Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Lynton and Barnstaple - an inspiration to us all

Woody Bay 23.6.1980

Woody Bay 30.7.2006

Killingon Lane 30.7.2006 (All copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

'Perchance it is not dead but sleepeth'. So proclaimed the board left at the buffer stops at Barnstaple Town station back in 1935, on the day the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway closed. It was an act of pure genius.

For many years the line was sleeping, deeply. Railways were in decline, enthusiasts dared not even contemplate reopening railways. We were heading towards a future of robots, colonies on Mars and twelve lane motorways.

And then slowly railways WERE reopened, by enthusiasts and mainly for enthusiasts. And in time the preserved lines, as they were then called, became tourist attractions and the general public took to them as steam vanished from the Network.

They rebranded themselves as heritage railways and began to offer more than just rides, with some lines offering services for people to get from A to B.

Somewhere in that period a few brave souls decided the L&B's time was coming, that it could be nudged from that deep sleep. And why not? It sat in a prime holiday area, ran through fantastic countryside and was just about intact. And after a quiet start with a few dead ends it finally began to return, once Woody Bay had been secured. Very very small steps, but a head of steam is building up, and the line now unashamedly proclaims that its long term aim is to rebuild the whole route. We don't need to be shy of our aims any more! A step towards this was the formation of Exmoor Associates, a group that exists purely to obtain stretches of the line as they come on to the market. This will then ease extension of the line. 

For now the line offers a trip of about a mile, but there are big plans falling into place. The line is now about to acquire Blackmoor (Gate) station. Snapper Halt and Chelfham Viaduct have both been restored to a degree by the line.

The L&B model has inspired others, not least the New Somerset and Dorset Railway, which aims to restore the whole 100 miles of that line.

We are moving towards a transport paradigm shift. Road traffic will give way to rail traffic as the oil vanishes. Rail has a huge energy efficiency over road, it has only been cheap and easy (and heavily subsidised) oil that has skewed this. As the oil (and the cars and lorries) vanish we will all switch to rail. Where does this leave the L&B - and the rest?

The heritage railway per se is doomed, for the same reason roads are. Some are already aware of this and are morphing into community railways. What few if any are aware of is that the particular skill set they already possess will be priceless in an oil-free future. Our non-electrified railways won't be diesel worked, but will use steam. Fashion and modernity will vanish as our fossil-fuel sunbsidised economy simplifies. The best use of assets will be the long-term. There's no reason why locomotives and coaches can't last over 100 years - because some already have! Railways will become the heart and lifeline of every community. 

As for narrow gauge light railways - their golden age is now only a decade or so away. An ideal solution in less heavily populated areas the brief interregnum, when cheap oil allowed roads to steal the light railways' traffic away, will soon come to an end, and we all need to be ready to get the rails down as quickly as we can - not only between Lynton and Barnstaple but throughout these islands. The L&B will once again become a virtuous model and will pick up from where it left off, only this time without subsidised road traffic to compete against.

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