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, January 30, 2012

keeping things moving

So how exactly ARE we going to keep going once all the cheap oil's gone? When will you give up driving, if you haven't already? When petrol hits £2 a litre? £3? £5? £10?  Or when the roads become too damaged and dangerous to use? Or when you go to twenty garages and not one of them has any fuel available?

A lot of people have already given up driving. You still see a few learner drivers on the road but how many of them will never actually own and run a car? How many young people will never even attempt to drive?

So how WILL we get around?

Rather than doing a big study I thought I'd narrow it right down. The pics are of the Hope and Anchor at Midford. This is the last pub surviving in the village. Some of their customers walk in or even cycle in, but most drive.

So how will this pub survive after Peak Oil hits us all? Simple - everything will come in by train or bike. They are wonderfully sited to allow both customers and freight to continue to arrive by rail. Perhaps some enterprising villagers will run a horse and cart service to reach outlying parts of the village? Or perhaps some local boffin will build an electric vehicle to do the same thing (as long as it has great suspension!). But whatever happens the starting point will be the station. The pub of course will have the easiest route of all, the platform ending just about by the pub entrance.

I can see, in twenty or thirty years time, a steady succession of passenger trains dropping off people (and picking them up) just to visit the pub. A pub that can offer the lowest prices for miles around because they get their supplies in so easily!

Frieght traffic will be very different from what we see today with the railways replacing 'white van man' for smaller deliveries, either by running dedicated pick up goods trains, or simply adding a few deliverable items to the guards compartment or a wagon or two attached to the slower passenger trains.

Everything will be more slowly paced, vastly more energy efficient and will use human power rather than machines to get things moving.
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Joe D said...

Quick correction re: the assumption that roads will crumble away. They might have to switch from tarmac to concrete, and will perhaps be maintained only to 3-4 metres width (like the Sustrans path through Midford) outside of the cities, but we'll be needing well surfaced roads more than ever. Not maintaining such roads would be a big political deal when most people get to the station on their own two wheels.

The original roads lobby was not motorists but cyclists, after all:

Neil S. said...

I would look at the use of a heavy horse for local travel IF personal circumstances allow: Such native breeds like the Clydesdale, Shire and Suffolk Punch have been neglected since WWI.

Why not? Horses complimented the railways perfectly. They help to produce good rhubarb too!

Sunshiner said...

Horses will certainly make a comeback - but remember that they do need a lot of land and associated infrastructure. But I'm sure there are plenty of livery yards, farriers and small landowners who will only be too ready to fill the gap! This is exactly how things will happen - as the oil runs out those people who are ahead of the game will flourish whilst the dinosaurs like Compulsory Purchase Man will wonder what the hell hit them!

Neil S. said...

I agree entirely.

I saw the light years ago but friends and family members are harder to convince: there is still a feeling that somehow all will be well, that food will be cheap and plentiful. CP Man is all too common. I can grow my own food on a 6 crop rotation basis. It can be done on 4. I run chickens on the plots and can raise them from the egg to the plate. I bothered to renew and further the knowledge from a very rural upbringing.

What about the CP men of this World, when the job has gone and food prices too high? No politician can persuade me otherwise from the above for I can think for myself and ask those oh so awkward questions. A dangerous individual in these days of corporate conformity.

My horse point is part of the great reskilling of the population. Farriers/blacksmiths etc will figure hugely as will strong local economies with real work not button pushing behind a desk. Watch the drop off in depression etc when this happens. At present, it suits the drug companies and those in power.

A nice horse and trap ride to the railway station sounds top drawer to me.

Eddystone said...

...been studying the line location by location. One of the most challenging vicinities is that of Sturminster Newton-with a river bridge out and a 'clear' formation which carves right through the middle of town. A reinstated S&D would bring total benefit to this community. In the aftermath of Peak Oil I'm sure the locals would go along with a revival. Do you forsee any particular problems ?

Sunshiner said...

None at all. Locals will be crying out for reinstatement of the railway once the first small shimmers of Peak Oil start to take effect.

ALL 'problems' are only really solutions waiting to be solved.

Freddie said...

Canals too will no doubt see an upturn and the goods yard site at Midford looks a good place for a trans-shipment facility with the somerset Coal Canal coming up from the Kennet & Avon

Eddystone said...

Freddie-How near is the canal-would a branch have to be excavated?

Freddie said...

Eddystone - no excavating required: it's literally the other side of the road from the goods yard. Have a look at the old maps on the Somerset Archives website and you'll see.



Neil S. said...


The Limpey Stoke railway was built over the Somersetshire Coal Canal (SCC)to Midford but the Canal Society has restored the first 500 yards of the SCC which as you are aware connects to the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Midford therefore is 2-3 miles along from that connection and the crossover with the S and D.

It is something worth looking at but dependent on the SCC's restoration goals. Certainly, a Midford canal terminus with the intention of restoring out to Timsbury may well benefit the S and D.

Liaison and co-operation with the SCC would be of great use to ensure funding is not wasted. No railway or canal body should reflect what occurs in local authorities where headless chickens appear to rule the roost.

chairmaker said...

Whilst horses and carts, canals and the like will possibly make something of a comeback, I suspect that some here are allowing nostalgia to overcome their better judgement.

Oil will pass at some point - though as prices rise, reserves in harder-to-access locations will become viable and thus supply will carry on a little longer. However, it's imperative that we do develop alternatives to oil since pursuit of the black gold has caused countless wars and forced us to deal with people we would rather not.

There is progress with hydrogen cars and that element is so abundant that nobody need worry about it running out any time soon. Also, the waste output is water so Honda's Clarity vehicle, currently on trial in California, holds some exciting promise for the future. Want to bet that other manufacturers don't have similar projects on the go?

Then there are electric vehicles. At the moment the battery technology is the big problem, but would anyone place a bet that there won't be significant progress in the next 20 years? I wouldn't.

There's surely no doubt that railways are all set for a HUGE revival, and I for one welcome that, especially if it sees the S&D put back as it should be. But the case for rail needs to be based on more than arguments about Peak Oil: that's a negative sell for the rail proposition (i.e. the "better" alternative has gone so back to miserable old rail it is") and there are much better arguments for rail's next era.

Don't forget that people have also become used to their HD TVs, car travel on demans, global trade and stack of material posessions their parents could never have imagined: the market will therefore provide strong incentives for those that can keep that particular wheel spinning.

We might all fantasise about a bucolic idyll in future, but personally I'm not as certain that's going to be the way the story pans out.

Sunshiner said...

I would be incredibly surprised if nostalgia ever got past me on this blog!!!

As for hydrogen - a lot of people push this but their thinking is seriously muddled. Hydrogen is not a form of energy but merely a way of using EXISTING energy and as I'm sure you're all aware a little bit of energy is lost (usually as heat) whenever it is transformed. In other words the net energy from using hydrogen will be LESS than what's put in - so you'll not only still need all the same energy sources but you'll get less out of them - so hydrogen is dead in the water.

As for electric cars nobody has yet explained where the energy to fuel them will come from. Again if you burn oil to create the electricity a little energy will be lost as heat in the conversion process, again you'll end up with LESS energy available, not more. And nuclear, renewables etc will be far more efficiently used by trains and trams rather than old fashioned cars and lorries. Dead in the water again!

Electric cars, hydrogen, biofuels - these are all ideas for an energy-RICH world, not an energy poor world, and really shows that people don't get what's happening or are so fuddled and tied up with things as they are now that they are not thinking straight. This will change.

Far from being 'nostalgia' horse transport is already proving a good replacement for old fashioned internal combustion and is used by many French local authorities for example. I even saw a proper 'transport' horse and cart today in Wiltshire for the first time in decades! Horses aren't perfect as they require a lot of land for feed etc but I think, for many of us in 20 or 30 years' time - they'll be something we really try hard to get, being a step above bikes!

Unfortunately I'm not allowed to push Peak Oil too much on this site, the downside of this being that there's loads of info I'd like to impart but I don't want to turn people off or, worse, frighten them.

You really all need to go out yourselves and find out about what's happening. It's not like there aren't hundreds of books on the subject!

Sunshiner said...

Just two other points I missed - Peak Oil theory allows for shale oil, unconventional oil, currently unreachable oil etc in its forecasts. These are factored in yet still the peak oil date is somewhere between the last five and the next five years.

And secondly things like the New S&D ARE reactions to all this, this is one of the symptoms of the market reacting to easily foreseen future events. So the market, as always, is working. More horses, bikes, trains and trams will be symptoms of the market in action. The market certainly won't try to keep the old system going, that's simply not how it works. That's far more of a political thing, which is why it will end in tears. That's why you'll find things like biofuels, hydrogen etc are first and foremost POLITICAL reactions, not market or economic reactions to events. They ignore the most important factor of all, EROEI - Energy Return on Energy Invested. Biofuels always have more energy input than comes out - fine now in the age of cheap energy but a disaster in an energy-poor future - and is basically a sop to many Republican-voting farmers in the prairie states of the US. Don't let short term political nonsense cloud your vision, it's meaningless. It'll be the market - as always - which makes the changes. And that's exactly what's happening. The political stuff is all fluff and wishful thinking.

And I doubt you'll find any regular blog reader (or writer) here wants a 'bucolic future' - far from it!!

Anonymous said...

I'd love a bucolic future... bring on retirement! (yippee!!)

Chairmaker said...

Interesting posts Sunshiner - thank you for those.

In no way do I seek to belittle horses, bikes, canals etc. - they will all have a role to play, so we're agreed on that. We also seem to agree that the market will drive solutions, as it is with low energy lighting for example, that enable us to enjoy existing benefits (light at the flick of a switch) although delivered by something nascent only 10 years ago.

It's also certain that oil will run out and become too expensive long before the last drop is extracted, so we should be developing alternatives of which rail is front and centre, with its ability to run on electricity, wood, coal etc.

I don't quite get your point about hydrogen though: certainly less energy comes out as tractive effort than goes in, much as a petrol engine is something like 10% efficient. But hydrogen is the most abundant element out there, and must represent something of an alternative until solar, tidal, hydro and thorium can be realised on a huge scale. Hydrogen cars are here now and they work. Wouldn't be beyond imagination for petrol stations to serve hydrogen in future.

I should also stress that I hope the S&D comes back and wish you all every success. In the 80s, I lived in Shepton and used to walk the line regularly, pulling the weeds and small trees out of bridges and other structures, much to the amusement of my friends and family. Wasted effort in the case of Prestleigh viaduct, sadly, but that will return one day though possibly not in such a wonderful form.

My main concern is that rail in general should be marketed as a positive step forward and not just what we went back to when the oil ran out.

As I have posted before, vanity schemes like HS2 look like potential disasters to me: any bets that'll go 5 times over budget anyone? Surely better to reopen much more of the network, starting with the Great Central, S&D, Woodhead route, so that the benefits are more widely felt and existing infrastructure is put back into use at far lower cost building a bigger network with more journey possibilities.

I fully agree that a few industrial estates won't stand in the way of a rail revival, but the industry's own focus on a "grand projet" just might.

Sunshiner said...

Agree with all this!

Except ... the point with hydrogen is that it doesn't matter how abundant it is, that doesn't actually make a difference. Hydrogen isn't an energy source, only an energy CARRIER, so the energy still has to be generated using either conventional or renewables, and because it is one further step in the conversion process then less energy will emerge than goes in. So it means that hydrogen will use MORE energy than if we burned the oil or whatever directly, so far from being a solution it will actually use the remaining energy more quickly! So it can in no way be a solution, just a further problem. It's a political fix, not a physical or economic one. Add to that the cost of building a whole new delivery/storage infrastructure and I reckon hydrogen would probably be the biggest disaster and misallocation of resources in human history!

Sorry to bang on about this but it is very important. We are going to hear about a lot of miracle cures to the energy crisis in coming years and every one will fall by the wayside, the same way biofuels (remember them?) have. We need to be very alert to having the wool pulled over our eyes by short termist politicians who don't understand the basics of geology, physics or economics. Which is basically all of them!

chairmaker said...

Thanks again Sunshiner - some very interesting comments.

Clearly you are passionate and very knowledgeable on the subject, and you've inspired me to read into peak oil and the hydrogen and other alternatives.