First three-coach train as Somerset & Dorset gets £500k legacy

The Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust at Midsomer Norton has been left a legacy of more than £500,000 by one of its longest supporters.

Member Peter Sainsbury from Colchester, who died unexpectedly in 2017, has left most of his estate to the trust. At the present time, trust officials are working with the executors of his estate as probate and distribution are being settled.

Trust chairman Stephen Lacey said that the intention was not to see the bequest frittered away on carrying out small jobs, but to use it to obtain additional funding for major projects through grant aid.

A fitting tribute

Peter’s family agreed that a fitting tribute to him would be the completion of the locomotive and carriage shed and maintenance facilities at Midsomer Norton, for which an application for outline planning permission has just been submitted to Bath & North East Somerset Council, along with other significant improvements to the site. To be located outside the station limits so as not to intrude on the beautifully-restored original structures, the new shed would help declutter the site and allow the former goods shed to be relieved of its role as the current maintenance facility and become part of the overall station museum.

The application also includes the development of the Somervale sidings and new buildings to house catering, retail and office facilities. These will replace the existing Mk.3 buffet coach and DMU car, which are both seen as having passed their sell-by date. The carriages also do not contribute to the ambience of the station and goods shed, the only original surviving pair of structures on the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway main line. The application includes as possibilities for the distant future, other potential business uses too – such as bicycle hire and repairs, a conference and meeting facility, a micro-brewery and accommodation for visitors.On March 9/10, Midsomer Norton hosted its first diesel gala. An intensive timetable was in place which saw the railway’s two resident English Electric shunters in use on both passenger and demonstration freight trains.

BR Class 08 D4095 was the mainstay of the passenger services that saw the first three-coach passenger train depart Midsomer Norton station for the first time since 1966. D1120, an 0-6-0DH is not vacuum fitted so unable to operate passenger trains on its own, but it double-headed and top-and-tailed passenger trains as well as hauling demonstration freight trains.

English Electric shunter pair D4095 and D1120 haul the first heritage era three-coach train over part of the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway during the Match 9/10 diesel gala. Credit: Callum Wilcox

The trust has received a generous donation from a supporter who wishes to fund the installation of a vacuum brake system for D1120. The trust has also taken delivery of a second Dogfish ballast wagon, No. DB992897, from the Swindon & Cricklade.

It will aid with the final ballast drops required prior to the commissioning of the final 300 yards of the southward extension of the railway to the base of the infilled cutting north of Chilcompton Tunnel. A historic milestone came with the laying of the final lengths of rail and sleepers into place over the weekend of October 28/29.

Extension progress

The task is not yet complete, with more hard work required to drop over 400 tons of ballast and jack and pack the track before passenger trains can run on the line. The trust is appealing for donations to the ‘£20 for a Ton’ fundraising campaign. Donations can be made in person at the station, or via www.sdjr.co.uk/fundraising – donors are encouraged to complete a Gift Aid form.

Dates will be released later in the year as to when the first passenger trains to traverse this section will be undertaken. It will see a full mile of the old route being brought back into use. The cutting has been infilled with domestic waste, just like Imberhorne cutting on the Bluebell Railway’s East Grinstead extension. However, here the problem is rather larger and there is no option for removal of the waste by rail from either end, and the Government has increased landfill taxes which the removed waste would be subject to at its destination. Clearing this cutting would therefore be a multi-million pound project.

North of Midsomer Norton station, restoration of the line back towards Radstock and Bath is equally blocked, by the removal of a bridge over Silver Street, which would be an equally expensive – but by no means impossible – proposition to reinstate.

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