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!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

death of the diesels



I just caught the end of steam when I was a kid, watching the Brighton-Plymouth at speed over the level crossing at Lyminster, saw a few on Ryde Pier, saw a tank engine somewhere in London and, from a great distance, the trains departing from Waterloo to the west. Everything else I saw was electrics, until one day, somewhere in Battersea, I saw a big green diesel crossing a bridge over the road. I was hooked. These were far better than electrics and were modern, so much better than steam!

But I think we all know now that diesel locomotives' days are numbered. As the price of oil starts to rocket the railway companies will quickly feel the pinch, even though their supplies will obviously be prioritised over the private motorist (who will be finished). There'll be a rush to electrify but will the money and, more importantly, the skills be there to do it in time? I doubt it.

But there is of course an obvious alternative to electric locomotives - steam! Not the lumbering old polluting and high maintenance machines of old of course, but sleek, clean and fast woodburners, using a sustainable energy source and providing an excellent power source for the tens of thousands of extra trains we're going to need in the future to keep us going. Their USP will be their use of simple technology and also being completely sustainable. They'll have the other advantage that even the old steam engines used to have - longevity. They could easily be built to last 50 or even 100 years or longer, with standardised parts that can be recovered and recycled when the locomotives finally wear out.

I suspect that just about the whole network will be eventually electrified, that's the current network plus the reversed Beeching routes, but local railways and many industrial lines may well find that steam is the cheapest and easiest option. We really are about to enter a new age of steam.

And what of the diesel locomotive? It's doomed. There won't even be the option of running them on preserved routes, diesel for public transport simply won't be available. I suspect the last of the oil will be snapped up by the military, by chemical and fertilizer companies and, of course, by the airlines. And even then it won't last long.

So get out there and photograph these magnificent creations. We may not see their like again ever, or at least for 150 million years, when oil may once again be available for a century or two ...
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13 comments:

Brian said...

The economic case for horses and the various vehicles they hauled ceased long ago when alternatives Steve envisages extinct up ahead became widely and cheaply available with reducing technical problems. Towards the end of horse era there would have been forward thinkers in ale houses mourning their total demise but look, they are still with us and this is important. Why? For two reasons.

Firstly the human spirit demands continued celebration and enjoyment of past glories or we shrivel into bowed serfs trudging robot-like through our "modern days". See the checkout girl in the supermarket - you may not know she saves her paltry pay bit by bit for her one cherished joy in life, maintaining "her" horse. Its what keeps her going. There are whole galaxies of living horsedrawns to pick one, the carriage racing visible to most occasionally because "foot in mouth" Phil has been very keen, not forgetting the next generation "bigears" with his Polo enthusiasm thats horse too !

Okay the other reason keeping "past" things like horse is important, education for the young who never knew them in economic (transport/haulage) dominance, keeping alive the whole set of specialised knowledge/kit needed to keep them "functioning in good shape". Can you see where this is going? When as Steve "modern alehouse through bottom of glass" predicts diesels fade from economic dominance, you can be sure a few will be kept going by enthusiasts. Even if they have to homebrew the fuel through some sect-like collective gardens shed distillation!

They might be the smaller shunting engines or (as in my garden) the narrow gauge ones. That will be enough but dig deeper and some mainline diesels will lurk longtime in backs of (electric we suppose) motive power depots cared for by those who "remember their day". They must be kept as a pattern for future knowledge, like a gene pool or seedbank. Never say never, where the turning of the wheel full circle is concerned and the needs of the human spirit run deep.

Oh one last remark. Otto conceived and built his early diesels to run on palm oil which despite criticism of environmental consequences has made something of an economic comeback in relatively recent years, as potential economic alternative to dwindling mineral oils. So its a mistake to have "tunnel vision" about what feedstocks may keep at least some gulpers of air into their (charismatic to some of us) compression igniton pots. Have a nice day everyone, it might not be so bad!

Sunshiner said...

Great post Brian! You're right of course, but 'real' diesel transport, the sort that everyday people currently use for purely utilitarian reasons, will certainly go. And like heritage steam heritage diesel will never quite be 'real' to me, though the little industrial diesel doing a job or even running up and down a short pleasure line would be real enough, even for me!

And the horse may even have a future transport role on the railways - it certainly will on the roads! I'm a great horse lover and have spent many hours mucking them out and trying to understand them. But the real problem with horses, which may reassert itself, is that they require a huge amount of land, land which will probably be better used to grow crops. So who knows?

My real intention is to ensure that the everyday diesel age is properly recorded, which I'm sure is happening to some extent. How much time is wasted recording heritage and main line steam, whilst the everyday is ignored? In fact it should be extended outwards to all aspects of these last few years of the Oil Age, because our kids and their kids will hardly believe how we once lived!

Sunshiner said...

Great post Brian! You're right of course, but 'real' diesel transport, the sort that everyday people currently use for purely utilitarian reasons, will certainly go. And like heritage steam heritage diesel will never quite be 'real' to me, though the little industrial diesel doing a job or even running up and down a short pleasure line would be real enough, even for me!

And the horse may even have a future transport role on the railways - it certainly will on the roads! I'm a great horse lover and have spent many hours mucking them out and trying to understand them. But the real problem with horses, which may reassert itself, is that they require a huge amount of land, land which will probably be better used to grow crops. So who knows?

My real intention is to ensure that the everyday diesel age is properly recorded, which I'm sure is happening to some extent. How much time is wasted recording heritage and main line steam, whilst the everyday is ignored? In fact it should be extended outwards to all aspects of these last few years of the Oil Age, because our kids and their kids will hardly believe how we once lived!

Brian said...

I am ignorant what if any development work yet been done towards these "sleek, clean and fast" woodburners Steve envisages dominating future local/industrial lines with their "simple technology". Will their technical origin perhaps be more in the Sentinel steam motors or those flash steam automotive pioneers (did ye never hear of they) than in "lumbering polluting high maintenance of old" ?

What I do know is about some consequences of burning wood, reeds, cane bagasse or similar fast grown plants instead of slow compressed mineral deposits. Firstly you need huge amounts to replace small amounts of coal or oil (or less easily compared, mineral gas). The heat you get out of like for like amounts just does not equate, despite that my garden bonfires of tree loppings seem to suggest otherwise. So you have plants grown for fuel competing bigtime with foodstuffs cultivation for land area (even marginal stuff, rice paddies versus reedbeds). Its already become a hot political number with the greenheads and doomsayers who seek to boss us about on a world scale. Bless em all I know they mean well but they creep me out !

You also have to carry much larger amount on board your train to feed your hungry steam locomotive if using plantfood instead of mineralfood. That has two consequences. It means less useful space for people or goods on board. It also means hard physical labour getting it from that storage into whatever burns it (firebox of old) or inevitably costly pre-packaging like pellets for automated delivery (tried pellets with "Trixie" that Keef built, at some Welsh eco-head trials centre, reportedly abysmal failure, she went to Belgium). No doubt that will all get sorted out, in time. Which of course is running out on us.

A second big thing I know about burning these plantfoods instead of mineralfoods for steam traction is - and Steve wont like this - its filthy dirty stuff. Not only did those cuddly fat little plantation engines which gobbled cut wood coppicings or bagasse require extra wide fireboxes, they also needed firetubes and smokeboxes adapted for coping with fast growing "crows nests" of soot, rapidly filling ash grates and dumped muck below the chimney. They did not have those comedic, cartoonlike balloon spark arresters just for fun. Much of the filthy ejecta blown out along with blastpipe steam was still on fire, like the orange belchings of trumpet-barrelled blackpowder flintlock guns ! Am I getting through on this one ?

I can see those greenheads making straight for envirofascist lawmaking epicentre hosepipes of EU or whatever alternative repressive regime, to have woodburners "banned" forthwith. They often seem to "meet themselves coming the other way" like that.

Perhaps modern woodburning (plantstuffs) steam engines may have electric transmission and/or steam turbines. Maybe pioneering work rejected after gas turnbine "GT3" was trashed by putting into reverse whilst going forwards at speed, may be worth looking at again? That one was visually pleasing, shame it got scrapped in haste.

Dont get me wrong, I am not "against" woodburners. Any and all fuels/power transmissions are going to be desperately needed in futureworld or its "dog eat dog" and reach for the homerolled brass rounds in funny calibres to protect domicile. Heaven forbid.

Now I have kit to prepare for another underground entrance construction team bash this evening, so you will be spared any more drivel from me this topic, in this timeframe.

Sunshiner said...

Of course this is all true but there is one overwhelming thing about wood (and biomass) that trounces other energy sources - it is endlessly sustainable. And eventually once we've mined every last scrap of ancient sunshine (coal, gas, oil etc) that's just about all that will be left to us. Apart from the energy we can get from the sun in the form of solar, wind, tide etc.

It may be that electrical supply technology may become so cheap that ALL lines will be electrified, which will be the best solution.

But it may be that there is a transitional period where wood burning steam will be needed. I suspect the locos will look externally far more like modern electrics (think 'Leader') than classic steam locos, the CO2 issue may well be neutralised by all the extra trees that will be grown!

As for supply I'm sure the engineers of the future will easily be able to set up transfer sidings along the route where a ready filled tender is simply exchanged for the empty one.

I also get creeped out by the anti-nuclear, cycle-clip chomping hippy 'greens' that want the world to return to pre-industrial times - they will be a simple historical footnote in future history books!

will said...

http://www.5at.co.uk/
A project to design a new steam train with modern materials and technology.

But steam trains suck from a C21 transport view (they look nice). You can make any vehicle last 150 years if you have 20 voluneers taking it apart every weekend and fixing it.
They hammerblow bridges and track structures into early replacement, they have lousy power:weight compared to electric or diesel, they are only allowed from a pollution standpoint because they are 'heritage' - if they were used for regular services in large numbers all the towns and cities would be choking in coal (or wood) smoke again, and you have got to be kidding yourself (5at does) that they can run on biomass - it has half to a tenth of the energy density of coal - that means you need more than twice to ten times the storage.
You dont see 2nd hand steam trains running in Africa or India (Darjeeling Hill Railway is a tourist attraction) for the same reason you dont see old zepplins in place of planes there: 20 volunteers maintaining and passengers willing to pay over the odds for a steam ride notwithstanding, steam trains are obsolete. Unless this oil catasrophe happens, then i hope they are a very breif intermediary, because i like my lungs, and i like trees.

Knoxy said...

It’s a bit premature to announce the death of diesel, being that Dr Rudolf Diesel ran his first engine on peanut oil. There will always be a diesel engine; maybe not the contrived version around at the moment that requires Oil Company refined diesel but can’t run on the oil available from your local chippy. More important is the fact that there won't be enough to continue with the way of transport we have at the moment. Railway engines can make use of many types of fuel, cars and lorries can't. Has anyone seen the size of the batteries required for an electric road based truck? You wouldn't want to be stuck behind a 40 tonne version of the milk float going uphill!

So railways will return and most importantly, local railways.

On the subject of sustainable wood burning transport. Take a look at this;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14677418

‘The Goetzen then remained at the bottom of the lake for nearly 10 years until she was raised to the surface. Amazingly, the engines still functioned after minor repairs - possibly because the German engineers who had done the scuttling were the ones who had taken it out from Germany... and they took care to encase the engines in grease so that their baby could one day live and steam again.
It is not clear who raised it, perhaps the Belgians or perhaps the British - but whoever did it, the old German gunboat ended up in the hands of the British.’

Just shows that a well built engine can survive for years….

In the meantime I hope to get my diesel Passat past the 300,000 miles mark before I retire it. 296,000 and counting..

Brian said...

Nuclear fusion project - again

All possible sources of energy are going to be needed in futureworld, regardless of how the cake is divided up for who gets to use it. Each source can be directly or indirectly applied to making the electricity which Steve envisages many of our trains being pushed along with.

When I was too young to understand my father's day job, and he was not supposed to tell me about it anyway, he was part of the team working on a magnetic donut "taurus" thingy (now described as "Torus/Jet") which was intended to blaze a path for new, clean energy production called "nuclear fusion". But realising this was going nowhere, he quit early and came to Bath instead to work "for the Admiralty". This started out with lighting, our home being a trial place for submarine escape torches and brick-like emergency lights for warships, called "fizz boxes" which confusingly would come to life when unplugged, instead of when plugged in.

So the history of otherwise forgotten nuclear fusion work lived on in our family memory as father was doing sea trials with, on some days, the Dutch. For weeks after his mutterings mockingly said, "ShtoppderShteemboot, ShtarttdeShteemboot". He was borrowed by the Americans for three years but did not come back to Blighty for fifteen ! Over there it was superconductors and a modern equivalent electric demo-boat to the steam age "Turbinia" (both made for identical purpose and both apparently very effective too, the modern one nameless and painted grey). Then he took early retirement, remarking had "done his time in the box", and puzzled the natives by running several electric cars for his household.

Against that background, I am obviously going to be interested in what superficially looks like "Groundhog Day" stuff from Auntie this morning but lets see how this runs before dismissing it cynically. We just never know what rabbit may be pulled out of the bag eventually (now with lasers instead of magnets) nor if some incidental spinoff proves valuable, like various inventions that came out of the "space race" years into our domestic easements. Read about "laser nuclear fusion" international efforts here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14842720

Dont overlook the link to video explaining how the prototype is meant to work.

I just love the hot new name for reaction vessel, it a "hohlraum".

will said...

Sorry about last post.
Here is project to build a steam engine using modern technology and materials. Oil fired and planned to be 80% more efficient than the old era of steam trains:

http://www.5at.co.uk/

Sunshiner said...

Oil-fired steam? What would be the point? Don't they realise we're running out of oil? The Festiniog Railway converted their steam engines to oil back in the 80s when oil was ridiculously cheap, but they've now all been reconverted to coal.

Brian said...

The sun seems a long time setting on the "road lobby", keen as ever to spend our sequestrated tax monies.

Bickering over a new road for South Bristol. (Dont ask me, I just make the tea & pot noodles for the underground construction team bashes, whilst obfuscating the bullies as best able.):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-14926400

Sunshiner said...

Well the most interesting fact is even though we can now clearly see the end of oil, there's still as much in the ground as we've used (this is using the most 'optimistic' forecast and includes shale oil, unconventional oil, bio diesel etc). So in a way, the less enlightened and intelligent members of our 'community' may see a medium term future for oil, but of course it will be far more expensive than the currently ridiculously cheap and over subsidised stuff that we're using now!

But I thought the UK had stopped road building for good. This road of course is right on my doorstep and I must say there's absolutely NO interest in it at all here, either for or against. We just see it as an irrelevancy and a nostalgic anachronism that this is even being considered (though surely not seriously?)

The future's rail and roads are already irrelevant, they've reached their peak and it's all downhill from now. Not one of us should be wasting our time on these white elephants but should only be planning for the future, not mistily-eyed wallowing in uneconomic nostalgia, which is all roads are now.

Let 'em dream on, they'll wake up soon enough!

Brian said...

Bicycle loan scheme gets up on its hind legs and tries to walk at last. After months of slightly baffling pillars with fancy legends outside Green Park station frontage (and other Bath locations) the "Boris Bikes" attempt to get a few of the able-bodied off stinky congested road transport (including horrid bus). Well its got to be worth a try, innit? Full BeebScreed:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-14926981