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!

Monday, December 31, 2012


2012 has been a great year for the S&D. At the New S&D end we've continued tidying up Midford ready for rebuilding, whilst Spetisbury has progressed even more quickly with a strong team down in Dorset. The New S&D itself has grown a good deal (despite our continued deliberate low profile!) with membership now well over 150.

Midsomer Norton have started running regular trains using a DMU and are continuing to extend southwards, whilst still waiting for the right time to start looking northwards as well. The station itself is a delight and is well worth a few hours of anyones time!

Shillingstone have also gone up a few gears with the station and signalbox nicely restored/rebuilt with the down platform shelter now progressing. A good amount of track has also been laid at the site.

Gartell is as quietly wonderful as ever, currently the only line on S&D metals to be running regular steam, all on the two foot gauge.

Washford are progressing despite the deadline of 2020 on their lease at the current site at Washford, which I visited this year. There is a HUGE amount of affection for this group which we hope fervently will return to the S&D proper when the lease does run out.

No longer a dead line, the S&D now has FIVE sites either operating or being restored, with regular train services on two sections.

Affection for the S&D is stronger now than it has ever been and it would be a brave person indeed that didn't believe that at some time in the next fifty years the line won't be open throughout!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

inspiration ...

The main inspiration for the New S&D was the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway's associated land purchasing group, Exmoor Associates. They now own 17.9% of L&B trackbed, making them the largest landowner on the line. The New S&D is slightly different as we have membership and sadly were not set up or absorbed by the existing S&D groups at Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone, but the principal aim of acquiring trackbed and infrastructure is identical. This is done though our non-profit making landowning arm, Wessex Links Ltd.

Snapper Halt Is Ours!

We are pleased to be able to announce that we have completed the purchase of Snapper Halt and the adjoining trackbed.
Snapper Halt
Snapper Halt served the adjacent hamlet of Snapper and the nearby village of Goodleigh. After the closure of the railway in 1935, two of the railway’s coaches were left isolated at Snapper having been purchased at the railway’s auction. The first was coach 6991, which was left in the platform and of which the remains were eventually burnt. The other was coach 6993, now better known as Ffestiniog Railway coach 14 – the buffet car in B-set, which was rescued by volunteers from the FR. Coach 6993 was left a little way out of the station, further along the trackbed we have secured in this package.
Coach 6993 at Snapper Halt (L&GRP)
Snapper Halt itself is in remarkable condition considering that it is now 75 years since the railway closed. Whilst the surrounding area is somewhat overgrown, the waiting shelter is virtually intact (begging to be restored) and the platform edging is still in place in its entirety under the vegetation. Other features in the package being purchased include bridge 15, and the remains of one of the stone-constructed platelayers’ huts.
Coach 6993 near Snapper beside the platelayers' hut in 1947
We had been in regular contact with the owner of the land at Snapper for a number of years and following her passing we have remained in discussions with her heirs for the securing of the land. It is not often that the opportunity comes up to buy a station on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, not least one with a significant stretch of trackbed, and so naturally we are delighted to have been successful yet again in this acquisition.
The site of coach 6993 at Snapper today
Between Exmoor Associates and the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Trust, we have now collectively secured 17.9% of the trackbed required for the rebuilding of the whole railway between Lynton and Barnstaple. Exmoor Associates is now also the single largest owner of L&B trackbed.
A few shareholders on newly acquired bridge 15
We would of course like to thank everyone who has supported this latest push, it is great to have now secured this important piece of the jigsaw. If anyone is still interested in joining Exmoor Associates who hasn’t done so already, please still get in touch – we are expecting another significant length of trackbed to come up for sale soon so we will be needing your support!

Monday, December 24, 2012

xmas ...

A very Merry Christmas and Happy 2013 to all supporters of the S&D the world over.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

climate change proofing

I doubt there's a person left on the planet who doesn't now accept that climate change is not only happening but that it is far worse than even the biggest pessimists forecast.

As well as railways I've a keen interest in the weather so not totally without knowledge, and it's pretty clear to me that this year's extreme rainfall events are very abnormal, not so much in their intensity but in their frequency. Here in Bristol in 2012 we've had FIVE 'month's worth of a rain in a day' events with rainfall well over 50mm, one of which (yesterday) was over 60mm and another over 70mm. In the UK as a whole we've had about twelve of these events. We'd normally expect one or two a year.

There is now a whole new groundswell that Peak Oil won't save us from Climate Change, that it's simply too late. I'm beginning to agree with that, which is a HUGE turnround for me! We can't stop Climate Change but we can adapt to it.

This week's events have caused massive problems for the Network, especially around Exeter. The section where the Barnstaple (and future Ilfracombe, Bude, Torrington, North Cornwall and Plymouth) services leave the GWR main line has been particularly badly hit, yet this happens regularly. Some commentators have suggested that the lines may not reopen for THREE WEEKS! Unfortunately the alternative route (that Beeching would have loved to have closed!) via Salisbury has also suffered from flooding, though not as severe. In effect the whole of Devon and Cornwall are cut off.

Yet surely the solution, at least at Exeter, is simple? Why not just rebuild the routes around the junction on a low viaduct, so that the water just flows under them and also safely off the track, which could be mounted onto steel girders? Even a modern diesel train can run through a few feet of water, if the driver can be sure there's no washed out ballast etc.

My point is that we are going to rely 100% on our railways to get around and move freight in the future. Flood spots are well known, as are those sections prone to blizzards, drifting and high winds. We'll also need to allow for greater expansion as heatwaves become more common.

As for the S&D we have two major problem sections - the climb over the Mendips (Shepton has always been notorious for snow!) and the Burnham branch, which lies on the Somerset Levels. In both cases these routes will need to be totally weatherproofed so the line can stay open no matter what the weather.

The same policy needs to be adopted by the entire Network. Where the S&D leads the rest should follow ...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

more christmas!

Another Xmas greeting from Spetisbury, this time courtesy of Kevin Mitchell. Hopefully it won't be too long before this really is the scene at Spetisbury!

Friday, December 21, 2012

dean's message

Dear New Somerset & Dorset Railway Member,

I want to wish everybody a Merry Xmas and a Happy New year, especially the volunteers who have helped in the work so far at Spetisbury Station. It has been a good 1st year, and lets hope next year carries on from this.

All the best,
Dean Cockwell
Project Manager (Spetisbury)
The New Somerset & Dorset Railway

Thursday, December 20, 2012

another piece falls into place

(Both copyright Stuart Seale)

A couple of photos from Midford today. These show the work now taking place to the north of our section at Midford. Whilst we plan a diversion via the old Limpley Stoke line to give us access to the Network in the medium term, our longer term plans do include this section for restoration of a rail link, probably working as a one way section so that it can (hopefully!) remain single track.

The work is of course in connection with the Two Tunnels Scheme, which should bring an increase in the number of cyclists using the route and visiting Midford. I'm sure that many cyclists are rail enthusiasts (in the broadest meaning of the term) and vice versa, and the extra footfall should encourage rapid development of the site - I can see members cycling out from Bath, spending a day working at the station, having a drink and/or meal at the Hope and Anchor, then cycling back to Bath in the evening. Makes me want to move to Bath!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

superfast info

The easiest way to get info on what's happening at the two New S&D sites at Midford and Spetisbury is to sign up for their respective Facebook groups. Both sites now have active working parties just about every weekend so there is always plenty of work to do and good company. Working parties are always announced on the Facebook groups but not always here or on the website.
To sign up simply click here for Midford Facebook Group and here for Spetisbury Facebook Group.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

spetisbury 16 December 2012

An excellent set of photos (all copyright Kevin Mitchell) recording the last formal work party at Spetisbury for 2012. NINE volunteers turned up for this party, and it did actually become a bit of a Christmas party as evidenced in one of the pictures.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if serious moves towards rebuilding the station started in 2013. The team, drawn together by Project Manager Dean Cockwell, has done an amazing job of clearing the station, which closed in 1956, 10 years before the line closed to passengers and 13 years before it closed completely (but temporarily!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

missive from dorset

Recently received is issue 5 of Platform, the excellent magazine of the Shillingstone Railway Project. There are features on the Great Dorset Steam Fair (which was of course inspired by the S&D), bios of the new management team, a piece on Cunarder, a look at Shillingstone's celebration of the Last Pines and even a piece of fiction.

Cover price is £1 and the magazine is available from the group.

There are now FOUR quality magazines featuring the S&D, led by the superb 'Telegraph' from Midsomer Norton, followed by the Washford group's long-running Bulletin and of course the Shillingstone Platform, all being breathlessly chased by the New S&D's recently launched 'Right Lines'. It's amazing that there is still so much to report on this extraordinary line, but with activity at 5 sites along the route perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

spetisbury tomorrow

(Radstock North)


 Dear Member/ Volunteer, I am going up to the station on Sunday, and hope that you can join me. I hope to be there between 10:00 and 11:00am. This will be the last organised work party of 2012, and would like to see some new faces up there.
 Would you let me know if you can make it and come up to help.

Best regards,

Monday, December 10, 2012

next stop spetisbury


 Dear Member/ Volunteer, I am going up to the station on Sunday, and hope that you can join me. I hope to be there between 10:00 and 11:00am. This will be the last organised work party of 2012, and would like to see some new faces up there.
Could you let me know if you can make it and come up to help.
Best regards,

(Dean's email is on the sidebar)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

yuletide at midsomer

Midsomer Norton have just confirmed that the DMU WILL be running during this year's Christmas events. With the short notice of confirmation could EVERYBODY please spread the message - not only will this help the line financially but also it is a really special event for kids and adults alike (especially if we get the forecast snow!) and it would be a shame for anyone to miss it!

midford tomorrow

There will be another working party at Midford this Sunday, 9 December. All welcome to join us from 10:30.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

spetisbury tomorrow


Dear Member/ Volunteer, I am going up to the station on Sunday, and hope that you can join me. I hope to be there between 10:00 and 11:00am. More clearing of the platform surfaces to do. Could you let me know if you can make it and come up to help.
Best regards,

present idea ...

Superb new release from our friends at 1st Take is Branch Lines to Gloucestershire. This is of course available from our website at £14.95 and each one sold raises £5 for the New S&D.

Blurb to accompany the DVD is -

The Beeching cuts prompted a massive reshaping of Britain’s railway network in the 1960s, when almost a third of the country’s track was closed. Most of the victims were minor routes which linked rural locations; they were axed as they were simply deemed uneconomic. But they remain fondly remembered today and this film is intended as the first in a series which will celebrate the branch lines of England, in association with railway author and historian Colin Maggs MBE.

You will see a wide range of routes, from those initially worked by horses to one which boasted the longest railway bridge in England. These lines provided vital services for the industrial heartland of Bristol, and key places such as Gloucester Docks and Lydney harbour. They also reached out to towns and villages in the Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean and many other parts of the county.

The story is illustrated by extensive use of rare archive photographs, and is enhanced by informed commentary from Colin Maggs, who has seen so many changes in the county’s railway network during a lifelong interest in the subject. You will also enjoy stunning modern film, excerpts of archive footage and visits to two of the county’s preserved lines - the Dean Heritage Railway and Avon Valley Railway – and the GWR Museum at Coleford. There are also fascinating interviews with former railwaymen and those who recall how important such branch lines were to rural areas.

Numerous locations are visited, including Avonside Wharf, Severn Beach, Mangotsfield, Westerleigh, Yate, Thornbury, Berkeley Road, Coaley, Dursley, Stroud, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Kemble, Tetbury, Lydney, Cinderford and Chepstow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

19 years ago ...

This is FANTASTIC! Thanks to Brett Scillitoe for sending in this amazing piece of Midford history, Towpath, the journal of the Somerset Railway and Industrial Heritage Trust who were restoring Midford back in the early nineties. We're very grateful for the work they did in clearing the station and trackbed which has helped us no end.

A few familiar names popped up; Laurence Skinnerton has a wonderful fictional piece about an electrified S&D (there were visionaries even back then!) and their membership secretary was none other than Tim Deacon, now filling the same role down at Midsomer Norton.

I wonder how many of these have survived? Brett's sent numbers 6 and 8 - if any readers have any others (including 6 and 8) they wish to let us have in our archive please send them in. S&D history didn't stop in 1966, it's never stopped and I doubt it ever will!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

your railway needs you

You can do no greater good for your railway than to join the New S&D - still a great bargain at just £5 a year!

Our classy membership card opens a world of wonder for you, giving you the right (and insurance cover) to work at Midford and Spetisbury, and two FREE copies of our much improved magazine, Right Lines. It also underpins your commitment to the World's Favourite Railway.

To join simply link on the sidebar of this blog, go to our website or send a cheque for £5 (payable to 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway' to New S&D, 10 Bellamy Avenue, Hartcliffe, BRISTOL, BS13 0HW.

We'd love to welcome you on board ...


(Gartell this autumn, courtesy John Penny)

One of the most active on-line sites for general S&D related stuff is the New S&D Facebook group, now with over 300 members and new stuff appearing all the time.

Facebook groups have blossomed lately with many active sites for the S&D. A couple more interesting sites I've recently set up include OUR GROWING RAILWAY and THE RAIL THING, which step away from the S&D a little, though not always!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

scary stuff ....

I always assumed I'd be pretty much of a lone voice calling for the return of steam to the network as oil prices start to swing wildly and move generally upwards. But perhaps not? I know rail buffs would love to see steam return but like me this writer is a hard-nosed economics type, so you be sure nostalgia and unrealism doesn't intrude.


A historic moment during the Diamond Jubilee as steam and boats coincide on the Thames

A historic moment during the Diamond Jubilee as steam and boats coincide on the Thames
Monday November 19,2012

By Jonathan Glancey

THE ship-like hooter of Princess Elizabeth, a majestic London Midland and Scottish Railway locomotive resplendent in a regal livery of crimson lake and gold, resounded from Battersea railway bridge across the Thames. The express passenger steam engine, built at Crewe in 1933, had been named after the young girl who was to become Queen Elizabeth II. And on the afternoon of June 3 this year her siren call launched a seven-mile flotilla of 1,000 ships from Battersea to Tower Bridge, a moving moment during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The following month Princess Elizabeth powered the Royal Train with the Queen and Prince Philip on board from Newport in South Wales to Hereford and later the same day from Worcester to Oxford.

Less than a fortnight later the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall paid a visit to small family businesses and community volunteer projects on the Northumberland coast. They travelled overnight from Gloucestershire to Alnwick by the Royal Train. Their locomotive was not the latest diesel-electric but 60163 Tornado, the crowd-pleasing A1 Pacific created by the A1 Steam Locomotive 

Tornado is the fi rst new mainline steam loco motive built in Britain since 1960. In February 2009 she was named at York station by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. “May God bless all who are lucky enough to ‘locomote’ behind her,” declared Prince Charles as he tugged at the silk banner covering Tornado’s new nameplates and as a cloud of smoke from the engine’s chimney wafted across the royal presence. 

British engineer David Wardale likens the elemental forces at work in a steam locomotive to “the power of a thunderstorm”

Undeterred the Prince boarded Tornado’s footplate and “locomoted” from York to Sheffield. 

Steam on the railways in 21st-century Britain is royally approved and there too for all of us to delight in, not only on state occasions but also on high days and holidays . Increasingly we choose to ride behind main line locomotives hauling special trains from Edinburgh to London over Shap Fell or along the Devon coast where rails meet the sea and mingle with steam and salt spray and with the sound of rollers breaking over rocks and the compelling rhythm of a Great Western “king” or “castle” at speed. WHILE many of us, including the Queen and Prince of Wales, remain in thrall to the steam locomotive this most soulful of machines has all but disappeared from everyday service worldwide.

A number of powerful SY class locomotives are still hard at work on China’s industrial railways.

Remarkably the last of these 1,800 engines were built as recently as 1999.

Elsewhere you can commute bysteam on Polish state railways  between Poznan and Wolzstyn, where British enthusiasts, who run the Wolzstyn Experience (www.thewolsztynexperience.org), have an agreement to keep scheduled steam pounding into the future.

The question of why steam went is one I wanted to address and even challenge when I set about writing Giants Of Steam, a homage to the world’s last great steam railway design engineers and the emotive machines they conjured. The why is important to me at least because, in the hands of engineers as refined as Britain’s Nigel Gresley and William Stanier, France’s André Chapelon, Germany’s Otto Wolff and Paul Kiefer, and William E Woodard, of the United States, the steam locomotive was raised to prodigious heights of power and speed.

In Britain, France, Germany and the United States, from the mid- Twenties and for the next 20 years, what was known as “super steam”

– a phrase coined in the land of Superman, streamlining, starlets and skyscrapers – gave the first generation of rival diesel and electrics a very good run for their money indeed.

On July 3, 1938, 4468 Mallard, a brand new streamlined London and North Eastern Railway Pacific designed under the direction of Gresley and named after the birds the famous engineer kept in the moat of his Hertfordshire home, streaked down Stoke Bank between Grantham and Peter borough at two miles a minute, peaking for a few critical yards at 126mph. This was a world record for steam on the railways. It has yet to be beaten.

Two years earlier a streamlined Deutsche Reichsbahn Baltic, 05 002 designed by Wolff, had soared to just over 200kph, or 124½mph, on level track near Friesack between Berlin and Hamburg.

Across the Atlantic the silver streamlined locomotives of the Milwaukee Road, designed by Charles H Bilty and the Alco locomotive works in upstate New York, galloped daily between Chicago and Minneapolis and St Paul at well over 100mph but may well have sprinted up to 120mph and more.

Some Americans claim speeds of 140mph for the largest and longest passenger steam locomotive ever built: the Pennsylvania Railroad’s vast and solitary S1 6-4-4-6 of 1939, streamlined by industrial designer Raymond Loewy, better known for styling Coca-Cola bottles, Lucky Strike cigarette packages and Studebaker cars.

This is wishful thinking, though the greatest steam locomotive engineer of all, Chapelon (1892- 1978), was working on plans for a future generation of highly efficient passenger loco motives for SNCF, the French state railway, with top speeds of up to 270kph, or 168mph.

Such loco motives could have been built. Chapelon believed that steam should have been progressed throughout the Fifties and Sixties, giving way on main lines in the developed world only to the high speed electrics we admire in France and Japan today. 

However what Chapelon and the other last great steam engineers railed against was the change from steam to oil-burning diesels, especially if that oil had to be imported. And the extraction, supply and politics of the oil needed for diesels led to disputes, embargos and war.

This argument holds today and so much so that the development of steam is back on the rails again.

Environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota have started work recently with the nonprofit SRI (Sustainable Rail International) to design and build the

world’s first carbon-neutral steam locomotive. Burning “bio-coal”, the exhaust from the 130mph locomotive will be nothing more than water vapour. If it works might US railroads be tempted back to steam?

Whatever the future for steam the emotional pull and aesthetic tug of this enchanting machine is unlikely to ever go away completely.

My new book is a celebration of the genius of late-fl owering steam on the world’s railways, of machines and men who knew in their bones that the steam locomotive occupies a special place of its own. 

IN 1739, as the steam engine itself was first forged in the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, French engineer Bernard Forest de Belidor wrote: “Here is the most marvellous of all machines of which the mechanism most closely related is that of animals.”

British engineer David Wardale likens the elemental forces at work in a steam locomotive to “the power of a thunderstorm”, contrasting this with “the monotonous drizzle of our ever more synthetic world”.

The Prince of Wales must surely agree and so perhaps do all those of us privileged to watch Tornado and other surviving steam locomotives thunder by today.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

midford sunday

Stuart and Tom Seale will be at Midford tomorrow, Sunday 18 November, as from circa 10:15am. Should be there until it gets dark. Everyone welcome to join us. The plan is to cut down trees near the Long Arch Bridge.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dear Member/ Volunteer,
I am going up to the station on Sunday, and hope that you can join me. I hope to be there between 10:00 and 11:00am. More clearing of the platform surfaces to do. Could you let me know if you can make it and come up to help. Best regards,

Friday, October 26, 2012

escaping the cold

This blog will go deadly quiet over the next two weeks as I'm off to Florida tomorrow for a well-earned holiday!

For your S&D fix you could do worse than visit the websites of all the groups, or the numerous Facebook groups, whilst I'm away.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

misty midford

Coming over the top at Pensford I suspected I was going to have to entitle this post 'miserable midford' but that was already starting to sound too downbeat for me when the rain stopped and it cheered up a bit - so 'misty midford' it is!

The Seales have done a great job keeping the station area and the trackbed to Long Arch Bridge clear. It's hard to believe that the station hasn't seen a passenger train for 46 years! It certainly won't be 46 before it sees one again ...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

spetisbury this sunday


Dear Member/ Volunteer,
I am going up to the station on Sunday, and hope that you can join me. I hope to be there between 10:00 and 11:00am.
Now that we have got the foundations of the main building cleared, we probably need to start thinking about clearing the platform surface.
Could you let me know if you can make it and come up to help.
Best regards,