After a 40 year absence I had the opportunity to work on the P-Way again relaying track. This time it was actual reinstatement of a line closed in March 1966. The much lamented Somerset and Dorset Railway. Mourned by huge numbers of people and now at least part being reborn.
The operational limit is currently around half a mile from Midsomer Norton station. The excellent P/Way team led by gaffer Trevor Hodge are extending the railway from this point.
In January 2016 track bed immediately beyond the relaid section was almost entirely overgrown. Walkers had forged a path through this dense mass of undergrowth but there was little to show of the double track main line. Keen observers might spot typical railway fence posts. At one point, farm gate posts were still in situ.
In early 2016, prior to the nesting season, work began to cut down larger trees and bushes. The team cleared the track bed of the remaining bushes and scrub revealing ballast that had once supported the track up to the mid 1960’s. Indeed according to Tim Deacon in his book ‘The Somerset and Dorset – Aftermath of the Beeching Axe’, track removal from this part of the line took place around June/July 1968.
The P/Way team were thrilled to see the track bed looking almost as it would have just after the last demolition train passed 52 years ago. This train was probably hauled by Class 08 number D3506 later to be renumbered tom 08391. As again in Tim’s book there is a picture by Peter James of this locomotive in the station at Midsomer Norton on the 13 June 1968 and again on the 17 June.
We hired a digger from a local company, Penny’s, to grade the track bed. The picture above looks like it could have been taken 50 years ago but was, in fact, only 2.
Walking up the line reveals views across the valley that hadn’t been seen for many years due to the previous undergrowth.
As the P-Way team worked on clearing the track bed, the Somerset and Dorset Heritage Trust needed funds to pay for track materials required for the extension. The operation of train services once a month brought in some revenue. Thanks to the team at the Great Central Railway we had a significant boost to funds . This was because they hired Jinty 47406 to us to operate as part of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the closure of the line in March 2016.
This type of steam locomotive pulled freight trains on the Somerset and Dorset. The Jinty also used to bank heavy passenger trains up through Midsomer Norton to the summit at Masbury over this very section of track bed.
Just after morning track inspection, we used the Jinty to position some wagons used by the P-Way to transport track materials up the line.
Normally the Trusts Class 08 D4095 move engineering trains. These locomotives were used extensively in demolition trains in the 1960’s. It’s quite ironic that one these is now utilized in reconstructing the line.
Rail and Sleepers
We loaded concrete sleepers onto the Sturgeon wagon and took them to the railhead to be temporarily stored on the former up-line track bed.
With kind donations swelling revenue, we eventually had enough money to purchase some rail. After delivery to site, the rail was moved up the line.
Some rail had come from Thingley Junction near Chippenham. We bought further track materials from Network Rail. In November 2017 there was a concerted effort to lay this track. Graduate engineers from the consultancy Mott Donald and two managers from the museums at RAF Cosford and the Iron Bridge gorge strengthened the Track Gang.
Crossings and Ballast
In addition to track work the boundary fencing required maintenance. If possible, we are utilizing remaining original concrete posts. A crossing point used by a farm has had ‘Strawl’ mat panels laid. We’ve erected Whistle boards some distance either side of the crossing.
The start to 2018 saw ballast deliveries. Ballast was loaded into the Dog-Fish Hopper wagon and the Class 08 hauled it up the line. This has then been deposited along the newly laid track. Over the next few weeks, the track panels will be lifted and packed level. There is still more fencing work to do. Hopefully, if enough people offer their services, passenger trains will be able to use the new extension by March 2018.
How you can help
Two more track bashes will take place on the 10th/11th and 17th/18th February 2018. Can you join a great bunch of people that is the Track Gang at Midsomer Norton? Would you like to be part of the history of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway? Details are on the Trust website. You will be most welcome.