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GALA OF CLASSIC DIESEL LOCOMOTIVES CELEBRATES FREE PRESERVATION FIRST IN PARTNERSHIP WITH REALTIME TRAINS

Published: May 10, 2017

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

An innovative partnership with a website during the Swanage Railway's annual diesel gala has put the heritage line at the cutting edge of the digital age by providing free live information to the public about the running of its trains.

Realtime Trains installed temporary GPS (global positioning system) units in the carriages so that enthusiasts around the world could view, for free, a map showing where the Swanage Railway's diesel trains were located.

Thanks to the GPS worldwide radio navigation system, Internet surfers around the world could log on to the Realtime Trains website and see the planned and actual progress of the trains – and if they were running early, on time or late.

Swanage Railway general manager Matt Green said: "It was very exciting and the first time that a preserved railway has been involved with the free service offered to the public by Realtime Trains – putting the Swanage Railway at the cutting edge of the digital age in providing free live information about the running of its trains.

"Operating since October, 2012, Realtime Trains had to install temporary GPS units on our trains – with the data being broadcast over the mobile network – because the company normally draws its information from Network Rail.

"The Realtime Trains Swanage Railway web-page was accessed in 19 different countries – including the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Portugal, Norway, France, Germany and Poland.

"During our diesel gala, there were 1,880 unique visitors to the Realtime Trains website with more than 4,700 visits looking at some 14,000 page impressions," he added.

Being free to users, the Realtime Trains service also provided live information about the location and punctuality of diesel gala's driver experience trains where members of the public drove an ex-British Rail Southern Region Class 33 diesel locomotive under the supervision of an experienced Swanage Railway driver.

Using GPS fitted Class 33 diesel locomotives No. 33 111 and No. D6515, the service was fully booked and ran along four miles of line between the Norden and the River Frome south of Worgret Junction, within sight of Wareham.

Matt Green explained: "Statistics reveal that 95 per cent of the visitors to the Swanage Railway page on the Realtime Trains website were from the United Kingdom and that half of the visitors used a mobile phone or tablet computer – with the rest of the visitors using desktop computers.

"Some 70 per cent of the visitors viewed the Swanage Railway page on the Realtime Trains website using a mobile connection and the maps page was viewed for a total period of 68.8 days – all very impressive.

"The GPS units and service information were provided only for our diesel gala but we are exploring whether it's possible and appropriate to introduce this train running information for the public on a longer term basis," he added.

In its twelfth year – and running from Thursday, 4 May, to Sunday, 7 May, 2017 – the diesel gala and beer festival saw more than 3,500 people carried on the trains between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman's Cross and Swanage.

The major gathering of classic diesel traction from the 1960s and the 1970s featured two firsts – the most diesel locomotives to attend the annual event and the first appearance on scheduled trains of a green-liveried Class 47 at Swanage and Corfe Castle since the summer of 1966.

Ten diesel locomotives visited the event with the Swanage Railway's two classic 1960s ex-British Rail Southern Region Class 33s taking the number of classic heritage diesel locomotives hauling the passenger trains to twelve.

The beer festival took place next to Corfe Castle station's restored Victorian goods shed with beers including the Swanage Railway's 'Old Pusher'.

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