Swanage Railway Swanage Railway Swanage Railway


Published: June 15, 2016

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

A new £500,000 level crossing – provided thanks to the 'legacy' support of the Wytch Farm oil field's previous and current operators – that will enable regular passenger trains to run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham has been fully used for the first time.

Half a mile north of Corfe Castle, the newly commissioned Norden Gates level crossing has taken dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers four years and more than 3,000 hours of design, building and testing work to bring to fruition.

A key part of the Swanage Railway's Project Wareham – and its two-year trial train service to Wareham from June, 2017 – Norden Gates level crossing was used for the first time to signal a 12-carriage 'Purbeck and Bournemouth Explorer' excursion train from the midlands on Saturday, 11 June, 2016.

Carrying some 450 passengers, and hauled by two late 1960s-built Class 50 British Rail express heritage diesel locomotives, the train started its journey at Derby and was operated by Pathfinder Tours and GB Railfreight.

Located west of the Swanage Railway's Norden station, the state of the art level crossing called 'Norden Gates' allows trains to cross a busy and important road giving access to the Wytch Farm on-shore oilfield as well as Purbeck District Council's car park next to Norden station.

Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: "It was wonderful and very exciting to see the long excursion train from the midlands use our new level crossing at Norden Gates on its way down to Corfe Castle and Swanage.

"The safety of the public, and our passengers, is our paramount concern. The new full-barrier level crossing will enable regular passenger trains to run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the Wareham for the first time since 1972.

"We are grateful to former Wytch Farm oil field operator British Petroleum (BP) for promising the 'legacy' payment of £500,000, to the current operator Perenco for delivering the payment and to Dorset County Council for administrating the process which has enabled the new Norden Gates level crossing to be built," he added.

When the Wytch Farm oil field access road was built off the A351 Wareham to Corfe Castle road in 1988 – crossing the then disused railway trackbed at Norden – BP paid for a basic level crossing road surface, with rails, to be installed in anticipation of when our relaid tracks would reach that point.

Mark explained: "Our tracks reached the Wytch Farm access road in 1999 with BP committing to pay the £500,000 cost of an up to date railway crossing at Norden that conformed to exacting national railway safety standards.

"By the time that work had to start on the level crossing in 2012, Perenco had taken over the operation of the Wytch Farm oil field from BP.

"Equipped with full barriers, warning lights and audible alerts, the signal box for Norden Gates level crossing has been built of wood – with a slate roof – in the style of the branch line signal box at Lyme Regis station in west Dorset.

"A lot of detailed work has gone into designing, building and installing the signal box and signalling system at Norden Gates, together with its electrical operation and safety systems, and I thank everyone who has been involved.

"I also pay tribute to long-time Swanage Railway volunteer Frank Roberts, the scheme's project manager, who contributed a huge amount of time and commitment into making Norden Gates level crossing a successful reality.

"Thank also go to the small team of experienced technical testers – who normally work on level crossings across the national railway network – for their meticulous work on this challenging, complex and critical project," added Mark, a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer for more than 30 years.

Approved by the Government's Department for Transport, the level crossing's computer-controlled safety systems, crossing barriers and road user warning systems were designed and installed by Schweizer Electronic of Switzerland.

The 12-carriage Derby excursion train was hauled by late 1960s-built heritage Class 50 locomotives No. 50 007 'Hercules' and No. 50 050 'Fearless'.