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!

Friday, March 23, 2012

letter to government

Committee member and Wessex Links Ltd director has just fired off this excellent letter to Justine Greening, Minister of Transport. Perhaps all of us that are desperate for the S&D to return should follow his example?

Rt Hon. Justine Greening MP
Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
SW1P 4DR                                                                                         22 March 2012

Last week I had to make a round business trip to Bath from my home near Bournemouth. I was horrified to find that there was no satisfactory way of making this journey by train so I had to drive. The round trip took me five hours at an average speed of 31 mph. This slow progress was not just due to traffic density but mainly the fact that there is no decent road link along this common route. Apart form a few mainly single carriageway bypasses, the roads have not really changed since the Second World War. So I had to struggle over this increasingly third world road network filling the air with my expensive exhaust fumes; and yet one relatively simple solution sits there, apparently ignored.

Until the mid 1960’s there was an excellent rail service between Bournemouth and Bath/Bristol, the Somerset and Dorset Railway. This was one of the many lines closed by the now infamous Beeching cuts, despite the fact that it was a socially important and profitable main line.

Remarkably and fortunately, 95% of the old track bed still exists. Of course some of the bridges have been removed and small parts of the track bed have been built over but most of the civil engineering infrastructure is there and could easily be reused. Compared to grandiose controversial schemes like HS2 and motorway construction, the reinstatement of this railway would be relatively simple and cheap with enormous transport benefits. With the economic Armageddon of “peak oil” staring us in the face it is well established that the most energy efficient way of transporting goods and people is by electrically powered metal wheels on metal rails. Yet we grind on with our love affair of road transport whilst simultaneously penalising people for doing so via the tax system; and this is supposed to be a transport policy?

Incredibly, there is an organisation dedicated to the reinstatement of this valuable rail link, The New Somerset and Dorset Railway, and a holding company, Wessex Link Ltd, set up to administer this railway if it can be revived. Yet this is a tiny organisation with very small resources that would probably take decades to achieve its stated ends. We in this country do not have decades! The Prime Minister has already made it clear that he does not think our transport system is fit for the purposes of a 21st century competitive western economy and your colleague Norman Baker MP has publically stated that it is a well-established Liberal Democrat policy to reopen many old railway lines. Our inadequate transport system is starting to seriously hold us back economically just at the time when out economy needs all the help it can get.

Of course, not all the pre Beeching cuts lines needed to have been kept open, but many should have been and now desperately need to be reopened, including the Somerset and Dorset line. The project would obviously first require an engineering and business feasibility study, but whilst this is totally beyond the means of the embryonic New Somerset and Dorset Railway, this would be relatively small beer to the Department for Transport as well as falling under the remit of what the Department should be addressing.

I have seen you interviewed on television a few times in recent months and you have made some sensible, non-partisan decisions. Consequently I would urge you Minister, in contrast to the usual partisan slogans we have endured from previous governments, to initiate something that will make an impact and a huge practical difference to the lives and businesses of the people in Dorset, Somerset and Avon; look at reopening the Somerset and Dorset Railway, preferably in a time frame measurable in months rather than decades. We need it and, if we are to compete in the modern world, time is short.


Neil S. said...

A determined, concerted effort is required by all persons who wish to see the return of the S and D, indeed any lines closed by Beeching and Marples which now as appear as huge mistakes.

The road lobby have always done so.
Look where overly concerted efforts have led and are leading us.

Human Rights activists are particularly good at campaigning and do not take "No" for an answer.

Railway lobbyists can learn from them.

Knoxy said...

the price of oil and the price of parking will do our lobbying for us.

railway economics were distorted during the road lobby's closure period (Marples, Beeching and Frazer), but you can't hide the price of oil and the cost of war to obtain supplies.

quite simply we need our railways back, and whatever has been built in the way, won't last.....

Keith Browning said...

Great letter. Everything there and makes the points beautifully.

As an ex-geography teacher I think we need a map. Simple 'back of a fag packet' map that shows the S & D line in its current state, but with major towns marked, showing what is remaining, the problems and the potential solutions.

People like to know what their objective is, and I find it difficult to work out where the S & D went and which places are now cut off from humanity.

Just an idea but it would be a start. The map then becomes part of the publicity campaign.

Do we have a graphic artist who could do one. Possibly a student who needs a project in Bath or Bournemouth or anywhere in-between.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, how long would it have taken to do the round trip in S&DJR days using an ordinary stopping train rather than the Pines Express?

Sunshiner said...

I think it was around 2 1/2 to 3 hours - nearly as bad as the road! But this was with loads of stops plus the reversal at Templecombe. We'll almost certainly remodel Templecombe so there'll be no need for the complicated reversal, and also run fast trains regularly as well as stoppers. I think the average fast train with stops at say Radstock, Shepton, Wincanton, Templecombe, Sturminster Newton, Blandford and Broadstone would take a little over an hour - far faster than the road. But then I suspect that speed won't be so important in the future anyway.

Sunshiner said...

Sorry, that 2 1/2 to 3 hours was one way, so a round trip would have been 5 to 6 hours. But what a trip!

Sunshiner said...

Keith - great idea re the map. Is there a member or supporter out there who has the skill and time to do this? You'll immortalise yourself ...

Perhaps a map that's both modern and easy to read, but incorporating a wyvern at some point?

Interested please email me on leysiner@aol.com