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, March 24, 2012


(Eridge 2.1.1973 copyright Rail Thing)

One of the craziest rail cllosures was that of Lewes-Uckfield in Sussex, a mad scheme to cut 8 miles of line and lose 2 stations but, most importantly, deprive the network of a genuine alternative route when the main Brighton-London line was blocked or suffering engineering works. It also created a new branch line, never a great idea economically or operationally.

Despite this line being clearly needed both then (1969) and even more so now they are STILL strugglling to get it open! It seems that this delightful part of Sussex still thinks its the 1970s.

The Uckfield line needs to reopen to Lewes, be double track throughout and electrified. There's no argument about this, just DO IT!

This is very relevant to us trying to get north-south modern transport in Somerset and Dorset as I suspect we will be in this position in a decade's time!

Latest from the people trying to get the politicians down Sussex way to accept 21st century realities.

South will stagnate without BML2

“There are many rail schemes, crying out for far smaller sums than HS2, which could offer a bigger impact pound for pound. An excellent example is BML2.”
- Christian Wolmar, Transport Writer and Broadcaster

Sussex railways are the most congested in the UK. Despite all Brighton Line trains being maximum (12 car) length in the next few years, demand is rapidly outstripping capacity. By 2020 even the longer trains – which will have less seating and more standing room – will be just as overcrowded as today.

Disruption on the Brighton Main Line (BML) will continue through train breakdowns, point failures, signalling problems, bad weather, accidents, suicides, engineering works, etc, etc.  It’s already impossible to run more trains, expand services to other towns, or offer passengers greater choice and much-needed alternative routes into London from the south.

Kent’s Tonbridge Main Line (TML), similarly described by Network Rail to be “a major barrier to growth”, is in the same invidious position. But between these two arterial routes into London is the former main line to Uckfield which, until 1969, ran directly into Brighton and into Tunbridge Wells. It is no coincidence that the BML and TML are now in serious trouble. The absurdly under-used Uckfield line is perfectly capable of being a main line once again and relieving both its neighbouring overloaded lines. It is a classic example of all that is wrong with short-term transport policy in England.

The blame rests squarely with Government intransigence. The Uckfield line is restrained by single-line sections due to ‘rationalisation’ in 1989 – approved by Mrs. Thatcher’s Transport Minister, Michael Portillo. This misguided attempt to avoid a growing backlog of track maintenance costs restricts the route to providing just a half-hourly service. Similarly, the stubborn refusal to electrify the 25 miles south of Oxted to Uckfield, let alone reinstate the seven miles to the coastal network, is another example of the Government seriously failing the south.

The Government is perfectly aware of how embarrassingly successful rail schemes have proved. Both Scotland and Wales have benefited enormously in the past decade. Every reopening and upgrade has far-exceeded the pessimistic passenger demand assessments.

Even the limited peak hour services running on the Uckfield line are now busier than they’ve ever been. Commuters have to increasingly stand in aisles, perch in luggage compartments, or drive elsewhere, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Some commuters head to Haywards Heath and other BML stations where they can park and have more frequent services. But railheading concentrates overloading and the BML can’t support any more trains – it’s a full-up railway.

Everyone seems to agree, train operators included, that more trains need to run between the Sussex Coast and London, as well as Tunbridge Wells and London to relieve the equally congested TML. Because the Government, the Department for Transport and Network Rail between them will not promote expansion of the south’s rail network, things can only get far worse as we head for stagnation.

The Government will not order any more new diesel trains to ease the crush. It won’t electrify, nor will it redouble the Uckfield line, even though it’s a trifling sum in transport budgets. It’s an unworthy don’t care attitude and a do-nothing transport policy. No vision, no ideas, no plan, no growth – and no hope.

Station parking at Uckfield hardly exists (approx 13 spaces) so commuters drive to the next station, Buxted, where they overspill into village streets and lanes. It is the same story at Eridge where most of the 220-plus cars park at crazy angles along the verges. At Uckfield, adjacent residential roads are clogged up. Nearby, the extensive goods yard and former station site has lain derelict for 20 years. This belonged to BR’s Property Board, now a ‘wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department for Transport’ – i.e. the Government. It has a price tag of between £3m - £4m but the Government says it wants the money from selling it to a developer – for housing.

Attempts to use the land for commuter parking have been consistently frustrated, not least by East Sussex County Council which will publicise plans in mid-March for a new road built across the trackbed as part of this development. A sop to commuters is the promise of a few public parking spaces (Network Rail discovered it was 38). This is for a town of 13,000 people. The site should be imaginatively developed for a proper double-track/two-platform station with multi-storey parking, an integrated transport hub with, most certainly, a new road, but one which includes a bridge over the railway. But this requires vision, good planning and consideration for the future.

This week it was announced that another 1,000 new houses will be built in Uckfield....

Network Rail told Tunbridge Wells Borough Council “Unfortunately High Speed One doesn’t put any more track into Tunbridge Wells.” It certainly doesn’t, but BML2 does. BML2 means reopening the Uckfield main lines into Tunbridge Wells and to Lewes, plus a new direct connection into Brighton and Falmer – the only way of relieving the Brighton Line. It is not just a reasonable and realistically affordable scheme, but one which supplies all the capacity the south needs. It also has practical solutions for opening new routes into London, new cross-connections and unlocking massive and exciting opportunities for future growth right across the south east as part of further Thameslink expansion.

But it seems the Government isn’t interested and won’t even listen to the case for BML2.

Instead, its preferred option is to attempt stifling demand by imposing punitive fares for travelling in the high peak hour. It’s an attitude which smacks of they’re only commuters after all and can’t do anything else but cough-up if they want to get into work.

Railways play a tremendously important role in the South East – outside as well as inside Greater London. Stifling growth and selling-off valuable assets for a mere pittance is not a transport policy.

It is no way to run a railway, let alone a country.


Neil S. said...

The Government in England have completely lost the plot. No politician likes to admit error but in the case of the railways, it is now clear that Beeching was way off target. Admission of same must come. Politicians really should find some courage.

There is something radically wrong with policy formation and the way in which it is reached: is it civil servants, vested interests or plain stupidity or what? Whatever way, party politics no longer serve properly the ordinary citizen. Transport policy is one such failed service. Perhaps lost seats and a few independent MPs might better concentrate minds in Westminster?

The Scottish Parliament has given the go-ahead to relay the Edinburgh Waverley to Galashiels in the Borders areas. 35 miles of line with the consequetial re-establishment of a community, clearer roads etc.

Westminster could do worse than heed its Scottish cousin's activities.

Westminster would have been declared bankrupt long ago if it was a business through its own incompetence.

I could not run my practice like it. I would not survive.

Keith Browning said...

From todays news it goes without saying that government policy decisions have nothing whatsoever to do with national or local need, or even common sense , but have everything to do with patronage and financial influence.

That is the challenge!

I know from personal experience that the newly opened Hindhead road tunnel was delayed by 25 years because the original plans were set to take the project into an avenue of high price houses owned by influential people. They used their influence to stop the scheme. of course they have all long since moved out of the area, and so their objections only had a short term selfish motive.

Railways are exactly the same, and it needs as many political activists to get a railway scheme moving as it does volunteer station masters or ticket collectors.

Find local champions with some influence and you are already half the way there. All the local restoration schemes I have been following are successful because the local people want them.

Knoxy said...

well, when the price of fuel goes even higher more locals and influencial people will be wanting the return of the railway. if not, their movement will be constrained and therefore so will the economy.

it's as simple as that.

for good reason China is busy adding more miles to their network, than we ever had!