before. In those times I used a few of the diesel "shoppers trains" which were allowed to venture closer than the rest to main line, met by a special bus to close the gap. To my amazement on one occasion, the service was instead a "running in turn" for "Evening Star" which was a special and unique experience for me. The loco was due to depart from the WSR within days after repairs, and will need no introduction as an historic icon of The Somerset & Dorset Rly later years.

The WSR is a longer line in fact than those who have not visited tend to realise and serves places with rather limited road provision, partly for geographic reasons. There is really only the one proper road into Minehead and mayhem caused by mule-like use of that for lorries bringing in heavy stuff for the Sea Defences eventually prompted the few functioning braincells of those responsible, to use the WSR for this instead ! A significant proportion of passenger trips through each year are for real rather than tourist purposes, though this may not be so obvious in the holidaymakers season eg with Butlins on the scene.

Time has gone on and its been a few years since I visited the WSR so dont know how they have got on with building loco depot facilities near to the Taunton end and the putting in of a proper main line connection. No doubt a little research would answer both those but thats for another day. I reckon the WSR has carved out a good place for itself in futureworld. I am aware of the S&D museum at Washford but dont see it as pivotal to the WSR operation despite its owning 53808.


Sunshiner said...

There seemed to be a lot going on at the Taunton end when we passed nine days ago. There was some sort of steam fair going on, also one steam and one diesel loco visible from the main line. There's certainly been some new trackworks there and what appears to be a prepared trackbed forming some sort of loop through the triangle.

One problem is of course that after 40 years Bishops Lydeard has been rather overdeveloped, serving as a terminus, and some of these facilities may fall out of use when the Taunton link is established, but of course it must be. They lost the best part of £120 from us last Saturday - this is what we spent instead at the SDR - and all for want of a main line connection. Let's face it, this is the only way we'll be able to reach heritage railways in the not too distant future, without a connection will isolated heritage lines be able to survive? It's interesting how many have struggled to get main line connections over the last few years. Hopefully by next year I'll be able to use the WSR as I love the line.

This problem originated because the replacement bus drivers from 1971 were members of ASLEF, and thought they'd lose their jobs when the link was established, a quite amazing situation even then, surely totally anachronistic now?

Brian said...

I have been checking a few things about the West Somerset Rly with an informed person, in the interests of correct reporting on this West Country branch line.There is in fact a fully operational and highly efficent connection with the main line, which is used frequently by works ballast trains and from time to time by steam or diesel charter trains (ie through running from faraway places). For major events on the WSR, a main line operator such as FGW typically uses the connection with a DMU type shuttle between Taunton and Bishops Lydeard, with visitors coming from the national network.

Somerset County Council paid most of the £300K cost for the new signalling, around 5 or 6 years ago.

The sole reason that the junction facility of WSR is not more intensively used at present is economic. If the numbers dont add up then such operation makes no sense. Thats the real world which trumps what we might wish to happen, and may be possible in future. The superbly adapted and installed "new" turntable at Minehead is one example among several acts of faith the WSR has made in this future operation, by way of investment in it. Meanwhile the bus service has been much improved since I used it, so I am assured. I remember it was perfectly adequate "back in the day", taking me right to the shops in town no problem. This is coming from someone who has no love of the road bus btw.

The WSR mainline connection is in fact one of very few among all the heritage railways which is fully signalled and available at any time with minimal notice. There is no need for cumbersome operating protocols as so often apply with other mainline junctions, which are labour intensive and expensive to use.

A new WSR depot and related facilities now being built in Norton Fitzwarren triangle will eventually enable main line trains and individual tender locomotives to be turned (at both ends of the line by also using Minehead turntable) and provide stabling for carriage stock. This will be a major plus for charter operators coming to the WSR from elsewhere on national rail network.

A Network Rail scheme has recently re-laid the bi-directional Down Relief line from Taunton station to Norton Fitzwarren Junction which increased maximum permissible speed from 15 to 40mph with obvious efficiency benefit for movements to and from the WSR.

I have checked my draft of the above with my informed source, he confirms its "spot-on" though he did in fact give me loads more detail. Thought you may lose the will to live if I did not precis!