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TRAIN SERVICE STARTS BETWEEN SWANAGE & WAREHAM FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 45 YEARS – THANKS TO PARTNERSHIP WORKING

Published: June 13, 2017

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

Railway history is to be made on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, with the return of an Isle of Purbeck train service from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham for the first time in 45 years – thanks to partnership working.

The momentous achievement is down to more than 40 years work by dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers as well as working in partnership with the Government's Coastal Communities Fund, Purbeck district and Dorset county councils, BP, Perenco, Network Rail and South West Trains.

The last British Rail passenger train ran between Swanage and Wareham in January, 1972, with seven miles of railway line being demolished that summer back to Furzebrook – three miles from Worgret Junction and the main line to Wareham.

Now, 45 years later, Swanage Railway pioneers, volunteers and staff who have worked across two generations to rebuild and re-connect the heritage line will be leaving on the first train to Wareham – the 10.23am departure from Swanage's restored station.

That will mark the start of a two-year trial public service, using diesel trains, operating on 60 selected days during this summer – with four trains a day in each direction between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage – and on 90 selected days during 2018.

Visitors from London, and stations across the country, will be able to visit Swanage and Corfe Castle by train while the service will enable tourists in campsites around Wareham to visit Corfe Castle and Swanage by rail.

Because of limited parking at Wareham station – especially on weekdays – passengers are advised to travel to Wareham by public transport for the train service to Corfe Castle and Swanage on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said: "This is the culmination of a far-sighted investment by our valued stakeholders of £5.5 million to re-connect Swanage and Corfe Castle with the main line at Wareham.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns explained: "Returning trains from Swanage and Corfe Castle to Wareham shows what can be achieved thanks to vision, determination and working together in partnership. This is the culmination of a huge amount of work by our dedicated volunteers and the support of our stakeholders.

"My thanks go to the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, the Government's Coastal Communities Fund for its £1.8 million grant, Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, Network Rail, South West Trains and the Department for Transport for their help in reaching this historic milestone for Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck," he added.

Purbeck District Council committed £3.2million for re-signalling improvements and other work between Wareham station, Worgret Junction and Swanage Railway’s existing signalling system at Corfe Castle – the work taking place during 2013 as part of Network Rail’s Poole to Wool re-signalling scheme.

Dorset County Council underwrote Purbeck District Council's financial commitment to the signalling work, the funding being raised through the Purbeck Transport Strategy – which aims to improve traffic movement around the district – by contributions from developers.

The BIG Lottery Fund's Dougie Spence – funding manager for the Coastal Communities Fund – said: “I am delighted to learn that the Swanage Railway Trust’s 'Project Wareham' is now entering its next stage with the launch of the trial train service between Swanage and Wareham.

"Funded through the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, a programme delivered by the BIG Lottery on behalf of HM Treasury and the Department of Communities & Local Government to encourage economic development of UK Coastal Communities, 'Project Wareham' is a bold and significant project supporting economic regeneration.

"The trustees, board, staff and volunteers of Swanage Railway – together with their project partners – are all to be congratulated on all their hard work to deliver their vision and I wish them every success for the new service and coming season," added Mr Spence.

Councillor Bill Trite, chairman of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, and chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust from 1991 to 2008, said: "Restoration of the rail link with a through public passenger service has been the long-held objective of many, many people over the last 45 years since closure of the branch line in 1972.

"Unfortunately, but inevitably, a significant proportion of them are no longer with us to see that ambition realised," he added.

Since 1997, the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership has been fully engaged in the re-establishment of a Swanage to Wareham train service.

Councillor Trite continued: "On behalf of the Partnership, I thank all those who have played a part in this project – especially for their determination to see it through. It illustrates what partnership working can achieve.

"Tuesday, June 13, marks the opportunity to return to a fully-functioning service to meet the needs of local communities, visitors and businesses, although it has to be sustainable after the initial trial periods.

"It holds the promise of enabling the residents of Swanage, Corfe Castle and Isle of Purbeck villages to travel anywhere that's possible by train, leaving their cars at home and taking traffic off the congested A351 road," he added.

Linking the Swanage Railway with Network Rail and the national railway system, a unique and trail-blazing signalling system has been installed, tested and commissioned between Corfe Castle and Wareham in what was a complicated four-year project.

Thanks to a £500,000 legacy donation from BP, the Swanage Railway has built a new level crossing west of Norden station – on the access road to Perenco's Wytch Farm oilfield – so that regular passenger trains can run to Wareham.

Tickets are £15 for an adult or senior citizen day-return between Swanage and Wareham and £9 for an adult or senior citizen single. Children, aged 5 to 15, are £10 for a return and £6 for a single.

Swanage Railway Purbeck resident's discount card holders receive a 33 per cent discount while National Railcards are not accepted.

Tickets for the Wareham service can be purchased in advance from the Swanage Railway's website, from a booking office outside Wareham station's main building – when trains are running – from Swanage Railway booking offices at Swanage, Corfe Castle and Norden (when trains are running) or by calling the Swanage Railway's reservations office on 01929 425800.

RETURNING SWANAGE TRAINS TO WAREHAM – BACKGROUND HISTORY

The rebuilt Swanage Railway boosts the Purbeck economy by £14 million a year.

The Swanage Railway carried 211,000 passengers between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman's Cross and Swanage during 2016.

Taking two years to build, the ten-mile branch line from Wareham to Swanage was opened in May, 1885 – after businessmen tried for 40 years to bring it to fruition.

The last British Rail train ran from Wareham to Swanage and return on the evening of Saturday, 1 January, 1972, in the line's 87th year of operation.

Some 500 passengers made the last return trip from Wareham to Swanage on a six-coach diesel train (two 1957-built 'Hampshire' class diesel-multiple units).

With a special Edmondson ticket printed by British Rail, tickets cost 50 pence for adults and 25 pence for children on the last return trip from Wareham to Swanage.

The driver of the last train was 'Johnny' Walker from BR's Bournemouth depot. He had driven the last timetabled steam train out of Swanage in September, 1966.

The last train left Wareham at 9.45pm, calling at Corfe Castle at 10pm and arriving at Swanage at 10.10pm where crowds packed the station platform.

The last train left Swanage at 10.15pm, arriving at Corfe Castle at 10.24pm before arriving at Wareham at 10.40pm. The train then ran all stations to Bournemouth.

The last Swanage to Wareham train was signalled by Corfe Castle signalman Bob Richards who retired from Wareham signal box in 2007 after moving there in 1972.

Six and a half miles of track from Swanage to Motala – half a mile east of Furzebrook – was lifted in just seven weeks during the summer of 1972.

If all the 1,232 steel rails – weighing a total of 1,232 tonnes – lifted in 1972 were laid end to end, the total length would be 13 miles; the distance from Poole to Blandford.

Returning regular passenger trains from Swanage to Wareham has been the aim of the Swanage Railway since the Swanage Railway Society was formed in 1972.

Work on rebuilding the Swanage Railway from nothing started at a derelict Swanage station in February, 1976, after volunteers gained a one-year lease from the council.

Diesel trains started running over a few hundred yards of track at Swanage in August, 1979, with steam trains for the public following during Easter, 1980.

Passenger trains started running to the one-mile point at Herston Halt in 1984 and then to the one and a half mile point at New Barn in 1987.

Passenger trains started running to the three-mile point at Harman's Cross in 1989 and then the five mile point to Corfe Castle – and half a mile on to Norden – in 1995.

Swanage Railway's tracks met the national railway system at Motala (then the end of the freight line from Worgret Junction, just west of Wareham) in January, 2002.

If all the 1,232 metal rails laid by Swanage Railway volunteers from 1976 to 2002were laid end to end, the total length would be 2.5 times higher than Mount Everest.

A signalled connection with the national railway system at Motala – three and a half miles from Worgret Junction and the main line to Wareham – was installed in 2006.

The first diesel and steam excursion trains from London to Swanage since January, 1972, and June, 1967 – respectively – ran in April and May, 2009.

New signalling system between the Swanage Railway and Network Rail is commissioned during June, 2014 – a complicated and trail-blazing four-year project.

Swanage Railway leased the three-mile line from Motala to near Worgret Junction – on the main line to Wareham – from Dorset County Council in September, 2014.

Former signalled boundary between the Swanage Railway and Network Rail at Motala is removed in October, 2014.

Work starts on restoration and upgrade of the three-mile line from Motala to half a mile short of Worgret Junction.

Half a mile of new continuously welded track is laid, a quarter-mile embankment is upgraded, embankments and drains are cleared and lineside fencing renewed.

A main line-standard, state of the art, level crossing is built at Norden Gates, west of Norden station, in Autumn, 2015, to protect the Wytch Farm oil field access road.

The three mile extension's restoration and upgrade work between Motala and near Worgret Junction is completed in April, 2016, with train speeds raised to 25mph.

New £500,000 Norden Gates level crossing (paid for by BP Wytch Farm) signals its first passenger train – a 12-carriage excursion from the midlands – in June, 2016.

Norden Gates level crossing, and the three-mile extension from Motala to near Worgret Junction, was officially opened in October, 2016, by the Dorset High Sheriff.