Tuesday, September 02, 2008

the future and the past

Scene from the Great Dorset Steam Fair, near Blandford. Debs is interviewing one of the owners.

A few general views.

Our press pass - which gave us a carte blanche to wander the site and ask questions. This was at the invitation of ITV Local Meridian, who were experimenting with using bloggers to report on the show.

I suspect 99% of the visitors go for nostalgic reasons - but of course steam is likely to become very much part of our future. Bear in mind that the most advanced form of energy - nuclear - is really just a big steam engine. The nuclear reaction heats up water which turns to steam and works the turbines.

There are also HUGE reserves of coal in the UK, and the government is already eyeing this up. It's not hard to imagine the coalfields of South Wales, South Yorkshire, Scotland, the Midlands, the North East and even Somerset and Kent bursting back into life over the next 20-30 years. There is also a huge unworked coalfield under Oxfordshire. Of course coal is - currently - a dirty fuel, and any talk of using it sends the tree huggers into apoplexy (good!!) But clean coal technologies may well come along, even if expensive. But of course to be sustainable we need to grow and burn wood. Imagine the UK covered in vast forests, all sustainably harvested for fuel. With the vast increase in railways and rail traffic expected in the future many of these railways will, once again, be worked by steam, where electricity is too expensive or difficult an option. The future is beginning to resemble the past more and more.

Back to the fair! Visitor numbers are now in excess of 200,000. Almosst all arrive by car, by the fair organisers are looking ahead and considering building an on site railway. This will no doubt be steam powered!

The flexibility of the traction engines is amazing. As well as pulling heavy loads, they could also be used to work farm machinery and, of course, fairground rides. This flexibility is something we've also lost on the railways, as locomotives have been replaced in many cases by multiple units. A locomotive can pull freight or passengers, can shunt, work a snowplough or engineering trains. Flexibility is the key to keeping costs down. I bet the fair railway when it is built uses locomotives, and will be the better for it!
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