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Published: September 6, 2016

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

Dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers have marked the 50th anniversary of the last regular British Rail steam trains between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage – a move that heralded the beginning of the end for the Purbeck branch line.

In a strange twist of fate, the driver of the last regular steam train from Swanage to Wareham in September, 1966, drove the final British Rail train from Swanage – a diesel unit – five years later in 1972.

It was on Sunday, 4 September, 1966, that the final timetabled steam-hauled passenger trains operated on the ten-mile branch line that left the main London to Weymouth line west of Wareham.

From the next day – Monday, 5 September, 1966 – the Purbeck train service timetable was changed so it could be operated by a three-carriage 'Hampshire' class diesel-electric multiple unit (known as a DEMU) built at Eastleigh in Hampshire during 1957.

The driver of the last timetabled British Rail steam train from Swanage on Sunday, 4 September, 1966, was Bournemouth-based 'Johnny' Walker who later had the honour of driving the last train from Swanage in January, 1972.

His locomotive for that last timetabled steam train from Swanage in 1966 was early 1950s-built British Railway Class 4 2-6-0 wheel arrangement tender locomotive No. 76010 while his train in 1972 was composed of two grimy moaning and juddering 'Hampshire' class DEMUs.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: "After No. 76010 made the last steam run from Swanage to Wareham on the evening of Sunday, 4 September, 1966, the train returned to Bournemouth where the locomotive went back to the engine shed and had its fire dropped for the last time.

"Being withdrawn from service, No.76010 was stored at Bournemouth shed for a few weeks before being sold for scrap. It was towed to a scrapyard in Newport, South Wales, where it was cut up in March, 1967.

"The end of regular timetabled steam trains between Wareham and Swanage in 1966 marked the rapid decline of the ten-mile branch line.

"The introduction of diesel trains meant the many tracks at Swanage required for steam operation were no longer needed so, in 1967, the station's signal box was closed and demolished – with the signalling removed and the tracks reduced to just one.

"By September, 1972 – just six years after the end of British Rail steam trains between Wareham and Swanage – the line had been closed and demolished with the rails being melted down for scrap and the wooden track sleepers sold off to farmers for fencing," added Mr Johns.

Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons added: "A lot has happened since the sad events of September, 1966, and the end of regular steam trains on the Swanage branch line.

"Few people thought that the line would ever be rebuilt after it was closed in 1972 but now – 50 years after the last regular British Rail steam trains ran through Corfe Castle to Swanage – it's as though the branch line was never demolished.

"Since 1976, the Swanage Railway has been rebuilt from nothing and the first steam trains returned to Swanage in 1980 when volunteers operated trains over a few hundred yards of second-hand track to just beyond the station's disused Victorian engine shed," explained Mr Parsons.

For an informal chat, potential Swanage Railway volunteers should contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email [email protected]