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FOUNDER SWANAGE RAILWAY VOLUNTEER TO TRAVEL ON FIRST TRAIN TO WAREHAM – 45 YEARS AFTER HE RODE ON THE LAST!

Published: June 9, 2017

Story and Photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright                                                                                         Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer

A founder volunteer who helped to rebuild the Swanage Railway from nothing is to travel on the heritage railway's first train to Wareham – 45 years after he rode on the last British Rail train between the two Purbeck towns back in 1972.

Peter Frost was 13 years old and living in Corfe Castle when British Rail controversially closed the ten-mile branch line from Swanage to Wareham with the last train running on the night of Saturday, 1 January, 1972.

Less than six months later, the teenager watched contractors demolish seven miles of railway line – from Swanage and Corfe Castle back to Furzebrook – in just seven weeks during the summer of 1972; the Swanage Railway taking 25 years to relay the tracks.

In February, 1976, a 17-year old Peter was among the first Swanage Railway volunteers to start restoration work at the abandoned and disused Swanage station in the centre of the seaside town.

Forty-one years later, an elated Peter is looking forward to riding on the first Swanage Railway train to Wareham on the morning of Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, which will be composed of four carriages with a diesel locomotive at each end.

Departing Swanage at 10.23am, the special train will mark the start of a four trains a day trial service to Wareham operating on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until September 3, 2017 – a total of 60 days.

Tuesday morning's historic first train in 45 years will also be carrying some of the two generations of dedicated volunteers who have worked so hard to rebuild the heritage railway back to the national railway system; a task that has taken more than 40 years.

Now living in Swanage, Peter said: "It will be an amazing and poignant moment when the first train leaves Swanage station bound for the main line at Wareham because I remember riding on the last British Rail train out of the seaside town.

"It was very sad to watch the line being run down, closed and then quickly demolished because I grew up with the branch line during the 1960s with its station staff and train crews being extended members of my family," he added.

The Swanage Railway Society was formed during the summer of 1972 – when the tracks were being torn up – and it took four years for the volunteers to obtain a lease of the disused Swanage station, under threat of demolition, and start restoration work.

Peter said: "Most people thought we were mad because they never believed the railway could ever be rebuilt from scratch. The task just seemed so huge and unrealistic.

"But we were determined and just took one step at a time as we relaid the line, restored the buildings and built the infrastructure needed to run and maintain a railway. The first mile of track out of Swanage was laid by hand because we didn't acquire a powered crane until the early 1980s.

"It will be amazing to ride on a scheduled timetabled Swanage Railway train into Wareham because it will be as though the sad events of 1972 never happened. The clock has been turned back and the remarkable achievements of the Swanage Railway show just what the determined power of the human spirit can achieve.

"It has been a very long road and I'm sad that many people who have worked so hard to rebuild the Swanage Railway since 1976 are no longer alive to enjoy what will be a very special day when the first train in 45 years runs into Wareham station," added Peter, a volunteer train driver on the Swanage Railway since the late 1970s.

To guarantee a seat, passengers should book tickets on-line via the Swanage Railway at www.swanagerailway.co.uk. Limited parking at Wareham station – especially on weekdays – means passengers are advised to travel to the station by public transport.

On the first day of the public service – Tuesday, 13 June, 2017 – the first public train will be the 2.23pm from Swanage that will form the 3.15pm train from Wareham. The last train of the day will be the 4.23pm from Swanage and the 5.15pm from Wareham.

The first two trains from Swanage to Wareham and return on that day will be for Swanage Railway guests, stakeholders, volunteers, staff and supporters.

Tickets are £15 for adult or senior citizen day returns between Swanage and Wareham and £9 for adult or senior citizen singles.

Children, aged 5 to 15, are £10 for a return and £6 for a single while Swanage Railway Purbeck resident's discount card holders receive a 33 per cent discount. National Railcards are not accepted.

The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email [email protected]