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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

get together

The New S&D was invited to the regular joint meeting of S&D groups on Sunday. I went along with our secretary, Anna-Jayne Metcalfe. It also gave me a chance to see developments at Midsomer Norton first hand. You'll have seen some of this over the last few days on this blog!

The meeting was most interesting and showed us all that there are plenty of opportunities to work together. There were representatives from the New S&D, SDRHT (Midsomer Norton), NDRT (Shillingstone) and SDRT (Washford). It was agreed to invite the New S&D to all future meetings, also Gartell will be invited to the next one, which will bring all the S&D groups together in one place or the first time. We do of course all have the same aim - to preserve and develop the S&D. We are slightly different in that the heritage aspect is only part of what we do, but a VERY important part!

It was good to meet up with old friends again! There are a lot of passionate S&D people out there and together I reckon there's nothing we can't achieve!

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Just arrived is the latest edition of the superb S&D Telegraph from the Trust at Midsomer Norton. This gets better with every issue, the wrap around front cover is brilliant and makes me want to throttle Julian next time I see him! I'm even starting to get into the historical operations material!

This reminds me that the New S&D need an EDITOR for its magazine, Right Lines. Please email if you'd like to take this role on. You'll get loads of financial and physical support (articles, pics etc) and you'll be playing a valuable role in promoting the S&D.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

midsomer norton museum

This is the museum at Midsomer Norton South, based in the old stable block at the top of the site. The museum experience also includes the gun emplacement which is about 50 metres away. Midsomer Norton was on one of the defensive lines against the Nazis in World War II.

There are some really nice items in the museum including signs, tickets, paperwork etc and is well worth the £2 charged.

The musem was funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund money and is certainly money well spent.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

midsomer norton then and now

One of my earliest digital pictures 3.7.2006 - I do have much earlier shots somewhere on film!

Brian Clarke has asked whether I could blog a series of before and after photos of Midsomer Norton station. I may be able to do a little along these lines, but Nick Howes has done a far better job already! Nick, with Shirley Steele, saved Midsomer Norton from development as a housing estate and was deeply involved with the project in the early years. He has some excellent early shots of Midsomer Norton before any real activity had taken place.

Take a look at his great early shots here.

passenger train on the S&D

(All copyright Steve Sainsbury - Midsomer Norton South 28.8.2011)

Here is loco number D1120 and the Queen Mary brake van which forms the regular train on the S&D at Midsomer Norton South. This is currently the only section of the S&D running standard gauge trains. Trackwork is continuing to progress southwards with negotiations for the next section of trackbed underway.
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

midsomer magnificence

All the timer I worked at Midsomer Norton the site of the famous greenhouse was just a depression behind the platform (as was the signalbox!)

I went there today for a joint Trusts' meeting and there it was, the greenhouse rebuilt and utterly magnificent. The woodwork, the brickwork and, most of all, teh flowers and vegetables were all just as I imagine they'd have been in the 1960s. Fantastic!

This taps in so well to the future, grow your own, staff on stations having the time in between trains to do something creative, a feature to delight the passengers ... all about as far removed from today's vile, antiseptic, dehumanized railway network, though even there the human touch is beginning to make itself felt. This is the future. I'm going to enjoy getting used to it!
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Saturday, August 27, 2011

the future ...

Many small rural lines see resurgence in popularity


There has been a surge in the number of people using many small, rural rail lines, with passenger numbers on some routes almost doubling in the last few years, according to figures published by the Association of Train operating Companies (ATOC).

The rise in popularity of branch and Community Rail Partnership lines – smaller lines that branch off the mainline rail network into rural towns and villages – reflects the impact of the ‘staycation’ trend over recent years as people have increasingly chosen to holiday in the UK.

Many of the fastest-growing branch lines connect to seaside resorts and towns, and show spikes during the summer months.

However, train companies also report that growing numbers of local residents are opting to use trains that run on branch lines to get to and from work or simply to get out and about.

Local and rural rail journeys now total around 40million a year.

Community Rail Partnerships, which comprise operators, the voluntary sector and local authorities in an area, have also had considerable success in promoting smaller community lines, providing better rail services and helping rural regeneration.

From April 2007 to April 2011, passenger journeys from:

- Truro to Falmouth branch line rose by 91% (by 22% in the last year)
- Bristol to Severn Beach branch lines rose by 90% (by 19% in the last year)
- Derby to Matlock branch line rose by 86% (by 20% in the last year)

Edward Welsh, Director of Corporate Affairs at ATOC, said: “The staycation trend that has seen more people holiday in the UK over recent years has undoubtedly played a big part in the significant increases that we have seen on many of these small, rural lines.

“But a combination of reliability, value for money, comfort and better promotion have contributed to increasing numbers of local people using branch lines as a way to get out and about throughout the year.

“The resurgence of many of these lines is good news for rural economies. Having a rail link that brings hundreds of thousands of people a year into towns and villages helps to ensure vibrant and thriving rural economies.”

Neil Buxton, General Manager at the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, said: “Community Rail Partnerships are the Big Society in action – communities working with the railway industry and local authorities to revitalise their local rail services. A recent ACoRP report has shown that every £1 invested in a Community Rail Partnership can bring £4.60 in benefit and that Community Rail volunteers bring an astounding £27m added value to the rail industry. Community Rail is a real success story in bringing new life to local lines.”


So there you have it. Just imagine how flourishing the towns and villages would be along the S&D had it not been idiotically closed in the 1960s. And how those same towns and villages will be crying out for the rebuilding of their railway, especially when the price of oil begins to raise petrol and diesel prices from their currently ludicrously low levels.

So let's get on with it!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

tree surgery

(Taunton 6.8.2011 copyright Steve Sainsbury)

One of the biggest mistakes of the Beeching era was to close branch lines. Many so-called branch lines were in reality secondary main lines. Take the Taunton to Barnstaple route for example. Whilst technically a branch, certainly when it ran to the GW station in Barnstaple Victoria Road, it was in reality a very useful cross country route, much shortening the trip to Barnstaple from the north. It was double track in places. Remind you of another line?

Taunton has lost four of its routes - to Barnstaple, Minehead, Yeovil and Chard Junction. Minehead is now almost fully restored and is one of those heritage lines that is gradually morphing into a genuine community railway. I've touched on the Barnstaple route - this whole area (Barnstaple westwards) will see a huge revival of rail in the next few decades, Bideford and Ilfracombe for example can't seriously be rail-less for much longer, so reopening of this important route is inevitable. The other two lines were more in the nature of branches, but again would both be useful when reopened, bringing Chard and Ilminster for example back into the 21st century.

(Hatch on the Chard line, 1960s. Copyright Rail Thing).

So Taunton today is an odd place, clearly waiting patiently to regain its old importance. Most of the infrastructure is still in place so restoring the lines, at least in Taunton itself, shouldn't be too hard a task.

The whole principle of closing branches was horribly flawed. Beeching and his idiot crew seriously believed that people would drive or take the bus to the railhead and take the train from there. Of course in reality most of them were forced to switch to cars, the substitute bus services - as if a bus could ever replace a train! - were quickly abandoned. Result - a fall in the railways' incomes.

Branch lines that survived are experienced an incredible boom, some lines having doubled their ridership in the last few years (Severn Beach and Falmouth for example).

Beeching - you were WRONG. We need to forget the past and plan for the future, a future that should see all the Beeching cuts reversed and on top of that new lines (both heavy and light) filling in the gaps. That will release rail capacity, will take more lorries off the road and, most importantly, give many towns and villages currently struggling with 20th century dinosaur transport a FUTURE.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

britain's booming seaside ...

Three shots from Bournemouth at the weekend. Whilst the Air Show was on, this still shows the pure pulling power of the place! A hot August in Bournemouth would normally pull out visitors in their thousands.

British seaside resorts are booming. A lot of people who used to fly abroad are choosing to stay in the UK - no waiting at airports, language problems etc. And to think how much easier it will be in the future when all these visitors will all be coming in by train. No more vile car parks, busy roads etc, just a pleasant built environment, pollution free and safe.

A million fewer drivers on the road, a million extra cyclists in the last year. The pattern's clear, our car culture is now dying, right at the start of the beginning of the end of cheap oil. I doubt it has much power to survive the real oil price shocks that are coming. All investment will now be going to railways, tramways and cycleways. The S&D should be right at the top of the queue for that investment. It's a total no-brainer. Whilst Bournemouth does still have a rail link it is orientated towards Southampton and London. But visitors like us come from Bristol - difficult to do reasonably by rail, cost and time-wise. And of course from much further - the Midlands and Northern England. They need a direct link with through trains, from places like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham etc. Capacity restraints will very soon kick in on Bournemouth's only remaining line that can carry this traffic. And bear in mind that freight traffic will explode over the next couple of decades.

And of course people living in the huge Bournemouth-Poole conurbation will need to go in the other direction. The S&D will also allow them to access Exeter, Devon and Cornwall by changing at Templecombe - bringing extra traffic to the Salisbury-Exeter route, once notoriously singled but which I can see needing long stretches of quadruple track in the not-too-distant future. Who knows, the LSWR's one time plan to build a line westwards from Dorchester to Exeter tapping into the many seaside resorts between will finally be built! All this upgrading and new build should help to ease capacity restraints in this part of the world, assuming demand doesn't go too high ...
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

back from bournemouth

Saurday's meeting at the Cumberland Hotel was excellent with a good turn out and a real feeling that we are moving forwards with this most elaborate of projects. It's also nice to pull another location into the history and iconography of the S&D.

The Cumberland Hotel is a classic art deco hotel on the cliffs overlooking the sea - with no obvious railway connections before Saturday!

It was an interesting meeting with several new faces. We had the Bournemouth Air Show in the background, sadly with the poignant (and possibly final) display from the Red Arrows. Our new committee member (Geoff Newman) and membership secretary (Dave Dakin) were attending their first New S&D meeting.

Thare are a few meetings coming up. This Sunday I'll be attending the joint meeting of all the S&D groups at Mkidsomer Norton. In September we have a 'Bath end' New S&D meeting here in Bristol, and in November the New S&D AGM in Templecombe.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

worth it

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The usual suspects are already whinging about rising rail fares, yet they are only being set at 3% above PRI over the next three years. This is a genuine rise of around 10%. Is it such a big deal?

So what will we be getting? 2300 new carriages for a start. Completion of Cross Rail. Electrification from Bristol to London. And an awful lot more. The railways are absolutely buzzing at the moment with ridership at almost an historical high. Success tends to come at a cost. Does anyone seriously believe that motoring costs will only rise 10% over the next three years? And air fares? I'd be surprised if they keep under 50%! It's all relative. Simply giving up and selling your car releases huge amounts of cash, buy a bike and generally travel less (by train of course) and you'll save thousands every year. You could even afford to go first class - we do most of the time!

Apparently a million people have given up driving over the last year, citing the 'high' cost of fuel!! The roads certainly seem quieter. The reduced number of drivers will lead to inevitabe tax and duty rises to cover the income shortfall (only slightly offset by reduced wear and tear), setting up a virtuous circle of less car and lorry use and more use of rail. And 19% less youngsters are taking driving lessons, a brilliant fact!

Forget the 1970s attitudes. Rail, like gold and the Swiss Franc, are on a high. And success costs that little bit more. It's a price well worth paying!

Monday, August 15, 2011

stone age or steam age?

One of the main criticisms we get at the New S&D is 'When Peak Oil hits the last thing we'll worry about is running trains'.

(Which of course means 'Why bother?')

Hmmm. This is perhaps a valid view IF you think Peak Oil will result in some sort of return to the Stone Age - which of course appeals to novelists and filmmakers. But why? We didn't have oil when the first railway age was upon us - this country was built on coal and steam. Substitute 'coal' for 'wood' and you'll get an insight into my angle on this.

Of course we won't return to the Stone Age, much as some nihilistic types might want us to. The roads and cars and lorries will vanish of course, domestic electricity may become an occasional thing for those of us that still rely on the grid (or its successor(s)), globalization will go and probably most states will break up into smaller ones, diesels will vanish from the railways (so get out and photograph them now!) but there's no reason for us to go back centuries, just a few decades.

So we'll see steam return on railways that aren't electrified, many new railways and tramways will be built and most of us will probably be engaged in a trade and grow most of our own food. But is this so terrible? And don't forget that everything we've learned over the last 300 years will still be there for us.

Eventually once the trauma of Peak Oil is a folk memory I suspect that we'll start progressing again, using solar power. We may even, eventually, get back out into space. Who knows?

The only real certainty is that, for several centuries, we'll all come to rely on our local railway to bring in goods and to get us out and about!
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the past and future collide ...

(Picture copyright Stuart Seale)

Check out Chris Nevard's superb blog when you get the chance. He's a superb modeller and gifted photographer and a big fan of the S&D. This blog post includes a brilliant picture of the viaduct at Midford, using Photoshop to superimpose one of the Bachmann 7Fs crossing the viaduct.

Whilst the photo aims to recreate 1959 it also gives us a good idea of how things will look in 2029, if you wait long enough for a heritage steam train in amongst the heavy freight and passenger trains using electric haulage!

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

south devon railway

Took a trip to the South Devon Railway last Saturday. I first visited this line in 1972 and nothing much seems to have changed! Buckfastleigh's nicely developed with plenty to do before making the return trip. At the Totnes end there's a fantastic hands-on Rare Breeds Farm.

Once a month the SDR uses diesel traction for one of its trains and we took this up, utilising the fantastic observation car, all for £1.50 extra first class.

We travelled by train from Bristol - the interchange at Totnes is about a 400 metre walk, not bad at all. SDR trains did once run into Totnes BR station, but apparently the charges were too high and in the end they built their own station at Totnes (Littlehempston) using the building from Toller on the Bridport branch.

I do feel that only heritage railways that have a network connection can survive in the long term. people are already abandoning their cars, eventually none of us will have the option. Heritage lines will also have to adapt to carry genuine passenger and freight flows. The SDR does eventually intend to return to Ashburton, which will be an excellent traffic generator for the line, so I reckon it will survive.

My first choice for last Saturday's trip was the Seaton Tramway but there's no rail connection, second choice was the West Somerset, also written off though we ironically passed its connection with the network south of Taunton - this is surely one piece of line that needs to be opened sooner rather than later?
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more rail development

(All photos courtesy Brian Clarke and are copyright)

This was the scene at Honeybourne on Thursday 10 August 2011, as the new footbridge is put in place. This was needed to link to the new platform that has been built as part of the redoubling of this once neglected route. The doubling will increase the capacity of this line and is part of the huge revival of rail in the UK as more and more poeple switch to rail from the dying alternatives. One million people have given up their cars in the last year due to 'high' fuel prices. 'High'? The price of fuel is still alarmingly cheap in reality so this does auger well for when fuel costs really do start to rise. How many of us will still be using our cars when fuel reaches £5 or £10 a litre? This is the reason we need our railways to be rebuilt now. Colleges and universities should be packed with railway engineering, signalling, design and operation courses and any kid that wants a career with a future needs look no further than the railways.
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