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, April 23, 2012

a real shock

We've booked a short break in Washford in August. Thanks to the lack of a rail connection at Taunton we're having to go all nostalgic and take the car, but the plan was to park it up for three days and use the WSR to get everywhere.

Of course, perhaps rather naïvely, I assumed it would be running a decent service, but the last train back from Minehead is at 17.25!!!!! I was rather hoping we could have a night out in Minehead. perhaps catching the last train around 11.30.

Mmmm. I don't get this. Surely there is loads of potential custom from both Minehead and all the towns en route to justify a proper community service, keeping cars and buses off the totally inadequate road system?

So the choice will be - go for a night out and come home at just before half past five (LOL!), stay in Washford or drive to Minehead with one of us as a designated driver.

And the bigger question is - how many millions have the WSR lost over the years by offering what seems to be jjust a train ride? And how sustainable is that?


Anonymous said...

You seem to forget these are all volunteers who also have a life. Plus the time involved emptying the fireboxes. Maybe you should volunteer to do it at midnight.

Sunshiner said...

LOL - Interesting concept, but I think it was pretty obvious I didn't mean a steam train service! Or using volunteers.

With the right rolling stock (a dmu for now, perhaps PPMs later), surely a skeleton service could be worked with ticket issuing machines at the stations and a shuttle service running hourly (or even two hourly) each way, using either 2 or 4 paid staff working a single shift? Most of the other costs (apart from fuel and a tiny amount of wear and tear) are already fixed and paid for, so the extra income would be nearly all profit.

WestfieldWanderer said...

The WSR, like most "heritage" railways, is little more than a 12" to the foot scale train set run for the benefit of the operators than a proper transport service. To the (necessarily well heeled) punter it's just a linear theme park - one step up from a fairground ride. I got priced out of such things many years ago.

Hoping that I'm not being too disparaging about the WSR - I'm sure it's a quality train set/theme park run by enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers and staff.

But a part of Britain's transport system it ain't. It might pretend to be with the occasional main line visitor, but it still ain't

Keith Browning said...

I was waiting for the 'they are only volunteers' stuff.

There is always the problem in any voluntary organisation that the 'old stagers' run the show as their own thiefdom. It becomes their hobby. Same situation whether it be flower arranging, bowls club or parish council. They would get very upset if you volunteered to run it for the benefit of the passengers not the membership.

This is probably the biggest obstacle to turning a working museum exhibit into a functioning transport system.

Swanage do run evening trains to the Park and ride and are intending to run a regular service to the main line when it opens next year.

However, most railway preservationists are more interested in selecting the correct shade of green paint than operating a functioning railway for the passengers.

Paul said...

I believe they are again trying to get a connection to the network at Taunton.....maybe if this happens, they will move on from a tourist attraction to a real benefit to the local population, as the line was when 'open'. Although i enjoy a trip on the heritage lines and love to see steam traction at work, i really cant class them as any part of the real rail network......this will change, and soon i think.

Anonymous said...

I read in Railway Magazine that there's talk of government money being put up to assist with a shuttle service from Taunton to connect with the WSR.....

The glorified train set issue is tricky one. I can see both sides and have been frustrated by the frequency and timings on a few 'heritage' lines, but let's not forget we owe the existence of many lines to the volunteers. The work they've done and continue to do will make the job of 'bringing back our trains' much easier in the very near future.
Off to llangollen at the weekend. They're extending rapidly, just hope they get to go towards Ruabon for the mainline connection soon....and bulldoze the houses that temporarily blocked the route.
Whilst on the subject of temporary blockages, is that a tennis court I see on the route just north of Shillingstone? Check out Google Earth......Imagine the headline in the local paper in a few years: 'T-rain stopped play' -result!
Cheers - Mark (Cheshire member)

Rob Sissons said...

I was in Dunster recently and had a very enjoyable ride on the WSR, which is superbly restored and is a beautiful heritage line, but is sadly not currently a practical means of local transport. The owner of the hotel where I stayed said she really wanted a full service restored and that it had been suggested that a DMU could run over Network Rail from Taunton to Bishops Lydeard with a cross-platform connection there to Taunton. Apparently the WSR tried operating year-round trains for locals in the late 70s and early 80s but it didn't pay!

Sunshiner said...

Don't worry, nobody's knocking heritage railways and almost all of us in the New S&D either work on one or have done in the past - even me! In fact I used to put in four days a week at Midsomer Norton until long term illness caught up with me, and I absolutely loved it. The skills I learnt, and many others have, will stand us all in very good stead in the future.

I was just genuinely surprised that a line as successful as the WSR didn't seem to offer a 'real' service. I know the Taunton connection is a problem, mainly thanks to instansigent trade unions in the 70s which led to the WSR investing a lot at Bishops Lydeard. The 70s and 80s were a very different time than now, and railways were only just stabilising their decline. Railways are now busier than they've been since the 1920s, and heritage lines are missing out on this expansion. The demand is there but hidden and too many people think of this important bits of infrastructure as play railways, and I don't mean the volunteers but the people and tourists living and staying along the routes.

Time's running out and we need to start effecting the change from heritage to community railways, which clearly MUST have a network connection to survive, but all the skills learned, the mechanical infrastructure saved and, most of all, steam technology are going to play an enormous role in the future.

Every heritage line should have a team dedicated to effecting the transition to community railway and, where needed, the connection to the network.

keith Browning said...

Vicar of Dibley style local politics will be a continuing issue and I know it is on even the most successful railways. There have been many occasions when owners of rolling stock have taken their toy away to play somewhere else.

The biggest problem is that there is always a pecking order with newcomers going to the back, except if they are there on the personal invite of the chairman !!

This doesn't help to encourage either new or old talented people to join up and make a serious contribution.

That can be overcome by having a sufficient number of paid employees, who are there to do a professional job.

The moment of change from volunteers only to a mix of the two is bound to be tricky but ought to be written into any medium term plan.

As the S&D family grows there will be factions, pressure groups and major differences of opinion. That's life - but the important thing is to avoid stagnation and keep the train moving forward at a reasonable speed.

sebastian said...

These are all good points. How to run a full time rail service, on the back of volunteers. I have pondered that question for a long time, among the existing members there will no doubt be those who would like to run a genuine service, indeed there have been attempts in the past to do just this, with most of them getting main line connection as means to do this. The problem is that when they tried the car was still king and never stood a chance of making money. This now is much changed and there are more people using the rail ways than in the 50s the car is still king in many eyes, but with spiraling petrol prices and people spending more on fuel per week than on food. then this wont be the case for much longer. So now is a good time for the heritage lines to try again, firstly before any train is run, by finding out from the various places on their route, just what type of service is required, then providing it. Along side the volunteers a payed work force would do this, with many of the volunteers would like to do these jobs, so recruitment wont be that much of an issue . The big problem that has to be addressed, is that these lines operate on light railway orders, limiting there speeds to 25mph. so if your line is 10 mile or over then this is to slow, to be a practical line then a new licence would have to be created thus allowing greater speeds. The second issue is the security of both property and travellers. On he national rail system is the transport police CC TV along with vandal proof stations and trains. this of course would spoil the look and feel of a heritage line. so there are some hurdles to get over but I think this will be done. It may be that the train operating company's lease the use of these lines and run the out of hours services, this may even address the staffing issue

Our line however will be different in that at its core is the desire to provide a rail service from the out set. and all these issues will have been addressed before opening , with a new group of volunteers who wish to provide their community's with a proper railway service

Anna Metcalfe said...

FWIW the same arguments arise in Swanage from time to time when late night DMU services come up. Despite stripping the (paid or volunteer) staffing level to a minimum (locking out signalboxes etc.) it's very, very hard to carry more than a few people and make it break even unless there is a special event happening in the area at the time.

Even the competing bus services (which go all the way to Wareham, not just to Norden) stop early in the evening, which should be a warning sign.

I think it's a chicken and egg thing, in part, but the real problem is that many people will still instinctively use their cars without even looking at the alternatives. That will likely change in time, but right now there is still some way to go.

Of course, when you aren't public service connected to the national network yet (both Swanage and the WSR have that problem) that doesn't help either.

For now public subsidy is probably the only way to do it in many cases - and that just isn't on offer.

sebastian said...

Anna's comment hits it on the head. Until a network connection is established, then most people won't use the service. The car point is also true but, with petrol all ready costing more, per week than a family's food budget that will change. What the majority of the traveling public want, is a service that goes to many destinations at a reasonable cost, with trains running at sensible times and connecting with other services. One other thing is through ticketing and how to make it easy for a person traveling from, say Alresford (I use this as the M.H.R. is connected to network), going up to London. They would at present have to purchase two tickets one two Alton and then one for the London part. and that is a problem that has to be over come. This concept is a radical departure for both preservation lines, as well as the various train operating company's. The ticketing issue could simply be addressed by the ticket office acting as booking agent for the network, but in the reverse the network stations would have to sell tickets to the preservation stations. I think that this will all come about but will require a lot of outside of the box thinking. The good position we on the New S&D, have is that for most these minor issues will all be sorted out before we open.

Simon said...

There's a bus from Minehead to Watchet - it runs up to about half nine and takes about 20 minutes. Why not use that if you're going into Minehead for a drink?

Sunshiner said...

Simon - thanks, will use that. And if we miss it back it'll be a taxi!

Knoxy said...

It’s all about the network and the connections. When both these lines are properly connected to the main line patronage will increase. I haven't been to Minehead for quite some time and the main reason would be that I can't do it all by train. I can't be bothered with buses and I’m not driving. This will change with the coming of even bigger price rises in oil. Then it will become viable. In the meantime places like Portishead are desperate for a return of rail. I could not sit in traffic commuting from there, with the knowledge that there was once a line I could use and it wouldn't take that much to reinstate!

Sunshiner said...

An interesting thread. I think the breakthrough English reinstatement isn't far off now and once it happens there'll be a flood of reopenings and new lines. The heritage lines really will have to commit to linking to the network and offering community services if they are to survive, and I think it's possible for all of them to do this. As I've said before I don't generally visit heritage lines without a network connection because you're forced to drive there. Once fuel starts to get expensive - just a few years away now I suspect - the heritage lines will have to work hard to keep volunteers and of course to bring in customers. Soon most of us simply won't have the option of driving, no matter how much we want to. This is such an important issue that I think it needs to go to the top of every heritage line's agenda. It will mean bringing in new dedicated rolling stock, not diesel of course!, to run the services. A ringfenced account building up the financial resources to ease this needs to be set up by every heritage line now, as does a dedicated account for network connection where needed.