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Published: April 9, 2016

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

History has been made during the Swanage Railway's Spring Steam Gala when the first timetabled passenger train ran over four miles of newly restored line towards Wareham – for the first time in 44 years.

And the event's guest steam locomotive is playing a starring role on all three days of the gala because it's helping to haul the special four-trains-a-day service between Norden, Furzebrook, Creech Bottom, East Holme and the Frome River.

The annual Spring celebration of steam takes place between Friday and Sunday, 8 to 10 April, 2016, inclusive, and will sees an intensive train service between Swanage, Herston Halt, Harman's Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden – including nostalgic freight trains from yesteryear.

Starting from Swanage, four passenger trains each day will be running beyond Norden station, over the newly installed Norden Gates level crossing and on past Motala, Furzebrook, Creech Bottom and East Holme before stopping at the River Frome – within sight of the town of Wareham.

Passengers will not able to board or alight the steam trains running over the four-mile extension beyond Norden station and the trains operating between Norden and the River Frome will have a steam locomotive at each end.

The first train between Norden and the Frome River departed Swanage at 9.45am on Friday, 8 April, 2016, with Southern Railway late 1920s 'U' class locomotive No. 31806 on the front – a locomotive that used to visit Swanage in the 1950s.

At Norden, Great Western Railway 1916-built tank locomotive No. 4247 was put on the rear of the train for the historic four-mile journey to bridge No. 4 and the Frome River.

Departing Norden at 10.17am, the train crossed the new Norden Gates level crossing before passing Furzebrook at 10.21am and arriving at the River Frome at 10.30am. After a stop of ten minutes, the train departed at 10.40am, arriving back at Norden at 10.55am.

Swanage Railway Company director and director for Project Wareham, Mark Woolley, said: "It was wonderful to see the first timetabled passenger train run between Norden and the River Frome bridge No. 4 for the first time since January, 1972, when the last British Rail passenger train ran to Wareham from Corfe Castle and Swanage.

"Our dedicated teams have worked very hard over the past 18 months restoring and upgrading the former Network Rail line. Half a mile of new track has been laid, almost 2,000 wooden track sleepers replaced, a quarter-mile long embankment upgraded and six miles of lineside embankments cut back, fences repaired and drains cleared.

"It was real history and there was an air of expectation and delight among the passengers on board the special train as it crossed Norden Gates level crossing, ran past Motala and then on to Furzebrook before running down the bank through Creech Bottom and East Holme to bridge No. 4 and the River Frome.

"The first train to the River Frome, within sight of Wareham, in 44 years started its historic journey at Swanage and was hauled by late 1920s Southern Railway 'U' class No. 31806 with our guest locomotive, Great Western Railway tank No. 4247 on the rear. We had to top and tail the train because there are no run-round facilities at the River Frome," explained Mr Woolley.

The locomotive crews on the first train to the Frome River were driver Matt McManus and fireman Sam Dallisson on No. 31806 with driver Nigel Clark and fireman Ashley Haines on No. 4247.

Nigel Clark has been a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since February, 1976, when the Swanage Railway Society gained access to the boarded up Swanage station buildings and started to rebuild the branch line from scratch.

General Manager Matt Green said: "I would like to say a very big thank you to everyone on the Swanage Railway who has made the train service to the River Frome, within sight of Wareham, and the Spring Steam Gala possible.

"That includes our permanent way team which has performed miracles on our new three-mile stretch of line between Motala and the River Frome over the past 18 months.

"There has been a lot of preparation as well as a lot of hard work during the Spring Steam Gala to make sure that everything runs smoothly for what is a very historic event.

"It has been a great team effort and there has been a real buzz around the railway about the first passenger trains using our new £500,000 state of the art level crossing at Norden Gates, just west of Norden station, before continuing on for some four miles to the River Frome," added Mr Green.

The guest locomotive for this year's Spring Steam Gala is a powerful hundred-year-old veteran of the Great Western Railway built in Wiltshire during the First World War for a working career hauling heavy coal trains in South Wales.

A few years before its withdrawal by British Railways in 1964 – and with a powerful tractive effort of more than 31,000 lbs – steam locomotive No. 4247 was transferred south to Cornwall where it hauled trains of China Clay from the pits to the port of Fowey.

After spending 20 years languishing in a South Wales scrapyard, the 82-tonne locomotive was rescued and restored to full working order by a dedicated band of railway enthusiasts from the 4247 Preservation Society.

Also appearing during the Spring Steam Gala will be, subject to availability, the Swanage Railway's stable of four steam ex-main line locomotives dating from 1905 through to 1955.

There will be London and South Western Railway M7 tank No. 30053 built in 1905, Southern Railway U-class locomotive No. 31806 built in the late 1920s, Southern Railway Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34070 'Manston' from the mid-1940s and British Railways Standard Class 4 Tank No. 80104 built at Brighton in 1955.

A 2-8-0 wheel arrangement steam locomotive, No. 4247 is visiting the Swanage Railway from its home on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway in Cornwell where it has been hauling trains on the heritage line for ten years.

Matt Green explained: "The locomotive hauled long 1,000-tonne coal trains from the South Wales mines down to ports for export before hauling the empty wagons back to the coal mines. No. 4247 was a reliable and hard-working stalwart.

"After being rescued from the famous steam locomotive scrapyard at Barry in South Wales, dedicated volunteers spent 20 years of hard work restoring No. 4247 to the gleaming steam locomotive seen and enjoyed today," he added.

The Swanage Railway's Spring Steam Gala also sees the award-winning Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum next to Norden station open as well as the goods shed museum, exhibition and cinema coach at Corfe Castle station.

Swanage Railway train times – and special event details – are available online at www.swanagerailway.co.uk or by telephone on 01929 425800.