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, November 25, 2011

come on ...

Possibly the daftest of all rail closures was Uckfield to Lewes in 1969. Even when railways were in decline this closure made no sense at all. It turned a through route into a dead end branch. I suspect the idea was that once this section was closed the rest of the line would follow. Of course since then the world has changed completely, railways are in the ascendent and are desperate for more capacity.

The whole trackbed is safeguarded, so the intention to reopen is clear. Once open the line will offer loads of new opportunities including a diversionary route from Brighton to London and easy access for Uckfield and Crowborough residents to get to the south coast. Whole new commuting opportunities will also arise.

Here's the latest developments in parliament on this essential route.

Villiers reaffirms interest in Lewes–Uckfield to Baker PrintE-mail
In a letter about the threat of another East Sussex County Council road scheme slicing across the safeguarded Lewes–Uckfield trackbed, Rail Minister Theresa Villiers appears eager to reassure her departmental colleague and Coalition partner Norman Baker.

She told him “Given the importance of the points raised by Robert Chubb [sic] in his letter, and my personal interest in this issue, there were various matters on which I asked for further briefing from officials.” She also made the point “I am very much aware of your long-standing support for re-opening the Lewes–Uckfield line” and said he was “correct that both parties in the Coalition have expressed support for protecting track beds where possible”.

She referred to the route being “safeguarded by both Wealden and Lewes District Councils” as part of the changeover towards “Local Development Frameworks”. This shifts responsibility away from County Councils following the abolition of County Structure Plans.

Mrs Villiers said she had spoken to the DfT’s Head of Property, Malcolm Twite who “assures me that the plans have been specifically designed to ensure that they would not prevent the Lewes–Uckfield line from re-opening in the future”. She had also been advised that “the proposal to move the road could actually make it easier to put together a case for re-opening the railway. This is because a re-opening would, in all likelihood, require a bridge to be constructed.” She continued “Although there was a level crossing when the line was formerly in use, you will appreciate that the current policy of Network Rail and ORR is not to introduce new level crossings. I am advised that it would be easier and more cost effective to build a bridge over the railway using the new alignment for the road rather than the current one.”

However, BML2 project manager Brian Hart said “Firstly, we are advised that the County Council, as the Local Transport Authority with wide-sweeping powers, will be able to override any so-called ‘safeguarding’ by the less-powerful district councils, so I fear this is a hollow guarantee. Secondly, no one has ever suggested the old level crossing should be reopened because it’s quite obvious a bridge will be necessary. The problem is that the County Council intends slicing the critically-important station site completely in two with this new ground level road. This will worsen the business case for reopening because the road will have to be elevated over the station and railway, or moved elsewhere to allow trains to pass through. This is simply loading costs onto Network Rail.

Mrs Villiers also mentioned the impact a redevelopment of the site would have on the trackbed. She told Norman that the BRBR (the Rail Property Board) would “retain ownership of the freehold” – although this refers only to a narrow linear strip which would be used as car parking associated with the new buildings. “A term would be
included in the contract giving BRBR the right to terminate the lease in the event that the land is required to re-open the railway. This option has been deliberately selected in order to ensure that the land could be taken back promptly if re-opening became a viable proposition”.

An unimpressed Brian Hart said “It’s unclear who will retain ownership as the BRBR is supposed to be on David Cameron’s ‘Bonfire of Quangos’ so how can a body being abolished take back the land? More importantly, though, I’m afraid the minister is not being given the whole picture and the valid concerns of Network Rail and many others need to be taken into account. Any reopening of this line – whether just as Lewes–Uckfield as Norman Baker wants – or as part of BML2, will necessitate the relocation of Uckfield station to its original site. The town’s station cannot go anywhere else. The cramped terminus opposite is on an embankment constrained by the river with just one reversible line from London, whilst the single platform straddles the former Down Main Line which was dismantled in 1990 to accommodate it.”

The plans Network Rail supplied for the ill-fated County Council-led 2008 Lewes–Uckfield Re-opening Study, show two 12-car platforms either side of a double-track railway will need to be constructed on the original site. This is right where Rupert Clubb, ESCC’s Director of Economy, Transport and Environment, intends building his road to manage additional in-town traffic demand from housing development in Uckfield which hasn’t yet occurred. Brian Hart added, “It looks to be a pre-emptive strike in a final effort to stop the line ever reopening and settle the matter ‘once and for all’ to use the aspiration once uttered by ESCC’s appointed chairman overseeing the 2008 re-opening study.”

Campaign chairman and Uckfield Deputy Mayor, Duncan Bennett said: “Given the astounding turnaround of the Uckfield line in recent years, the unimaginable rise in rail demand generally, as well as the looming capacity crisis facing the south’s main lines into London, it would be sheer folly to throw away this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Norman Baker is plainly right to say we need more capacity between the Sussex Coast and London and, as he says, investment in the Uckfield line is the only way we are ever going to achieve it”.

He went on to say “On a more local level, I am keen to see Network Rail get involved and take possession of Uckfield’s station site so it can be developed into a major transport hub. It may well be that at some point a new road may be required, but it must be properly-designed to accommodate the all-important railway. We must also take into account residents’ fears about serious flood risk posed by having another road bridge built at grade across the river. Uckfield is a booming and expanding town with a fantastic future and I am determined we get the best. The town desperately needs parking for commuters, as well as renewed rail links with the surrounding towns such as Lewes, Brighton and Eastbourne. I want to see imaginative and truly creative thinking deployed. This would be a good opportunity for Network Rail to demonstrate the flair it has shown with successful commercial station redevelopments in London and elsewhere. We can all be winners on this.”

Theresa Villiers concluded by saying to Norman “If I can be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me. I remain happy to discuss it at any time”. With the door open, we hope Norman will take up this invitation since he has been an immensely admirable, outstanding and long-standing campaigner on this subject.

“It was a tragedy that this line was ever shut. It survived Beeching only to be closed by the County Council. I have, with many others, been fighting for reinstatement for more than 15 years. The logic is unquestionable and the issue won’t go away. It is one of my ambitions in my political life to be at the reopening of the line and I intend to achieve it.” – Norman Baker 2004

“The case for reopening this line is overwhelming and any sane national transport policy would have achieved it by now.” – Norman Baker 2005

“I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the negativity of the Department for Transport, which refuses to recognise that there are now more rail passengers travelling each year than ever before, on a network about the half the size it was post-war, and react accordingly. Clearly we need more capacity on the network, and that must include reopening stations and sections of line that in most cases should never have been shut. Lewes-Uckfield is clearly one of those.” – Norman Baker 2008


Joe D said...

Norman Baker is currently fighting for the coalition's position against the EU's plans to ban the use of oil that has been extracted, through hugely environmentally damaging processes, from tar sands -- a desperate attempt to marginally extend the oil age at any cost rather than make sensible plans for the future.

He has also been accusing local councils, with an entirely straight face, of fighting an unfair "war on motorists".

I hate to be negative after your story, but I'm not sure that the Norman Baker you write about exists any more. He was clearly a star pupil for Philip "Petrolhead" Hammond, and has been fully assimilated.

Knoxy said...

i have no doubt that lines like this and many others will be rebuilt, but we might as well get on with it now, while we do have the oil needed to build it. we don't need HS2, we need Lewes - Uckfield 2 (second time it was built) S&D 2 and many many more.

get the country back to work (home labour please) by building and investing in a transport system right for the next 100 years. one that can survive the oil crisis and use many forms of energy to run.

it ain't difficult!

Anonymous said...

The fact that 'no brainer' reopenings such as Lewes-Uckfield are still taking so painfully long to achieve makes me realise what an uphill struggle other railway reinstatements will be.

Sunshiner said...

True! But some are painfully close - Portishead, Skipton-Colne, Bere Alston-Tavistock etc, and a few have happened already or are about to - Waverley (northern section), Mansfield, Larkhall, Alloa etc.

I think there are two main problems - finance and fear.

Finance could be eased with changes to planning law. Fear refers to the fear of government that when the dam breaks every town and village in the UK will demand its railway back, and they don't want to set an example (reinstatement will be both costly and will go against government policy since Beeching's times).

Despite things being no-brainers it doesn't follow that things will automatically happen. The average IQ of a councillor or MP is way below that of the average normal person, sadly.

Anonymous said...

I was recently pointed in the direction of the Government's 'Red Tape Challenge'. The railway section can be found at:


I would urge everyone to respond accordingly!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your work on this web page. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

Knoxy said...

On my journey to and from work I drive along some of the HS2 route and see all the signs opposing it. What I do notice and quite amuses me, is all the road traffic. (Amuses me, as I’m travelling in the opposite direction!) Anyway, it is a continuous stream of traffic; so much so, the road is almost unusable for any local traffic. You can’t get across it or out of the side roads! That sort of system has no future. It will slowly die on the increasing oil price. We are in a recession and look at the price of oil? It hasn’t gone down yet and nor will it. Supply and demand? Yeah a lot of it is tax, but the Government needs more and more revenue to pursue failed economics.

The HS2 project is missing the point. It should be the GC2 (Great Central 2) therefore rebuilding the Great Central for piggyback freight and fast passenger services and most importantly local traffic.

There are so many former lines out there and without endless oil, we might even need the lot back!

Comment over, I’m off to drive to work. LOL


Sunshiner said...

It's hard second guessing the future! We CAN be sure that civilian air travel will die out completely, probably within 30 years. So that suggests HS2 is a good idea, plugging into a European and even worldwide HST network. But ... will there be as much demand, with people leading far less energy intensive lives, working from home mainly? Can a European HS network survive on tourist travel alone, will there even be international tourism?

But again we can be sure that rail demand will continue to rise mainly because of the flight from road to rail, firstly for freight, then passengers.

GC2 would fit into this future very well, particularly for freight, and although the line generally serves smaller places switching express and semi-fasts to it will probably give the WCML as big a capacity push as HS2 will.

This is all very fluid, and it's important we keep an eye on all transport and energy developments. We can predict a lot of whaT will happen, but the timing may surprise us!