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, August 26, 2011

tree surgery

(Taunton 6.8.2011 copyright Steve Sainsbury)

One of the biggest mistakes of the Beeching era was to close branch lines. Many so-called branch lines were in reality secondary main lines. Take the Taunton to Barnstaple route for example. Whilst technically a branch, certainly when it ran to the GW station in Barnstaple Victoria Road, it was in reality a very useful cross country route, much shortening the trip to Barnstaple from the north. It was double track in places. Remind you of another line?

Taunton has lost four of its routes - to Barnstaple, Minehead, Yeovil and Chard Junction. Minehead is now almost fully restored and is one of those heritage lines that is gradually morphing into a genuine community railway. I've touched on the Barnstaple route - this whole area (Barnstaple westwards) will see a huge revival of rail in the next few decades, Bideford and Ilfracombe for example can't seriously be rail-less for much longer, so reopening of this important route is inevitable. The other two lines were more in the nature of branches, but again would both be useful when reopened, bringing Chard and Ilminster for example back into the 21st century.

(Hatch on the Chard line, 1960s. Copyright Rail Thing).

So Taunton today is an odd place, clearly waiting patiently to regain its old importance. Most of the infrastructure is still in place so restoring the lines, at least in Taunton itself, shouldn't be too hard a task.

The whole principle of closing branches was horribly flawed. Beeching and his idiot crew seriously believed that people would drive or take the bus to the railhead and take the train from there. Of course in reality most of them were forced to switch to cars, the substitute bus services - as if a bus could ever replace a train! - were quickly abandoned. Result - a fall in the railways' incomes.

Branch lines that survived are experienced an incredible boom, some lines having doubled their ridership in the last few years (Severn Beach and Falmouth for example).

Beeching - you were WRONG. We need to forget the past and plan for the future, a future that should see all the Beeching cuts reversed and on top of that new lines (both heavy and light) filling in the gaps. That will release rail capacity, will take more lorries off the road and, most importantly, give many towns and villages currently struggling with 20th century dinosaur transport a FUTURE.
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Keith Browning said...

Another good article. I think you are overlooking or underestimating the power and influence of the local bus and taxi operators in local politics. Think of the many hundreds of millions that taxi operators have made from the absence of a proper rail service. The Isle of Wight is a good example of where buses and politics mix, but trains do not.

Oil companies support the least efficient service becaus ethey make the most profit. They are already wingeing because of the downturn in car journeys. There will be more political than economic battles ahead if the S&D is to be restored.

Sunshiner said...

The point is that oil companies, taxis and bus operators are all living on borrowed time and their power and political influence are slipping away from them as each day passes. They'll never recover, because oil is vanishing. And there is no satisfactory, scaleable or economically viable alternative on the horizon, at least not one where road will be more energy-efficient than rail.

The whole point of the New S&D is that we are trying to anticipate the future a decade or two ahead. There's no need to worry about how things are now, although it's important to pick up on trends. We don't worry about the stagecoach or steamship companies now, though they were once very powerful. In twenty years time we'll wryly smile, and kids won't even believe it when we say that there was once a road lobby!

Sunshiner said...

And of course eventually the politicians will be falling over each other to get their share of the influence and financial clout of the rail lobby!