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!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

another dorset railway ...

(Bridport 7.8.1973 copyright Steve Sainsbury)

I was lucky enough to travel on the Bridport branch a few times before it closed. It was a pretty stupid closure as the line was cheap to run and had it been retained would doubtless be very busy today in the New Railway Age. Whether it will ever return as a standard gauge community railway no-one could say but it must be a possibility as I remember the line being amazingly rural throughout so it's unlikely that there are any serious blockages to the track. There were plans to build it as a narrow gauge line under the auspices of the Brit Valley Railway, which seems to be moribund at the moment but I'm sure its time will come.

This article, courtesy of Jim Type, recalls this excellent branch.

REMINDERS that the south-west was once an area teeming with railway lines are all about us.
There are old station houses used as tea rooms, country walks along the paths of now-disused lines, and a number of roads named after this once-thriving method of transport.
Now a Dorset man has compiled a book tracing the routes around the whole country that have long been abandoned but are nevertheless still rich in railway culture.
Paul Atterbury, who lives in Weymouth, is best known for his role on TV’s Antiques Roadshow, but he has written extensively about railways, with seven books on the subject under his belt. He said: “A number of branch lines in the south west were built by small, independent companies set up by local merchants and businessmen keen to expand trade by linking their towns and villages to the national railway network.”
Typical was the Bridport Railway, whose nine-mile line to Maiden Newton opened amid great local celebration on 11 November 1857. In 1884 the line was extended to Bridport Harbour – a busy local trading and fishing port. This reflected the ambitions of the Great Western Railway, which was keen to develop a harbour and port that could rival Weymouth.
Thinking also of the developing tourist trade, the company renamed the harbour West Bay and hoped that the hotels would soon arrive, inspired by the beautiful coast and the new railway link. In the event not much happened and West Bay remained much the same as before, a small but busy local port. However, the carriage of beach gravel became a mainstay of the line and remained so until the closure of the West Bay extension in 1962.
Always popular with local users, the Bridport branch enjoyed a busy service. Indeed, a special bathing train left Bridport at seven each morning. In the early 1960s there were 20 trains each way on weekdays. The line survived the Beeching plan in the 1960s (when the government attempted to reduce the cost of running British Railways, resulting in a reduction of 25 per cent of route miles and 50 per cent of stations).
Paul Atterbury said: “By the 1970s Bridport had escaped a number of closure schemes, and its Houdini-like behaviour gave rise to plenty of local support and optimism. However, it was all in vain as full closure came in May 1975 – one of Britain’s last branch line closures. Had the line lived on for another couple of years, it would surely have survived.”
Today there are plenty of remains to be seen. In the late 1980s, West Bay station was a sorry sight, derelict and tumbledown and the platform used as a store for old boats and marine junk. Since then, this pretty stone building, built in the typical vernacular style of rural Dorset stations, has been fully restored and given a new lease of life as a cafe. Track has been relaid beside the platform, a signal has been erected and the trackbed towards Bridport has been turned into a public footpath.
Both Bridport’s stations have gone, but much of the Bridport branch survives the landscape. A solitary crossing gate just outside the town remains. The steeply graded route followed valleys through the hills up to Maiden Newton and can easily be identified from nearby minor roads.
Cuttings, embankments and bridges survive, along with platforms at Powerstock and Toller, the only intermediate stations.
“Powerstock Station always looked like a private house and that is now exactly what it is,” said Paul. “For those wanting to travel from Bridport to London, the journey was tortuous and involved a number of changes. This makes it even more remarkable that this essentially local railway kept going for so long.”


Knoxy said...

It is a sad fact that most of the lines closed during the Beeching period and after, would be thriving today, had they survived. He never found a profitable raiwlay, but then you can't if you sell all the good bits off.
A railway needs it property empire, including ports and its road delivery services to turn a profit, otherwise it just provides an unchargeable enconomic good to the country. Not the sort of set up the EU would like to see, but why should we take any notice of them? they can't even run a single currency!

Rob Sissons said...

The Bridport branch is used as an example in the Railway Invigoration Society's excellent 1977 booklet "Can Bus Replace Train?" It states that within a few months of closure less than a quarter of the ex-rail passengers were still using the replacement bus service

Sunshiner said...

And I doubt the buses would be able to cope with any freight traffic that would have appeared had there been the right sort of management (ie local!)

I think one of the criticism's of Bridport's branch was that it went 'against the flow of traffic' but all this does is show the parochialism of the rail destroyers, assuming people only really wanted to travel to London. I'm sure anyone in Bridport who wanted to get to Dorchester or Weymouth was more than happy with the arrangement, particularly bearing in mind the situation now - and probably for some time to come!

El Capitano M said...

Even in its latter days, after the Bristol to Weymouth route had been downgraded to secondary status, the Bridport branch still offered connections at Maiden Newton for the major centres of Bath and Bristol as well as London Paddington by changing again at Castle Cary or Westbury.

The Weymouth to Bristol "Heart of Wessex" line is a route really crying out for investment, with redoubling or at least dynamic loops to enable a more frequent service and a new spur to the Waterloo - Exeter line near Yeovil for a Weymouth to Exeter service (or even merely reversing at Pen Mill onto the existing under-used link to Yeovil Junction). The case for re-opening the Bridport branch would surely be greatly boosted by such improvements to the main line with which it connected.

Sunshiner said...

I love this. We've gone from a 'nostalgic' look at a 'lost' railway to a lot of reasoning that suggests that far from being 'lost' the Bridport line is merely sleeping and that, regardless of Peak Oil, Climate Change or anything else, the likelihood is that a reopened Bridport branch would be used by the people of Bridport and, just as importantly, bring in visitors to Bridport too. This is the age which we're entering, where just about every rail closure is now questioned, and where if the communities through which a line ran are willing and organized there's every chance that the railway will return.

Would love to be able to announce on this blog the formation of a New Bridport Branch organisation - my membership fee is already burning a hole in my pocket!

Worthing Wanderer said...

I am interested to know how much progress there has been towards preserving the route as a cycle path? Not an ideal use I know, but it would preserve the integrity of what is left.

The cakes at West Bay station are fab by the way - the most enjoyable tea shop I've been to for ages.