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, October 23, 2011

predicting modal change ...

The third and final part of this article will inevitably be a prediction, so is almost certain to be wrong, at least in degree! But there are some things that we do know!
Oil is a finite resource. We have almost certainly reached the point of Peak Oil, when half of the oil that will EVER be found (at least for another 150 million years!) has been used. But that is of course the easy oil! The remaining half will be much harder to find and extract, and will clearly be much more expensive!
The climate is in a state of change. The last few climate sceptics seem to have now come round and there is now no doubt the the earth is warming up fast, and that at least part of this is due to our activities. Whilst it's hard to say exactly what the effects of a rapidly warming Earth will be, it is easier to say what needs to be done to bring this under control. The most important thing is that we stop using fossil fuels - ie coal, gas and oil - and switch to an economy that uses renewables. This can include solar power, wind power, hydro electric, wave, wood, biofuels and nuclear (although the last two have inherent problems and nuclear is only semi-renewable). Another side of the energy equation requires that we reduce energy use.
Moving to transport the road network has inherent and fatal flaws. The first is that its vehicles rely on fossil fuels almost exclusively. And all road vehicles apart from trolleybuses require vehicles to carry their own fuel, reducing their efficiency even further. Roads themselves need huge amounts of oil for their surfaces. Few people would argue that the car culture has been beneficial for the environment, health or for our towns, cities and villages. Basically it was a cheap fix that could only last whilst cheap energy was available. No one will mourn its passing.
All of this brings us to the absolute essential aspects of the inevitable transport modal shift that is almost upon us. Our future transport needs to be energy efficient - trains and trams are VASTLY more efficient than any transport mode that uses rubber tyres on hard surfaces. There is simply too much friction to make energy use optimal, whereas steel wheels on steel rails have very low friction. The need to carry fuel, whether it's diesel, petrol or batteries reduces the efficiency even further. Cars and lorries really don't have any other option - the road/car culture ONLY arose because of extremely cheap finite fuel. Forget arguments about flexibility - this is a red herring. Public transport would be totally flexible if it were universal, cheap and ran 24 hours a day.
Think about the way the British railway network was all but destroyed in little over ten years - and this was NOTHING to do with fuel efficiency or availability. The roads will simply not have anything to fall back on. The whole thing could collapse in a matter of months! Forget electric cars - our generating capacity is already in decline, and there certainly won't be cheap electricity to charge up cars! We can expect rolling power cuts within ten years, just to keep our current infrastructure going. In the last quarter less than 200 electric cars were sold in the UK, despite a grant of £5000 and free charging points! They are just a rather sad attempt to keep the car culture going and are doomed to failure.
A million people have given up driving in the last year due to apparent 'high petrol costs'. This is laughable as fuel is still amazingly cheap, and will probably remain that way for another five years or so. But if this keeps up soon the tax take from motoring will inevitably reduce the budget for road repairs, resulting in poorer road surfaces and a virtuous circle where people give up driving due to cost and the poor state of the roads, road use falls further, tax takes decline and fuel duty and road tax etc skyrocket, forcing more and more off the roads ...
And this is of course where we come in. There is a perfect transport system for the future. It can reach every town and village, every factory and farm and market, can have numerous different fuel delivery systems, can use many different fuel sources, can exactly match the needs of its users, can be fast (where required), convenient, flexible and profitable.
It doesn't need some new exotic fuel source, technology that hasn't been invented yet, and most of the infrastructure is already in place (or its remains are!) It is a safe and secure system, it can carry freight, passengers, animals, raw materials, parcels and a host of other things. There is in fact NOTHING railways and tramways can't do. So why are we waiting?
The days of misallocation of economic resources should be over. We need a modern and energy efficient and flexible transport system for the future, now all we need is the community and political will to get things moving. Dumping nostagia for the car is the first step, the second is to get things moving on your doorstep. The future is right here.

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