The Somerset and Dorset Railway grew out of two lines, the Somerset Central and Dorset Central railways, which between them built a line from the English Channel to the Bristol Channel, with plans to ferry people and goods from South Wales to the port of Poole.
In 1874 the role of the S&D changed completely as the difficult section over the Mendips built to link with the Midland Railway at Bath Green Park was built. It also tapped the coal reserves of Radstock and Midsomer Norton en route, causing problems with the Great western Railway which many people still blame for its closure in 1966.
The S&D was never a sleepy branch line, but a heavily-engineered cross-country main line which was busy right up to 1962 when the through trains - including the famous 'Pines Express' - was diverted to run over other lines on its route from Manchester to Bournemouth. Much freight was also withdrawn during this period (1962-66) or in some cases diverted via much longer routes.
This belief that the S&D was deliberately sabotaged has helped forge the current desire to see the line reopened, not just by railway enthusiasts but also by people all along the line, who believe that the line shouldn't have closed and, if dieselised or electrified and rationalised, would today be a very busy and valuable part of the network.
For some years after closure and demolition the line began to disappear physically, some sections were even built on. Eventually a preservation group was set up and took on the lease of Radstock North station with the aim of restoring track to Writhlington and running passenger services. This scheme failed at Radstock and the group moved lock stock and barrel to Washford on the West Somerset Railway, where they still thrive, but where their lease will expire in 2020.
For some years after this the line continued to lay silent, but in the early eighties the first of three schemes to restore Midford took root. This station is now being fully restored by the New Somerset and Dorset Railway, the two earlier attempts to restore the station have made their job a lot easier!
Elsewhere two schemes sprung up on the same section of route. One planned to rebuild the Radstock to Shepton Mallet section, but depended entirely on a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which was not forthcoming. At the same time a much less ambitious group, formed by locals desperate to save the Midsomer Norton South site from housing development, won their battle and started restoring the site. This group has been very successful in rebuilding the station and building a line southwards towards Chilcompton, and now runs regular trains over the section of line they have rebuilt.
Perhaps encouraged by the success at Midsomer Norton another group, the North Dorset Railway Trust, began the task of rebuilding Shillingstone station, down in Dorset. They have now restored the station, builta replica signalbox and are also building a replica down platform building, as well as laying track in both directions.
One other scheme on the route is the privately-owned Gartell Railway, just south of Templecombe, a narrow gauge two foot line with a strong S&D glavour, who run trains once a month during the summer. Templecombe station, a major junction between the Somerset and Dorset and SR West of England main line, closed with the S&D on 7 March 1966, but was reopened in 1983 and is now very busy, though physically a shadow of its former self.
Against this background of slow reinstatement and development the New Somerset and Dorset Railway was formed on 6 March 2009, with the aim of rebuilding as much of the line as possible - with a bare minimum of the main Bath to Bournemouth line plus a link to Wells and Glastonbury. Very quickly they purchased Midford station and within weeks began the task of clearing it. As the group grew they also felt confident in taking on the restoration of Spetisbury station in Dorset, which has attracted a strong local following and has a busy work pparty most weekends, as does Midford.
The intention is to rebuild both of these stations to their 1950s condition and equip them internally with an information office and diusplay area. Additionally Spetisbury will have refreshment facilities. There are no plans to lay track at either location yet, but this is of course the long term aim as part of a greater restoration of long sections of the original route.
Whilst the New S&D is primarily planned to be a modern, sustainable passenger and freight route, it will display many heritage aspects including staffed stations to encourage 'heritage' trips along the line by railtours from off the network and of course to allow the existing heritage groups at Midsomer Norton and Shillingstone to run steam and heritage trains on whichever sections they wish.
New Somerset and Dorset Railway - Midford and Spetisbury
Blogsite - http://somersetanddorset.blogspot.co.uk/
Midford Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/groups/112314825457862/
Acting Midford Project Manager - firstname.lastname@example.org
Spetisbury Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/groups/110657612298402/
Spetisbury Project Manager - email@example.com
Somerset and Dorset Railway Heritage Trust - Midsomer Norton
Website - http://www.sdjr.co.uk/
North Dorset Railway Trust - Shillingstone
Website - http://www.glr-online.co.uk/
Blogsite - http://gartell.blogspot.co.uk/
Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust - Washford
Website - http://www.sdrt.org.uk/