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!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

the old order ...

Watchdog 'worry' on council-run rail lines

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Saturday, May 05, 2012
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A passenger campaign group has said it is "very worried" about proposals which could see more control over railways passed down to local authorities.
Devon County Council's cabinet will next week examine its preferred options on a Government consultation of devolution of the train network. But Chris Irwin, chairman of passenger group Travelwatch South West, said he had grave concerns over several aspects of the proposal.
He said: "In principle it's a great idea, but in practice I'm very worried about it."
Cornwall Council has already indicated it is broadly interested in the ability to control certain aspects of the train network system, which could include timetabling, setting fares, deciding where investment should be made and, potentially, deciding to reopen stations that are currently closed. The consultation is part of a wider overhaul planned for the country's rail network, after fares were found to be 30 per cent too high compared to elsewhere in Europe. It is hoped decentralisation would help improve value for money.
But Mr Irwin questioned whether funding would still be available to renew equipment and infrastructure, and said: "In this climate of frozen council tax and so on, the answer to that is probably 'no'."
He also raised concerns over what would happen when a passenger crossed local authority boundaries, if it was also passing from one operator to another. And he said: "Local authorities have been slimmed down over the past few years. Have they still got the competence within them to manage these services?"
He said Devon and Cornwall were possible exceptions that could have the expertise, but said: "Somerset County Council is one example where transport expertise has been denuded."
In Devon, the council has previously voiced hopes that devolution could provide an opportunity to progress its vision of a Devon metro transport system which would involve bringing all rail services in the county together under a single brand. It would involve a new service from Okehampton to Exeter and the reopening of the line from Plymouth and Bere Alston to Tavistock.
On Wednesday, the cabinet will consider a range of options, which include local authorities being able to take control of specific areas under a single franchise awarded to one operator. It would allow the council to invest its own money to supplement improvements to certain aspects of the service.
Council officers have said the idea is "workable", but warned that it would rely on a good budget settlement from Government, and that future growth of the network should not sap council coffers.
Another "workable" option is that "micro-franchises" could be tendered for particular areas within the main franchise. But officers have warned that interlinking lines benefit passengers, and so the option was unlikely to improve the situation in Devon.
The Government consultation is part of a far-reaching overhaul of the service, designed to make efficiency savings across the network.

To my mind all these attempts to bring a degree of government (in the broad sense of the word) control of railways is just more interference and meddling by people who simply don't have a clue what they are doing.
Free railway companies from the controls that are currently on them (franchising, leasing arrangements, government decreed fares etc) and they will soon fill the need locally. Businesses like to expand, in the current and permanent no-growth state we find ourselves in railways will be one of the few businesses that WILL be able to expand, along with organic farming, crafts, timber and railway/tramway equipment construction. The market needs to be allowed to operate. The New S&D, forward-looking as always, wants to be the prime example of this new type of business - sustainable, community owned and operated, innovative and inspirational.
Too many people still think its the 1980s, and it's time to put to one side tiny schemes to reopen stations or upgrade routes - nothing less than a wholesale construction of thousands of miles of new railways and tramways will enable us to switch from the Oil Age to the Post Oil Age without huge upheavals.
The most important part of the above article is the (rather obvious!) need to reinstate the Okehampton-Tavistock-Bere Alston line, the biggest no-brainer of all!


Neil said...

Bring it on.

Devolution of power to local authorities means real local influence, not the so called "democracy" at present where the Minister can override local decisions on planning etc: it smacks of naughty children being told what to do by the wise teacher. Patronising at best and dictator-like at worst.

If you look at the history of railways, an enabling Act of Parliament was usually passed to build each railway. We are heading back in that direction but with local input for local not national needs. Look at the Waverley-Galashiels railway.It's reinstated and up and running, all 34 miles of it. Devolution of power to Scotland has in no small way played its part here. England must now go the same way but not as the EU would have it but as English people would wish it. The time for transmission to less dependency on oil approaches at express train speed.

Stupidity and red tape must go.

David Robins said...

As a fan of the Tyne & Wear Metro, I don't see any point in prejudice against public enterprise. Most urban tramways were municipally run, and run very well too. Many light railways in Spain today are run by the regional governments.

County councils need to build up their rail expertise because:

(a) They need to understand the coming changes and help them along, e.g. with things like land purchase, planning policies, etc.
If they don't really know what they're doing at present - which is certainly a possibility - then they need to learn.

(b) The alternative is that they remain part of the road/cycle lobby. Telling councils that they have no role will just drive them back towards emphasising those old, obstructive policies with which they are most familiar and which concern the things they can control directly.

Sunshiner said...

I think one of the problems is that most councils are still firmly rooted in the old road culture. Here in south Bristol, unbelievably, we are under threat of a NEW road being built. Why?? What do they actually think will be using these roads in 20 years time? The odd G-Whizz or a load of horse and carts?

Councils need to be far more proactive about getting railways and tramways built NOW, not in twenty years' time when we will be way past the peak.

They need to work with groups like ours (the Portishead line group for example), forget idiotic and totally wasteful road plans, also encourage private companies to build the infrastructure. Certainly the New S&D expects to work very closely with the councils along the route - and indeed we're already doing it in a small way down at Spetisbury.