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, October 31, 2011

new world order ...

More great progress with getting our railway network back! Source.

Moorland & City Success In Regional Growth Fund Bid

Posted 31st of October 2011 at 11:00:00

Moorland & City Railways’ project to create a 30-mile sustainable rail network has been awarded £1.65 million in the second round of the Government’s Regional Growth Fund initiative.
The grant – the only one awarded to a railway nationally – recognises the project’s major impact on creating employment opportunities in North Staffordshire. As well as around 50 direct employees, the railway will pave the way for 1,000 jobs in the area.
Award of the grant was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of a £1.4 billion initiative to create new jobs and attract business investment. MCR is one of only four organisations in North Staffordshire to receive the support.
“I am delighted to be able to announce this boost to business, which will jump start growth and create jobs that last in the places that really need it,” said Mr Clegg.
MCR Director David Kemp said the grant was fantastic news for the project and recognised the importance of the railway’s plans in providing jobs. “In addition to our direct workforce, the railway will unlock a whole series of employment sites along its route by providing sustainable transport facilities.”
Such developments include the Moneystone leisure development in the Moorlands, the Cornhill site in Leek and a number of sites in Stoke-on-Trent.
“To receive the grant our proposals have been scrutinised at the highest level and have effectively been given the government’s seal of approval,” David added.
“This gives renewed confidence to everyone who is involved in the project and the many who support it.”
MCR’s restoration of the rail line from the Moorlands into Stoke on Trent, creating a link with the West Coast Main Line, will provide a sustainable and low-carbon freight and passenger route. Major quarries, Alton Towers and the town of Leek will benefit from direct rail access.
Having already re-opened the eight-mile stretch between Leekbrook and Cauldon Lowe, MCR is now making progress with restoration work from Leekbrook towards Stoke-on-Trent. It is planned to have the line open as far as Endon by early 2012.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


(Both copyright Jim Type)

It is of course still possible to travel over part of the route used by most S&D trains. The section from Poole to just before Bournemouth Central is still open and busy, and Parkstone lies on this section.

These two pictures show the station in the 1980s.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

bath green park

(Photo courtesy Jim Type, copyright R E Toop)

The S&D was lucky in having a terminus at each end, though Bath Green Park was always a little cramped! As well as the S&D it also served the Mangotsfield line and points beyond via the east to west curve there.

This other route did an excellent job of taking pressure off the Bath to Bristol GWR main line, as well as serving places that the GW never reached. Part of this route is preserved as the Avon Valley Railway, which is hoping to extend closer in towards Bath. The original intention of the group that became the Avon Valley Railway was to operate a commuter route with a heritage aspect. This idea was probably about thirty years' ahead of its time, but the rest of the world has now just about caught up with those early visionaries!

As the S&D pushes up from Midford we intend to restore right into Bath, with connections to the network at both Limpley Stoke and in Bath itself - each single track carrying traffic in one direction only.

But of course Bath Green Park really needs to become the ultimate destination. This will increase capacity and flexibility, and form an excellent headquarters for both the S&D and a booming AVR. Of course parts of this roiute have been encroached on slightly, and there is even now possible future development near the route, but none of this will be a problem in an energy-poor future. On the other side of the equation the station and its roof have been wonderfully preserved - the platform area is currently a car park, so only has a limited lifespan in that capacity.

We also intend to restore the Bristol to Radstock via Pensford route, to give even greater capacity and flexibility at the northern end of our line.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

templecombe - and an agm

(Photo courtesy Jim Type, copyright C L Caddy Collection)

A superb shot of Templecombe.

Arrangements at Templecombe were a little odd to say the least! Most trains off the S&D made important connections at Templecombe, but the junction was somewhat unusual. There was a Lower Platform at Templecombe, which served the S&D exclusively. But the busy Salisbury-Exeter main line ran above the S&D, and to make connections S&D trains needed to be piloted up to the exchange platform, then reverse out and reverse again if heading southwards.

Templecombe was the classic closure too far. It was a VERY busy station right up to the early sixties, but run down of the main line - including, incredibly, singling - matched the run down and closure of the S&D. The WHOLE station, not just the lower platform, closed on 6 March 1966 with the S&D.

However, this was not the end of the story. Templecombe reopened in 1983 and has been an incredible success ever since. Of course at the moment it's still a shadow of its former self, but when the S&D reopens it will not only regain its former importance but will probably quickly surpass it. Not only the S&D is about to flourish, but so is the Salisbury-Exeter route which is being redoubled and may well be electrified in the not too distant future - in fact I suspect parts of the route will be quadruple track eventually. The junction may well be remodelled, but of course with modern multiple units the previous manouevres will be much easier to manage. An escalator between Templecombe Lower platform and the main station - solar powered of course - could also make interchange easier.

Now to our AGM. Scheduled originally for this November we realised that there simply wasn't time to bring it all together. So it will now be in January, full details will be on this blog within a few days, but it will be held in Templecombe so that attendees can come by train.

gartell last running day of 2011

This Sunday is your LAST CHANCE to visit the Gartell Light Railway for 2011. If you have not been this year of never at all even, then do come along and have a day with us... or even part of the day.

We're just South of Templecombe on the A 357 and sign-posted from Henstridge and from Templecombe.

Full food menu available in the 'Pines' including the best bacon rolls you ever did taste!

We look forward to seeing you.

'peak car' ....

Thanks to Anna-Jayne Metcalfe for this piece!

Are we reaching ‘peak car’?
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

today at midford

(All pics Stuart Seale, 26.10.2011)

Today's report from Midford.

Tom and I went down to Midford again this afternoon to clear more behind the station so we can access the building foundations and the drainage channel.

Last Sunday we had a terrible time breaking up a large chunk of brickwork that had been dumped there but today we unearthed the remainder of the slabs, which totals some 21ft in length. It's going to be a real chore of a job breaking that one up and carting it away! I guess this must all form part of the base of the signal box?

As normal, we had quite a lot of interest in the project.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

next stop easington ...

Things are hotting up in the campaign to re-open a rail link to and from Easington Colliery in county Durham, a town which had yet to recover from the collapse of coal mining when it was hit by the recession.
The former pit community, whose mine closed in 1993, is the fourth most deprived ward in England and has the unwanted, if unofficial, tag of 'the obesity capital of the UK' to cope with as well.
Its problems would not be solved overnight by better communications but it would certainly benefit if trains were available to take commuters to Teesside and Tyneside, where there is more chance of work.
The infrastructure is largely there in 'the Halt' station and line which went out of service in the 1950s. Estimates of up to £2,000,000 to get things going again are challenging in the context of the public spending cuts. But the Newcastle-based property developer Tony Mann believes that it can be done.
He has been out in the town in stationmaster's gear, including whistle and flag, to drum up support for a 'Re-open' campaign. He says:
The need is getting greater all the time. The North-East has just recorded unemployment figures of 142,000 people - the highest increase for over 16-years and one which makes our the region the worst affected in the country.
Police clash with Easington residents during angry scenes in August 1984. Clashes at Easington in the 1984/5 miners' strike. The Billy Elliot story was born (and later filmed) here. Photograph: Keith Pattison

Mann has been thwarted before at Easington, when he tried to demolish a disused school to build houses and flats. He won the support of local councillors and a 500-strong petition, but conservationists persuaded an inquiry in 2007 that more could be done to find new uses for the handsome Victorian building. It still stands empty and remains a priority for the East Durham Area Action Partnership.
Mann says that he has suffered repeated frustration over the rail plan in approaches to Durham county council, the department of transport and the office of successive Prime Ministers. The nearest to progress so far has been rumour that Horden, two miles away, might be reconnected to Tees-Tyne trains, but that would still mean a two mile bus ride, or walk, from Easington Colliery.
Mann says:
We have to decide if it's cheaper to invest in ways to get people back to work or to keep on shelling out millions, year upon year, in benefits.
It is common sense to open up an area like Easington Colliery which desperately needs to enable people to travel to work. They'd be no more than half-an-hour by train from all the north east's major cities.
One of the town's job-seekers, 29-year-old Tammy Stephenson who lost her county council job in May, is helping the campaign. She has both a small son and a degree in psychology and criminology and would be more than happy to commute to Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees or Middlesbrough.
She says:
The problem is that there are very few job opportunities here in east Durham. I am constantly checking online job sites for work and finding that opportunities for me – ideally in outreach work with vulnerable adults - are just too far to travel. I'm extremely frustrated as the jobs I could do are in Newcastle and Teesside.


(All pics courtesy Jim Type, copyright C L Caddy Collection)

Wimborne was the original southern end of the S&D, and at one time was the busiest station in Dorset. It is currently closed completely, and has been since 1977 (1964 to passengers!) Not quite sure what the planners were thinking of in the Silly Sixties when Ringwood, Blandford, Wimborne and Fordingbridge all lost their passenger and freight services! All of these stations should be open again in the not too distant future.

The original connection may seem odd to us now, but the honeypot of Bournemouth didn't really exist before 1870, around which time a direct route from Brockenhurst was built, leaving the original line, nicknamed 'Castleman's Corkscrew' thanks to its rather singular course, as a secondary, albeit double track to the end, route. At around the same time the S&D south of Bailey Gate acquired a direct route into Poole and Bournemouth. The S&D line to Wimborne then became a minor branch line, closing to passengers as early as 1933. Wimborne's final passenger services, to Salisbury, Brockenhurst and Poole all closed in 1964, with freight continuing from Poole until 1977.

From the 21st century this loss may seem insane, but remember in the sixties they hadn't quite twigged that oil was a finite resource and seriously expected roads to last well into the 21st century and perhaps even the 22nd!

Back in the real world our task will be to get these large towns back on the network ASAP. The recent ATOC report had the Ringwood line right at the top of its reinstatement list, though shied clear of making the obvious next step to Wimborne. The New S&D will restore trains to Blandford as quickly as possible, and will also have the second connection to Wimborne, to give greater flexibility of services as well as tap into the traffic of this large town. A group to rebuild the Fordingbridge line is also likely to be launched very soon. So the railways in this part of Dorset are definitely stirring from the rather stupid hibernation they've been in since the mid sixties. About time too!
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swanage approaches the change

I love the Swanage Railway. I was lucky enough to visit it when it was a real line, in 1971 and on the last day 1 January 1972. I was on the train that got held up by cowboys. Sadly I don't have the photos to hand, they are in the attic somewhere and no doubt willl be scanned eventually!

But Swanage intends to be a real railway again soon, runninga  daily service from the junction with the network at Wareham. Unfortunately for the line the junction wasn't right at the station but about a mile away at Worgret, so the new service will involve running over the network. But this is going to happen everywhere so it's good that Swanage will be the groundbreaker.

Full report from the Swanage website here.

Swanage to Wareham Daily Service

One of the goals of the Swanage Railway is to restore a daily service between Swanage and Wareham to connect with the main line. This is progressing well and we hope to have a service running around 2013. However, before that can be done there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to upgrade the track between the Swanage Railway and Worgret Junction, just west of Wareham station. While Swanage is now connected to the national rail network, the infrastructure is not currently suitable for daily train running and is restricted to just several charter trains each year.
The key issue is signalling. We are hoping to have the branch junction re-signalled for regular passenger traffic as part of a Network Rail upgrade of the mainline that is scheduled for around 2012. During a recent visit to the Swanage Railway, Transport Minister Lord Adonis listened to our plans for establishing a service, noting in The Times that "the business case is promising and the proposal is highly credible." Lord Adonis said that he would schedule a high level meeting to discuss the plans.
What else needs to be done? The 'Project Wareham' to do list is a long one. While the track is in place and has recently accepted charter trains visiting Swanage, it does need to be upgraded in places. The service will also require rolling stock as well as storage and maintenance facilities. There are also plans to develop this area. The line beyond Norden needs further investment to upgrade the line speed to 25mph. A full barrier crossing will be required at Norden before regular movements will be permitted and at anything more than walking pace.
Our new signal box at Corfe Castle is now in service and will need to be fitted with the necessary equipment to interface directly with Network Rail such that trains can be exchanged without the need for padlocks and gates.
The SRT Project Wareham Appeal April 2009 - photo copyright Andrew P.M. Wright All of this requires funding. Swanage Railway supporters have launched a £100,000 appeal to upgrade the section of the Swanage Railway towards Wareham. Without this funding, the regular daily service will not happen. This £100,000 is only a small part of the total funding required.
Donations to the project can be made on-line or by cheque or money order payable to the Swanage Railway Trust (Project Wareham), Station House, Swanage, Dorset BH19 1HB. Please download and print the form on the right to send with your donation or donate on-line by using the links below.
Please click here to visit the Swanage Railway Trust Appeals section at http://www.swanagerailwaytrust.org.uk/appeals/index.htm#Wareham

Monday, October 24, 2011

inbetweener - midsomer norton

(All copyright Jim Type)

Three great shots of Midsomer Norton taken in the 80s according to the photographer but to me the recently scraped trackbed looks more like 70s style - but it may simply be because of the time of year.

Just compare these with Midsomer Norton in the late 50s or, better still, today!

To me these really confirm the brevity of the closure period S&D. In fifty years' time people will almost have forgotten that the S&D was closed, dismantled and beginning to return to nature for a while. Now just to transform the other 30 or 40 stations that are still in suspended animation! I can't wait!!
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midford 1980s

(Both copyright Jim Type)

Two fantastic shots of Midford from the 1980s, which just shows how much progress has been made over the last year, and also by the two previous restoration groups.

Whilst these shots do have a certain charm I wouldn't have liked to have made the short walk to Long Arch Bridge through all the undergrowth. The S&D really has moved on from this rather dismal scene, with two stations restored, a third one (Midford) cleared and a fourth (Spetisbury) now taking its place in the queue!

In the next few years I suspect Chilcompton and at least one other station site (perhaps on the branch?) will join this illustrious list.
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Thanks to Martyn Gough who has sent this postcard pic of Spetisbury, probably around 1900. Whilst the detail is a little blurred it is the first reasonable shot I've seen of the buildings, which will help enormously when rebuilding them.

I am expecting BIG news on Spetisbury any day now!
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

midford today

(All copyright Tom Seale, 23.10.2011)

Today we spent another day at Midford, continuing to clear the recess behind the station.

Didn't get as far as I'd hoped though as we quickly discovered an enormous slab of masonry buried under the earth.

With some assistance from 'Thor's Hammer' we managed to break it up, saving bricks where possible.

We also discovered an aeration brick and length of cast-iron guttering (presumably from the station) under the slab.

Hoping to get down this Wednesday afternoon and do some more digging.
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last chance!

Hello supporter
Steve Ehrlicher has trawled through the rival bids for the NatWest money tonight and using his info, the situation is as follows as at 8.30pm) in our area:
Keynsham Mencap : 442 votes
Bath Swim (for disabled)): 362
Our project: 325
Somer FM Radio: 310 (and increasing by four or five every hour)
The voting I have just found out now has been extended to finish at 12 noon tomorrow. Steve also tells me that because a number of people have found it difficult to get online Nat West now have a freephone number 0800 0155 545 that you can call - just quote Project number 2903 and/or the name Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust. This of course could put us back to fourth because we don't think the numbers on the site reflect any telephone votes so if you want to cast your vote and haven't been able to get through or want to tell your friends to vote for us, please use the telephone shortcut please and email them asap. Somer FM Radio will be going great guns on tomorrow's radio show to tip uis into fourth place as they have a captive radio audeince and may well be lketting people know of our score to chivvy people to vote - we don't have the same audience of course. Unfortunately this additional telephone voting cannot differentiate between those who may already have voted and those who have not so there could be some double counting. We need to get another 100 or so votes I think to be sure of being in one of the top three so do tell all your railway friends about this number and use it if you have had problems getting through.
Best wishes and thank you for all your efforts on our behalf.
John Baxter

predicting modal change ...

The third and final part of this article will inevitably be a prediction, so is almost certain to be wrong, at least in degree! But there are some things that we do know!
Oil is a finite resource. We have almost certainly reached the point of Peak Oil, when half of the oil that will EVER be found (at least for another 150 million years!) has been used. But that is of course the easy oil! The remaining half will be much harder to find and extract, and will clearly be much more expensive!
The climate is in a state of change. The last few climate sceptics seem to have now come round and there is now no doubt the the earth is warming up fast, and that at least part of this is due to our activities. Whilst it's hard to say exactly what the effects of a rapidly warming Earth will be, it is easier to say what needs to be done to bring this under control. The most important thing is that we stop using fossil fuels - ie coal, gas and oil - and switch to an economy that uses renewables. This can include solar power, wind power, hydro electric, wave, wood, biofuels and nuclear (although the last two have inherent problems and nuclear is only semi-renewable). Another side of the energy equation requires that we reduce energy use.
Moving to transport the road network has inherent and fatal flaws. The first is that its vehicles rely on fossil fuels almost exclusively. And all road vehicles apart from trolleybuses require vehicles to carry their own fuel, reducing their efficiency even further. Roads themselves need huge amounts of oil for their surfaces. Few people would argue that the car culture has been beneficial for the environment, health or for our towns, cities and villages. Basically it was a cheap fix that could only last whilst cheap energy was available. No one will mourn its passing.
All of this brings us to the absolute essential aspects of the inevitable transport modal shift that is almost upon us. Our future transport needs to be energy efficient - trains and trams are VASTLY more efficient than any transport mode that uses rubber tyres on hard surfaces. There is simply too much friction to make energy use optimal, whereas steel wheels on steel rails have very low friction. The need to carry fuel, whether it's diesel, petrol or batteries reduces the efficiency even further. Cars and lorries really don't have any other option - the road/car culture ONLY arose because of extremely cheap finite fuel. Forget arguments about flexibility - this is a red herring. Public transport would be totally flexible if it were universal, cheap and ran 24 hours a day.
Think about the way the British railway network was all but destroyed in little over ten years - and this was NOTHING to do with fuel efficiency or availability. The roads will simply not have anything to fall back on. The whole thing could collapse in a matter of months! Forget electric cars - our generating capacity is already in decline, and there certainly won't be cheap electricity to charge up cars! We can expect rolling power cuts within ten years, just to keep our current infrastructure going. In the last quarter less than 200 electric cars were sold in the UK, despite a grant of £5000 and free charging points! They are just a rather sad attempt to keep the car culture going and are doomed to failure.
A million people have given up driving in the last year due to apparent 'high petrol costs'. This is laughable as fuel is still amazingly cheap, and will probably remain that way for another five years or so. But if this keeps up soon the tax take from motoring will inevitably reduce the budget for road repairs, resulting in poorer road surfaces and a virtuous circle where people give up driving due to cost and the poor state of the roads, road use falls further, tax takes decline and fuel duty and road tax etc skyrocket, forcing more and more off the roads ...
And this is of course where we come in. There is a perfect transport system for the future. It can reach every town and village, every factory and farm and market, can have numerous different fuel delivery systems, can use many different fuel sources, can exactly match the needs of its users, can be fast (where required), convenient, flexible and profitable.
It doesn't need some new exotic fuel source, technology that hasn't been invented yet, and most of the infrastructure is already in place (or its remains are!) It is a safe and secure system, it can carry freight, passengers, animals, raw materials, parcels and a host of other things. There is in fact NOTHING railways and tramways can't do. So why are we waiting?
The days of misallocation of economic resources should be over. We need a modern and energy efficient and flexible transport system for the future, now all we need is the community and political will to get things moving. Dumping nostagia for the car is the first step, the second is to get things moving on your doorstep. The future is right here.

please help!!

This is the last day to vote for the NatWest project - as of this morning we have a super 298 votes - the leader has over 400 but we are being caught by another local group who are just a few votes behind us. So if you can find time to vote today if you haven't already then please do. I'll let you know where we come in the next few days and whether that £6000 is ours or not.

PLEASE HELP! Just click on the following link -

Every bit of money that flows into the S&D revival is worth all the effort! £6000 could help a lot at Midsomer Norton so if you haven't yet clicked please do so now. Today is the last day that your vote will count and remember that all the other groups up for this award are also pulling as many strings as they can!

Friday, October 21, 2011

templecombe shed

(Courtesy Jim Type)

Not sure about the origins of this shot, but Jim asked me to confirm that it was Templecombe shed. It is of course - the distinctive roof of the shed is confirmation enough, as is the S&D style embankment in the distance which leads up to Templecompe (Upper) station.

I love this shot - it looked like a great place to work!

This is exactly the sort of small steam shed we'd like to set up on the route (possibly at Templecome) to allow visiting steam locos to refuel, clean up and rest overnight when running steam specials along the route, and also along the Salisbury-Exeter route and elsewhere.

We're also hoping to set up a sustainable transport engineering centre on the route, hopefully with both standard and narrow gauge demo lines, where we can experiment on energy delivery systems, ultra modern vehicles and all the other aspects of sustainable transport that we'll need in the future. Perhaps that should be our next step once Midford and Spetisbury are completed as information offices? There'll certainly be something for everyone on the new Somerset and Dorset!
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lewes-uckfield - how it's being discussed at the highest level

Peers challenge the Government over BML2 PrintE-mail
In the House of Lords on 6 October, Lord Berkeley asked HM Government “whether they will safeguard Uckfield station and the rail track of the former Uckfield to Lewes route for possible future use to provide additional capacity to the main Brighton to London line”. Replying, the Government’s Chief Whip, Earl Attlee, said there were “no current plans to issue safeguarding directions” because the route was “safeguarded by both Wealden and Lewes district councils in their local plans”.

Lord Berkeley then asked if he was “aware that East Sussex County Council has plans to build a road across the formation” and whether he was also aware that the former British Rail Property Board, which is being abolished, is trying to sell off all its surplus land, including the former Uckfield station? Because this land is “essential to the reopening of the line”, Lord Berkeley further enquired “Will he [the Minister] instruct the property board not to do that and to keep this and other similar pieces of land for future reopening?”

Responding, Earl Attlee suggested one of the “benefits” of ESCC’s proposed scheme “is that it allows for the building of a bridge at a later stage” but omitted saying this substantial cost would be borne by Network Rail. He then claimed “the scheme makes it easier to open the line, should that be necessary, because to the west* of the proposed road crossing is a level crossing which would be unacceptable if you wanted to open the railway”. *[in fact it’s east - Ed]

Earl Attlee said the Government would not direct the BR Property Board to safeguard the station site “It is not necessary. We are absolutely confident that nothing has been done that will compromise the ability to open the railway at some point in the future, should it be desirable to do so.”

Lord Bradshaw then interjected: “Surely the land concerned should be vested in Network Rail, which in July last year pronounced the Uckfield to Lewes line of strategic importance”. He cited the enormous difficulties now faced by the ‘East-West’ reopening scheme between Oxford – Cambridge, made “almost impossible” because redevelopment required hugely expensive detours.

Earl Attlee agreed it was important to ensure lines could be reinstated, but said the Secretary of State for Transport could only issue safeguarding directions “only if it is intended to reopen the railway, not to make it possible”. He warned that to do so could “result in compensation to developers”.

Baroness Whitaker was unimpressed and asked: “My Lords, does the Minister accept that his words ‘at some point in the future’ are not very consoling to south-east commuters, of whom I am one, who regularly have to stand on overcrowded trains at certain times of the day?” Earl Attlee admitted she made an “extremely important point” adding that “We all know that at peak periods, the commuter railway lines south of London are all running at peak
capacity”. He mentioned that one difficulty was increasing capacity at London terminals, but in the case of Lewes – Uckfield “one of the bottlenecks is East Croydon, so even if we increased capacity in that area on the south of the line, you would still encounter the bottleneck at East Croydon, and there is very little we can do about that”.

Lord Dholakia referred to the problem of Gatwick Airport being a popular destination, with passengers increasing, whereby he asked “does not the maximum use of the line between Victoria and Brighton demonstrate the need to preserve an alternative method, especially when this expansion of the Brighton Line is exhausted?”

Earl Attlee responded: “My Lords, I fully accept that the Brighton line is running at capacity, but this particular scheme will do nothing to relieve the bottleneck. For instance, the path between Sevenoaks and Orpington is just twin track and there are no more train paths available at the peak period”.

Lord Berkeley expressed gratitude for the answers received, but concluded with his firm belief that recent interest in reopening Lewes – Uckfield showed “a lot of people in Network Rail must think that there is demand there”. Earl Attlee, for the Government, ended on a rather sour note for all those who are subjected to the south’s overcrowded services and the increasingly vulnerable Brighton Line by saying: “My Lords, we do not think that the route will need to be opened within the next 20 years”.

The Wealden Line Campaign thanks those in the House of Lords who are prepared to challenge the coalition Government over this critically important issue. However, BML2 Project Manager Brian Hart said some important points need explaining.

He said: “Be warned – Earl Attlee’s statement means no mothballed trackbed in the UK is now safe under the Conservatives. It hasn’t taken them long to get back to flogging-off important transport assets – as they were accused of doing when they lost power in 1997. But it’s the hypocrisy which I find so inexcusable. Not long before they took power last year, the Conservatives specifically identified Lewes – Uckfield as one of four national reopening projects and proclaimed a moratorium on strategic trackbed sales as part of their ‘Green Transport Strategy’. The Conservatives were also demanding to know from Labour ‘which 13 properties British Rail Property Board have disposed of which contain disused railway lines?’ – the person who tabled that question was the current Transport Minister for Rail Projects Theresa Villiers”.

“Only in 2007 she tabled a question: ‘To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what work her department is undertaking on the possibility of reopening the Lewes to Uckfield railway link’ – so she is well aware of its significance. She also wrote warmly to me, just two years before gaining office, saying Lewes – Uckfield was ‘an issue of high importance’ – her words exactly. So, knowing how even busier the railways have become, why are the Conservatives now unwilling to pursue their ‘Green Transport Strategy’, let alone assist Network Rail in protecting its strategic interests?”

“Worryingly, Earl Attlee is confused over where this road is going, whilst his suggestion that building another road on the level makes it easier to reopen is incredible. It merely loads the cost onto the railway and worsens the business case, otherwise why is Network Rail so worried and arguing that any new road must include a bridge over the trackbed?”

The Campaign’s chairman, Duncan Bennett was equally forthright:

“Lord Bradshaw is absolutely right that the ownership of Uckfield’s station site should be immediately transferred to Network Rail – that is what many of us have been arguing for some time. The land is desperately needed for commuter parking in the short term and not long ago Southern produced plans for up to 200 temporary spaces. Redoubling, electrifying and extending the Uckfield line to Lewes means this site is critical for a large station containing two 12-car platforms – as Network Rails’ plans of 2008 clearly showed. It is not only a nonsense that this site is being sold for about £3m, but an act of corporate recklessness which has far-reaching implications for the economic future of the south.”

“One has to question the motivation behind current official thinking with regards to this particular piece of land. The story of the battle for its use for much-needed commuter parking – an issue I have personally pursued for ten years – would read like a fantastic tragi-comic soap opera script. This is effectively public land, the future development of which, to my mind, must unquestionably include consideration of the greater public good and not just a lucrative commission sale by the BR property board and its private land agents. Aside from its immediate use for parking, the land is critical for the future transport needs of Uckfield and the region. There is simply no other route providing alternative rail access between London and Brighton, whilst simultaneously offering huge capacity relief to the users of the other overcrowded passenger lines within the Kent and Sussex area.
The development of this land should not be prejudicial to the current and future needs of the railway and there is, in fact, an enormous opportunity, through the use of imaginative design, to utilise the site not only for essential transport use, but also combined retail and commercial use. This is the thinking behind today’s modern transport hubs.”

“Should this site be lost – all barring the so-called protected trackbed – and reopening proceeds, where would we put the necessary 12-car platforms and station for this expanding location? Where would we put the extra car parking, which is already woefully lacking? In short, in the myopic and self-serving clamour for a paltry profit, we would witness the utter destruction of all prospects for a transport infrastructure that is increasingly being seen as essential for our future”.

The Campaign believes BR’s Property Board should never have become embroiled in negotiations to sell the site to the prospective developer – who should be told it is no longer for sale. It is clearly against the national public interest. The developer’s retail store, or doctors’ surgery, or sheltered housing, or whatever the latest plan comprises, can be built anywhere else in the town, but the railway simply cannot be diverted from its original course through Uckfield. If compensation is warranted, which we doubt, then let it be paid.

Brian Hart added: “Network Rail needs to fight its corner and defend its industry interests. If necessary, lobby the Government and buy the land from the property board – it’s loose change and there will be no second chance. I also believe Theresa Villiers has a moral and civic duty to assist in persuading Phillip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, to agree.”

The excuse not to invest in reopening the southern end of the route due to a lack of London terminal capacity no longer applies. The Campaign has been advised by former senior management who worked on creating Thameslink during the 1980s that the developing Thameslink Programme will make BML2 more than viable with better deployment of existing pathways. The number of train passing through London, rather than terminating, will increase dramatically and many of these services could use BML2’s additional direct routes into both Brighton and Tunbridge Wells – radically transforming travel, opening up new destinations and solving rail congestion in the south.

It follows that Earl Attlee’s briefing that “the path between Sevenoaks and Orpington is just twin track” and full up in peak periods is equally ill-informed. In fact, the problem is even more acute on the Tonbridge Main Line (TML) because it extends beyond Sevenoaks to Tonbridge. BML2 has the solution with reopening the former main line route into Tunbridge Wells from the Uckfield line, providing those much-needed paths and capacity into London and relieving the TML .

BML2 is also the only means of solving the East Croydon bottleneck. No one disputes the size of the problem or that the DfT and transport planners have a huge problem on their hands, but it is not insurmountable. BML2 is a realistic and affordable solution which extracts the maximum possible use out of existing resources and infrastructure. BML2’s ‘Direct London Link’ is an under-used rail corridor between South Croydon and Lewisham. Trains could avoid the East Croydon bottleneck in exactly the same way as many Brighton Line services bypass Redhill and be within just two miles of Canary Wharf and the City of London. Whether there is a tunnel or surface line for a couple of miles to meet Crossrail, or whether we look towards an eventual bigger scheme, such as a future Thameslink to Stratford, is really not for us to speculate. The fact is that this immensely valuable corridor needs to do much more than be partly occupied by a tramway or an extension of the Bakerloo line to Hayes – everything can be accommodated – it is not beyond competent civil engineering.

We simply have to make the utmost of our potential assets. The time has come to bring in professional companies to study BML2 with us and examine the massive potential it offers in freeing us from our otherwise inexorable course to worsening congestion, gridlock and economic stagnation. The future is bright and promising – but only if we grasp what BML2 offers.