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, 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
could help.

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.

Keith Browning


Stuart Seale said...

For the foreseeable future the trackbed between Bath and Wellow will be occupied by the two tunnels cycle path. With there having been such a large push and financial investment in support of this aim it would be politic not to voice any track laying plans at this time - we would lose a lot of support. Sure, in the future things will be very different.
Best Regards,

Tom Seale said...


I like the idea of "as well as" a cycleway rather than "instead of". It is supposed to be a multi-use path after all.

Keith Browning said...

My piece was about flexibility of use and making the best of what we have.The possible is a lot easier.

Here is a short youtube clip of the Dom Luis Bridge in Porto.


The other thing to note is that the Metro which was completed six years ago, is now being used as a multi-use conduit with a footpath/cycleway and small roads being built alonside in many places. This is creating a new footpath and minor road network.

It works in Holland as well. The Brits need to catch up with the rest of the World.

Keith Browning

David Robins said...

Narrow gauge prevents inter-operability, so isn't worth considering for what is, after all, major regional infrastructure and a crucial part of our sustainable future. Hippy cyclists won't be able to veto re-opening forever: once they die out, we'll see rapid progress. Full-scale restoration may well be beyond the resources of rail enthusiasts but that's all the more reason to emphasise that it's a mainstream idea - think Waverley Line - and that big money will come on board once logic dictates this.

Sunshiner said...

True enough - and some of us are trying!

Notice there was no modern narrow gauge British picture I could use to illustrate the post! (Pic is the Forchbahn in Switzerland, a super efficient, busy and profitable narrow gauge commuter line into Zurich).

Sunshiner said...

There will be narrow gauge facilities plus track at the Sustainable Engineering Works!

Sunshiner said...

I do think that narrow gauge has its place, but really as a feeder to the main network, and I think 99% of people would want a standard gauge route from Bournemouth to Bath. I do think that in 50 years' time there will be many narrow gauge feeders to the S&D linking to outlying villages, connecting markets and industry to the main line and providing tram services in many of the towns en route.

Eddystone said...

Keith- a balanced and well founded case.
RHDR is a mainly tourist railway- so is the Welsh Highland/Festiniog. Sure the RHDR is Shepway's premiere tourist attraction and even provides a schools service but it could only truly become a community railway if it got it's standard gauge connection back-either at New Romney or Dungeness.(there is a formative group.)
The Welsh Highland's rapid re-establishment is the the product of big busineess, dynamic financing and top line management.
You mention the preserved lines struggling to get their acts together and complex locomotive restorations taking years. The thing is that TIME is the currency we have plenty of. I have been involved in 20year loco renovations-and it doesn't matter about achieving completion of whole projects in a lifetime. Just making a contribution should satisfy those involved-the next generation will ply it along-and we have to consider our friends at Sustrans.

In any case-I firmly believe that the concept of 'New S&D' is not necessarily about preservation in the known sense even though some of the constituents are. It's all about change and up grading to a level of community living in a sustainable world.
However I am not one promote closing of doors to intelligent, articulate and obviously informed ideas. I do agree with narrow gauge feeders and can imagine a scaled down train accessing the centre of Wells much more easily and unobtrusively than standard heavy rail!

Keith I enjoyed your piece-and I'm sure it is welcome into the mix. Let's see what happens.

Anonymous said...

"Hippy cyclists". Two words to alienate a whole tranche of supporters. Well done.
Cyclists aren't necessarily hippies.
Hippies aren't necessarily cyclists.
Just sayin' - speaking as a white middle class house and car owning... cyclist.

Stereotyping and imagined tribalism is always bad news, so best to keep one's prejudices to oneself.

On the subject of narrow gauge. Well worth consideration in short/medium term before the big money comes in when the route is upgraded to standard gauge.

Like the cycle routes, narrow gauge can help preserve the integrity of the route as well as providing a transport role.

On a pedantic note, RH&DR was conceived and built as a miniature railway as a tourist attraction.

Narrow gauge - 2 foot and above - was always constructed for work.

Sunshiner said...

I think the 'hippy' comment was just a bit of joshing - I'm sure we're all thick skinned enough to take a bit of banter! It's only a comment buried on a blogsite, not a policy statement and I very rarely don't publish comments, unless they are 100% stupid! I remember reading on a forum a few months ago that some traction engine enthusiasts regard all railway enthusiasts as paedophiles!

I don't think WE'VE alienated anyone, many of our members are cyclists too, and I don't think I've met a hippy in the New S&D yet - closest we've got is Compulsory Purchase Man and his Occupy rants!

I think certain 15" lines could be regarded as narrow gauge - certainly 18" can be, such as the Woolwich Arsenal Railway. I don't really think of the RHDR as a miniature railway, more a main line in miniature, which I suppose is pedantry too!

Paul said...

It sounds a good idea to me.....but as mentioned i think it needs to be at the least a 2 foot gauge as it can carry good loads, think Lynton & Barnstaple...if it lasts 20-30 years in that guise it has paved the way. It would give the doubters the proof they needed that reinstating the line in full, and STD gauge is needed, and in those years they will see for themselves the end of affordable oil for the masses and the growth of new sustainable businesses that would grow up alongside the line and in so doing, when the upgrade to STD gauge happens, there will already be ample revenue earning potential established, passenger & freight, to make the full STD gauge reopening case a no brainer.

Anonymous said...

While it is appreciated and understood that you wish to play down that prejudice as a bit of joshing it would be well to realise that prejudice is commonly badly hidden in a cloak of "joshing". Ask any coloured or ethnic minority person. Some people would do well to engage their stone age brain before hitting keyboard.
"Hippy cyclists won't be able to veto re-opening forever: once they die out, we'll see rapid progress." is probably one of the most stupid comments I've read on any online forum.

Sunshiner said...

I'm not trying to play down prejudice - I don't agree with the comment! I was just trying to get behind the spirit of it.

I really don't like censoring content on this blog - I've only ever censored one poster (CPO Man) because he's a well known troll and anti-rail person, but I don't think I've ever not published anything else, no matter how strongly I disgree with it.

I'm sorry you were upset by this. We are doing everything we can to build a consensus between all sustainable modes of transport so this was a bit of an anachronism!

Freddie said...

For a serious commuter potential - say Radstock to Bath - would even 2' gauge might not give enough capacity? Metre gauge would be ideal as an interim, and maybe permanently for rural feeder lines, as they have in Switzerland. We might be able to get some second-hand rolling stock from the Swiss too!

Sunshiner said...

There's certainly something in a transitional narrow gauge section, and there have been precedents certainly outside of the UK. It's also common of course for bus routes to be upgraded to tramways, once they reach a certain level of patronage.

The Waldenburgerbahn in Switzerland runs an intensive service on 800mm gauge, which is well under three feet. But the metre gauge is an excellent size, there's not a lot of capacity lost in passenger vehicles but a big saving in construction costs. Whilst a lot of Swiss railways cascade older stock and hang on to equipment for many decades personally I'd love to see, for example, a metre gauge feeder route between Oakhill and Binegar using Swiss metre gauge!

Who knows what will happen?

Richard said...

If you look at the welsh highland/ffesstiniog website, and transfer those images to Bath to Midford, as a Tourist Attraction,then what do you think? If there was no possibility of taking standard rail back into Bath, then it begins to make sense for an Entrepreneur to back it. And if the standard rail deviated at Midford to join the old Camerton branch and join the old GWR metals at Limply Stoke, then it makes even more sense. But if the aim is to get full size rail back into Bath down Devonshire Bank and to Green Park, then we are in a different scenario. At this stage there is all to play for. That's why it's such an exciting time!

Howard Parker said...

In between the 2' gauge WHR style railway and standard gauge there is a good compromise - Metre gauge. It would be big enough to have a proper size presence and it will fit with cyclists. (by the way, I support Sustrans and while they can be difficult, they are not 'hippies' and cycling will increase rather than decrease in the years to come)

Metre gauge works in lots of EU countries as a proper part of the transport infrastructure but has never been tried here. That could be another possible answer but to think you are going to get the old S&D back except in small pockets of resistance is surely a pipedream.

Sunshiner said...

A pipedream? Nah, I don't think all these people giving up their time and money would be involved if we weren't 100% sure it's going to happen! No-one has yet explained exactly how we will get around without the S&D in the future - we were inspired to start up because we were worried that the S&D would be rebuilt by Network Rail without any sympathy towards the original line. I'll be honest, if I thought there was even a 1% chance of it not happening I'd not waste a second of my time on it and would just concentrate on making money! We don't really hear this any more, people mmainly just encourage us to get on with it.

I'm probably the UK's biggest metre-gauge fan and fully expect this guage to become very popular in the UK for secondary routes both restored Beeching cuts and total new builds but never for the S&D. We'd have the transhipment problem wherever we met the standard gauge network which I feel would wipe out any financial advantage the lower construction and operating costs of metre gauge would give us. I know there are transporter wagons but we'd still then have to build everything to SG loading gauge - probably even bigger as you'd have to take into account the extra height of the transhipoment vehicle.

I do however think metre gauge would be ideal for feeder lines to the S&D, possibly (and I'll get shot for this!) one or some of the branches. But that's only my point of view!

Keith Browning said...

Just seen the new photos of the Gartell. At their present rate of progress they'll be at Midford in 2013 and Bath the year after, and down to Bournemouth the year after that..!! I think they used to call it Empire Building...