Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Monday, February 20, 2012
a different view
I received this as an email today and would welcome comments in the comments section. Keith's vision is of a narrow gauge railway on a small part of the S&D mixing modern and heritage aspects.
I have been following progress of the various projects covering the
S&D, plus a few more in selected places over the south and east of the
country. I am at present living most of the time in Portugal, although that
might change in the coming months.
I was fortunate to view at first hand and from the earliest days the
revival of the Great Central and the Watercress lines, and also made frequent
stopovers/detours to the Bluebell Line during my time as a salesman. I often
tried to plan my route for the week with lunch time breaks near railways, both
preserved and those in mainline service.
I have now retired, although am busier than ever, involved in a number of
writing projects.However, in a rather full and varied career/careers I was also
noted for innovation/challenging the status quo, but always with a practical and
viable solution. My projects nearly always came to fruition because they were
The S&D was 100 miles long, plus probably the same again in the
branchlines. To return that to full running would mean two miles of track a year
for 50 years, or five miles a year for 20 years, or 10 miles a year for 10
years. We only have to look at the experiences of the Great Central, the
Bluebell and the Watercress to realise how difficult it is to build, maintain
and manage relatively short lengths of track, and also how long it takes to
build even short extensions. I have recently watched some videos of the track
renewal work at the Bluebell. This is major engineering, requiring all the
skills, manpower, and heavy equipment needed to do the job, and in reality it is
only upgrading the railway, and the average passenger would see no difference or
The Watercress did manage to get to Alton, but it took them 20 years. The
Bluebell still cant reach East Grinstead after 50 years, although 2012 maybe the
year. The Swanage line cant reach Wareham because of signalling and a level
crossing, although that might change this year, with the cash injection from
The timescale on all these things is measured in decades. In 1970 I was
surprised to see that 71000, Duke of Gloucester had survived the cutters torch
and was stabled at Loughborough. It wasn't in bad condition and I was told they
hoped to get it back running in around five years. One pessimist thought 10
years. In fact it took 20 years and probably 20 times the original cost
So, how does all this impact on the S&D. Well the various projects are
moving forward and it is obvious that within five years there will be a number
of stations restored to their 1950s glory, and that there will be a small but
perfectly formed preserved railway at Midsummer Norton, and another at
Shillingstone. Gartell will be running for fun on a limited number of weekends.
All three will slowly grow from their current boundaries but nothing that is
going to see either a service to the community or an impressive stage for a
hardworking steam loco.
But there will be no more track, and with little prospect of more given the
current economic climate and the practicalities of running a railway.
Yesterday I watched a short youtube video of the old BBC S&D program
with Ivo Peters and it followed the route up to Midford, describing it as one of
the prettiest routes in the country. Few people would disagree I think. I am
also following the dramatic progress of the Two Tunnels route, which is planned
to be complete by this time next year, and will potentially put thousands of
walkers and bikers on to the platform at Midford.
So I looked at what was practical and what could be achieved. I looked at
places where there has been success over the kind of distances that will need to
be covered to get out of Bath and into the heart of Somerset, to Midford,
Radstock and to MSN.
There are two obvious and most successful models that ought to be looked
at, and both have very obvious similarities to the section between MSN and Bath.
The two lines I am talking about are the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch, and the
Ffestiniog line. Both are practical railways that cover substantial distances,
and both have showed long term sustainability.
Both, of course are narrow guage, but the economies of scale have so many
advantages that they are overwhelming. They also fit beautifully into the
scenario that is becoming the reality of the old S&D trackway.
Multiuse of the 'two tunnels' route by full size trains would be
problematic in the extreme, but a 2ft line would offer the perfect solution. The
scale makes it manageable, with everything from the permanent way to the rolling
stock. In particular the loading gauge on the bridges is not a problem.
Everything then becomes possible and practical and likely to be sustainable. It
also offers not just a wonderful tourist attraction but also a means of
transport into that most inaccessible city, Bath. It is a win, win, win
solution, and I could see very few detractors.
Because infrastructure costs are so greatly reduced the money and effort
can go into laying and maintaining the track. How difficult would it be to
create a 20 mile full scale railway from Bath to MSN, and how much easier to do
it in a smaller scale. The route breaks down beautifully into three sections,
each 6-7 miles long, and I could easily imagine train services out of Bath as
far as Midford in 3-5 years. If the money was available that would be an easy
task. MSN in ten years would be a certainty, and if phase one was a success then
probably much quicker.
So restoring the S&D as a working railway then becomes a feasible
project in everyones lifetime. Mix new technology with old, and so all the ideas
about engineering workshops and innovative motive power systems become a
practical reality. I think that would bring out the volunteers, because everyone
Full size railways are for heavy engineers and are out of the range of the
pockets of anyone involved, especially in these hard economic times. I'm sure a
visit to North Wales or to Dungeness would demonstrate this is a practical
solution and would have the wholesale support of both the people, and the
Councils that have an active interest in restoring the route.