It's been almost half a century since trains ran from Bridport, and the branch line from West Bay to Maiden Newton is now only a memory.
This is an interesting proposal. For a community rail link that directly links the Jurassic Coast to the mainline network without going through Weymouth or Axminster, there would be economic benefits in terms of tourism. Being a narrow-gauge railway too would help with costs and ease of building the line. I would assume some form of tram-train, possibly linking at Yeovil, would also be on the proposer's minds, to ensure easier links to London.It's been almost half a century since trains ran from Bridport, and the branch line from West Bay to Maiden Newton is now only a memory.
But a group is now trying to resurrect the line with a new idea for a sustainable railway link.
It's a monumental task – the costs would be astronomical and much of the former branch line route, especially through Bridport, has been built on.
The line was pulled up in 1975 and little trace of it remains in some places.
But the group strongly believes its 'zero carbon' public transport scheme involving a 'tram-like' train on a narrow gauge line should be considered in discussions about future transport solutions, and they want to involve the community and see what support there is for the plan.
It's very early days in the Bridport Branch Renewal Corridor project and the group is currently seeking £50,000 so they can undertake a full feasibility study.
Their vision involves a narrow gauge passenger railway from West Bay to Maiden Newton, with train units powered by battery and hydrogen.
As much as possible their railway would follow the old route from West Bay via Bridport, Bradpole, Loders, Powerstock, Toller Porcorum and to the junction at Maiden Newton, which is on the Weymouth to Bristol line. Plans also include building walkways and cycle paths.
Early estimates indicate it could somewhere in the region of £75 million to £100 million, the group says.
They are hoping to raise the funds through a number of methods including a community share offer, along with innovation and heritage funding from the government. They also hope the development of housing in the area will unlock more funding.
The plans aim to fulfill long-held ambitions to create an accessible community railway along the route.
Michael Hancock, one of the founding members of the group behind the project, said: "This is something which will be innovative and exemplar for other areas of the country in terms of looking at old closed railway lines and looking at how you can bring those back in a different way, to benefit both the community and the environment.
"We're hearing a lot of people agreeing with us already that there’s a real need here and maybe it's time to re-examine this. There's a lot of nostalgia and positive sentiment about the old railway.
"What we’re trying to do is to spread the word. We want to engage with the community and get ideas – the ideas will always come from the community and we want to engage to build a plan.
"This isn’t just a fantasy dreamt up by a bunch of train enthusiasts, it’s something a little bit different and special."
Mr Hancock added: "One of the things we want to make clear is this isn’t a great big railway. Narrow gauge trains are more tram-like then train-like, light in the landscape and much quieter than the trains people are used to."
The group's current priorities are to engage in conversation with the local community and landowners, along with getting local councillors and MPs on side.
The group has made contact with Dorset Council, the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), sharing plans with them via email. They have not yet had any formal discussions with local councils.
In the 1990s, a similar project was mooted, the 'Brit Valley Railway'.
One of those involved in these plans was Nigel Ewens, who has continued to campaign for this cause for more than 20 years.
Mr Ewens said: “The renewal corridor project is really beginning to gather momentum. I believe the railway will be a catalyst that unlocks the prosperity of the area in terms of connectivity, social inclusion, and in the fight against climate crisis."
For more information about the project, search Bridport Renewal Corridor on Facebook or go to www.bridportrenewal.org.uk
I'm interested to see the thoughts of RUK on this.