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!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

perhaps this is why the dinosaurs don't get peak oil

Whilst the CP Boy clones and hippies still insist - with not a shred of evidence, qualifications or applied thought - that the world will never change, back on earth we're seeing changes happen all around us - and the last few paragraphs in particular may well explain why our less-bright compatriots still think we're living in the Jurassic!

Beware the black sticky stuff: the media, marmite and peak oil

by Jason Heppenstall

In this last week, which has seen people panic-buying petrol across the UK, we have been reminded of two unpleasant facts which are likely to be rearing their ugly heads much more frequently in the future. For those who don't know, a mooted strike by a union which counts petrol tanker drivers as its members quickly led to mile-long queues at filling stations, leading to one woman accidentally setting herself alight as she tried to decant fuel which in turn led to calls for rolling heads at the ministerial level.
All of this was sparked by some union reps saying they might consider calling a strike over safety conditions.
The first ugly fact that I mentioned was the reminder that any threat to the fuel supply causes mass hysteria. In this instance there has been (so far) no actual supply interruption, but that didn't stop people overreacting.
The second reminder was that in these situations the mass media amply fulfils its role of hysteria amplifier, quickly weighing up the situation, coming to hasty conculsion about who or what is to blame and then shouting PANIC at the top of its lungs while jumping up and down and getting all red in the face. In this case they decided to blame Frances Maude, the Conservative Party chairman, who suggested that if there was to be a strike it might be a good idea to fill up a jerry can with fuel just in case. Normally this would be considered stirling advice, after all, doesn't it pay to be prepared?
Now, I'm not exactly a fan of the Conservatives and I'm sure that Frances Maude has done many questionable things in his life to get to the position where he is now – but advising people to fill up jerry cans with petrol can hardly be counted as one of them. But the blame for the woman who accidentally burned herself is being laid firmly at his door, and a quick Google search of 'Frances Maude blame' reveals 631 news articles featuring those exact words. Yes, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, the media has gone stark raving mad.
I should know. I was at the centre of some media madness about a year ago. I'd been working as a freelance contributor at The Guardian, acting as a kind of 'our man in Copenhagen'. The Guardian, it should be understood, has a kind of strange fetish for Denmark that stops just short of the country warranting its own pull-out section every week. To the average Guardian reader the country represents a kind of liberal utopia free of crooked politicians, inequality and obese people. It's wrong on all three counts but having spent almost 10 years living here, two as editor of a Copenhagen based newspaper, I'm quite familiar with the phenomenon and have come to accept that I live in an inkblot country onto which outsiders project their own fervid imaginings, whatever they may be.
So there I was, trying to feed them stories which I thought would fit in with their readers' preconceived notions and I came across a small story that I thought might be of some interest. It concerned a tiny shop in Copenhagen which sold foreign foods to homesick expats, who had been told some months before that they were no longer allowed to stock the savoury spread Marmite on their shelves. The reason given by the man from the Food and Veterinary Administration was that the dark sticky spread was fortified with vitamins, meaning that it had to have special permission to be sold. The Danes love banning things that are foreign, and Marmite was just the latest product, along with a whole raft of others from Horlicks to Birds Eye custard. To get permission to sell Marmite would have involved a lot of red tape and cost, and the shop owner was angry because it was a best selling product.
I asked The Guardian if they might be interested in this and immediatley was told that 'Yes,' they were. I said I'd write it up within four or five days, just as soon as I'd been and interviewed the owner and taken some pictures. They got back and said that they needed it the next day. 'Okay,' I said (a little huffily because I had other things to do).
The next day they were onto me again. 'When is it it ready?' I was asked. But I could not get it finished until I had a quote from the Food and Veterinary Administration, and every time I rang them they seemed totally uninterested and claimed they'd look into this mar-mme-tay product I was talking about. When I rang them for about the fifth time the spokesman, clearly annoyed, went and interrupted the relevant minister in a meeting (after I told them who I was writing it for). She didn't think it was important either – she was probably busy with other things, like plans to protect against the country against Monsanto - and so I had to warn them that I'd have to say they had 'no comment'.
Then my phone rang and it was one of the Guardian editors who told me 'At the moment we have Obama meeting the Queen on the front page and we want to replace that with your story-' I gulped. 'Okay, I'll file it now,' I said.
Needless to say, the story sparked a storm out of all proportion to its merit. Within hours it became the biggest story in the UK, with every major news outlet clamouring to get their own version of it and, briefly, it was the most Tweeted topic in the entire world. People in Britain, who will tolerate practically anything apart from fuel price rises and someone messing with Marmite, went predictably insane, throwing Danish bacon and furniture into skips and promising to stop their children playing with Lego and turning down the volume when Sandy Toksvig was on the radio. My inbox began to fill with angry emails asking me what the hell I thought I was doing and, when a Danish journalist got through to me on my mobile and started shrieking 'Are you trying to start a trade war?' at me I decided it was time to turn it off and bury it in a draw in the kitchen. It's probably fair to say that I went into hiding.
It should be remembered that Denmark is particularly sensitive to boycotts having had most of its products boycotted across large parts of the Muslim world following the Mohammed Cartoon debacle (which I inadvertently almost became a victim of, but that's a story for another day).
After several days, during which the Sun newspaper made the Danish ambassador in London come out and make an apology, Marmite was debated in the Danish parliament and angry groups of geographically challenged Britons called for the picketing of Ikea, the story slowly began to fade away and I began to peek out from beneath my rock. The stampeding herd had passed me by and all that was left to show was the trampled earth and a faint savoury yeast smell hanging in the air.
So what did I learn from this experience? Many people congratulated me for getting a story on the front page of The Guardian as if I'd uncovered some kind of major corruption scandal, but in truth I was a bit ashamed of the whole affair. I'd been badgering The Guardian for a while to take some of my peak oil articles seriously but had been met with a polite rebuff. They weren't sure which section to file them under and, in any case, wasn't the whole peak oil thing just speculation? No, the only black viscous liquid they wanted me to write about came in little jars rather than 42 gallon barrels. So in the end I just came away with a small sum of money and a great after dinner anecdote.
So the question remains: just why is the mainsteam media so poor at addressing peak oil issues and all the worrying depletion issues which surround it and instead fixate on trivial matters?
Who knows – perhaps it is not 'human interest enough' or maybe it defies categorisation so effectively, if one considers the wider issues associated with peak oil. Or maybe it is just a little too uncomfortable and close to the bone, after all, even The Guardian is driven by a 'cash engine' of dealing in cars. Could it be that its just too … boring?
Perhaps it is just a simple case of not wanting to rock the boat, but whatever it is the end effect is that we're not being informed of the really important stuff. Whatever your idealogically-driven choice in newpsaper it's a bit like being given the choice of voting for the Democrats or Republicans in the US which was memorably described by Noam Chomsky as being offered the chance to vote for one of two wings of the Business Party - and newspapers of all stripes are more or less the echo chambers of the big parties and know where their allegiences lie.
Of course that's not to say that the big newspapers never address these important issues. It's quite common for, say, The Independent or even The Telegraph to have a self-flagellating front page splash about an approaching doomsday scenario. But these are flash-in-the-pan affairs and you only have to turn a few pages in to get to the travel section in which readers are encouraged to burn aviation fuel like it's going out of fashion, or the business section which advises readers on which commodities or stocks are worth pouring your money into for the purposes of getting richer.
And perhaps that is just it. We live in a commercial world and facing up to an energy depleted future just doesn't sell adverts. To be consistently the bearer of the kind of sobering reality that peak oil represents sits uneasily with the fashion and shopping supplements – heck, even the environment sections are more often than not just cheerleaders for the biotech and nuclear industries. Any newspaper editor who gave serious column inches to peak oil and all the kind of things that people in their thousands read voraciously on blogs written by the likes of Dmitry Orlov and John Michael Greer, might soon find herself shuffling uncomfortably before the withering gaze of the sales director who wants to know why BMW have just pulled out of their seriously lucrative full page advertising campaign. 'Are you trying to lose everyone their job?' they might ask.
There's a bitter irony in all of this as well because for all the theorising surrounding peak oil and societal collapse, the moment it actually starts to bite people hard, instead of a sudden surge in interest people will be too busy just trying to survive and the time for pointy-headed postulating will be past. At this time anyone brave enough to say 'told you so' will likely be blamed for not 'telling us so' enough as people will be looking for scapegoats – in the way that environmentalists were perveresely blamed by oil companies who finally accepted the reality of anthropogenic global warming for 'not being effective communicators'.
So if people don't want to think about these issues – probably the most important that humankind has ever faced – then I doubt any amount of exposure in the MSM will have any effect. It may even have the opposite desired effect if powerful business-as-usual interests direct their firepower on peak oilers and publicly manage to 'out' us in the way they have done with climate scientists.
So maybe it's time to stop looking to the mainstream media and instead focus on the small community of bloggers – and when the plug is pulled out of its wall socket and the internet goes dark or is unaffordable we'll turn back to paper and ink and printing presses. At least you can insulate a wall with an old newsletter – something you can't do with an old blog.


Anonymous said...

it's amazing how many people i know in the heritage circles who find this site boring as it just seems to bang on about peak oil. Someone discribed it as a site about the S&D for all the wrong reasons. I agree with that. VERY boring

Sunshiner said...

Well firstly you don't 'know' anyone in 'heritage' circles. You're 14. Do you really think grown ups would take any notice of you? And secondly if it's that boring how come it's one of the busiest railway blogs in the country, with between 250 and 300 hits a day? And YOU certainly find it interesting as you seem to comment on almost every post!

I rarely mention Peak Oil except when it's topical. This is a site for ALL the S&D groups and most articles and pictures are giving info and news on what is happening at all these sites you continue to mock and run down, and have clearly never visited (you'd be lynched!) I really don't understand what you think you'll achieve but from my angle it seems many more people are getting involved precisely BECAUSE of the Peak Oil angle!

You just have to accept that you're in a tiny minority. You hate railways though don't say why, beyond that 'commuters smell'. You're a troll, nothing more and nothing less, and just are not old or educated enough to understand what you're doing, engage with reality or afford people - especially the hundreds of volunteers restoring the S&D - common courtesy.

And all because you think I'm somebody else. Why don't you just grow up?

Jim. said...

Well said Steve,!!

Anonymous said...

Well said Steve, the main article is spot on, Many people who I have tried to engage in conversation have told me to s@d off as they are only interested in Football or soaps or strictly come. These people will certainly be blaming us for not telling them when we say told you so!
I shall enjoy telling them to enjoy looking at a dark TV screen(no electricity) and think about the way they told me to s@d off back in the noughties. In the meantime my wife and myself will be ok as we can go to the allotment for our vegetables and buy local meat from a farm without using a car.

Sunshiner said...

This was a very interesting angle which is why I reposted. Come on, we're all scared by a future where things will be harder and scarcer, where we may end up doing something very different from what we planned. I'm scared, and quite happy to admit it. Only a fool wouldn't be. That's why I'm involved with the S&D because the railway restored will allow at least this part of the world to continue to enjoy some of the benefits of the 21st century. The S&D is a POSITIVE reaction to Peak Oil. But as you and the article note, there's a real reaction of 'shoot the messenger' from a certain section of the population who, quite seriously, believe that the future will be exactly like the past and present, that oil will miraculously appear from nowhere and that their own lives will go on exactly as they are.

The classic example was the man who was planning to move to Shoscombe, next to the railway, and asked me what the future held for the line. I explained carefully - because this was a BIG decision he was making - that freight trains would probably not be running for 15-20 years yet, and that a passenger service would also be restored around the same time. He thought for a second and replied 'Oh, I expect everyone else in the village would love that', implying that he would somehow be immune to the changes that were coming!

I'd love to be able to adopt this ostrich attitude but I have a family and future to think about!

So perhaps huge swathes of the population are so caught up with soaps and 'reality' TV and scratching a living - which merely means they'll be totally unprepared for what's coming ...

Anonymous said...

Steve, I wish there was a way we could get the S&D and many of Beechings other victims portrayed on TV, I wonder how many of the more mature part of our population are sick of the diet of rubbish that is currently served up on TV. There are only so many times you want to watch cooking for instance, I am sure many of our older generation would love to see good quality programmes with our railways portrayed in them and showing how we got things done without the intensive use of oil. This would perhaps be one of the catalysts that the New S& D would need to well and truly push into the eye of the mainstream public and of course a new source of cash and volunteers.
An old saying-"From a little acorn a mighty oak is born" well I believe we are that little acorn at present and need to do the miracle to grow that mighty oak. The heritage sites have sown the seed, it is now time to make them grow into that magnificent oak. I hope one day I will be able to sit in a green MK1 carriage of the old SR and enjoy the bark of a Bullied WC loco on this legend of railways. Also not forgetting the S&D 7F,s And midland 2P,s.

Sunshiner said...

The S&D has in the past been well represented on TV with the 'Return to Evercreech Junction' series, plus the branch line film of John Betjeman has been shown a few times. But it would be great to see a series focussing on the work currently being done at all 6 locations - there's a real story about this unique line and the efforts springing up all along the route, plus the modern transport for a new era angle, which hasn't really been covered yet.

What this really throws up is that the S&D (via the New S&D) needs DESPERATELY a publicity/press officer who has the time and the skills to bombard the media (railway and local) with stories about the amazing work happening up and down the line. I don't think any of the groups yet has a dedicated person doing this. Surely there is someone out there who could take on this interesting role??

Bunny said...

Interesting article, and plenty of food for thought. I think it's a fairly established, but ignored fact, that "oil" is going to run out at some stage. However much you may wish to shout about it, until it actually runs out, you'll be ignored or dismissed as a crank by most of the mainstream media. So, like all revolutions, it's all about building a general consensus amongst like minded people (without stifling debate btw), and then growing the message over time until you reach a tipping point. In the same way, New S&D needs to be like a quiet revolution, leveraging the local communities along the line, along with well wishers and supporters in the wider fraternity. Alliances with other like minded organisations (Ecotricity anyone?) are vital, as the S&D grows. These organisations can bring bigger firepower to bear, promoting their own interests as well as complementary interests such as the S&D. Good luck, keep the hard work going.

Sunshiner said...

I'd certainly be the least likely 'crank' in history as like almost everyone involved with Peak Oil I come from a very bland economics/finance director background! You are of course completely right that this organisation has to grow alongside similar ones and grow from the local communities - 90% of our membership live along the line and of course many more are joining as opportunities for hands-on work spring up at both Midford and Spetisbury.

Sunshiner said...

And debate is 100% encouraged - though doesn't of course extend to teenage trolls with no knowledge of anything! Debate's essential because it gives us a chance to hear people's views and forge policy, and also from the other angle gives us a chance to explain why the S&D is so essential for the future. There's plenty of debate at Board level at the New S&D and at the Joint Trusts meetings which of course we also attend.

Bunny said...

Agreed with all of the above, and please don't feel that I am calling you, or anyone else involved with this "a crank"; the wild use of that term in a pejorative sense is very much the preserve of mainstream media. (Interesting Telegraph article on how the proponents of climate change are being hounded out by well organised lobbies: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/9192494/Climate-scientists-are-losing-the-public-debate-on-global-warming.html). The main thrust of my point is about encouraging the building a ground swell of support and commitment to the end state; that end state being the restoration of the full S&D route, along with some convincing demonstrations of that intent (Midford/Shillingstone). This along with some strong strategic alliances with like minded organisations makes what is a single issue cause into a multifaceted solution to a number of problems, and therefore not as easy for skeptics and entrenched opponents to dismiss. Keep up the good work! As soon as I can wrest some spare time back, I'll be there laying track with you!