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Published: March 5, 2018

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

Dedicated volunteers who have worked tirelessly – for more than 20 years – to rebuild the infrastructure required to return trains to the main line at Wareham from Swanage and Corfe Castle are celebrating after winning a national award.​

Praising “an incredible project”, the Manisty Award for Excellence from the Heritage Railway Association comes as the Swanage Railway runs nine months of steam train services between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Swanage during 2018.

Swanage Railway volunteers currently operate steam trains at weekends with steam trains daily running from the end of March to the end of October and during weekends in November before the pre-booked ‘Santa Special’ steam trains in December.

The Swanage Railway’s first year of trains to Wareham – on 60 days using contractors who supplied the trains, drivers and guards – took place during the summer of 2017.

The second year of trains to Wareham is set to take place during 2019 – on 90 selected days – with Swanage Railway drivers and guards operating two 1960s heritage diesel trains that are being restored and upgraded to main line standards by contractors.

A Heritage Railway Association spokesman said: “This prestigious award recognises the huge effort over many years to restore passenger services over the full length of the line from Swanage to Wareham – an incredible project that restored a public service.”

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: “Named after Peter Manisty – an important founding father of the heritage railway movement – the award for excellence in returning a train service to the main line at Wareham is an accolade that everyone on the Swanage Railway is very proud and delighted to receive.

“It’s very gratifying to receive this important recognition of our work from our peers in the heritage railway movement.

“Our success in returning trains to Wareham has been possible through the help and support of our stakeholders in the Purbeck Community Partnership – including Purbeck district and Dorset county councils, Perenco, Network Rail as well as South West Trains and now the South Western Railway,” he added.

Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons explained: “Returning trains to Wareham has involved the Swanage Railway completing several complicated, detailed and challenging projects over more than five years.

“Those projects included restoring and upgrading three miles of former Network Rail line, designing and installing a complicated and innovative signalling system linking into the main line signalling system, a new level crossing and road-rail interchange at Norden as well a lease from Dorset County Council enabling the Swanage Railway to run into Wareham,” added the volunteer Swanage Railway signalman and train guard.

The Swanage Railway’s Project Wareham director, Mark Woolley, said: “Just over 13,000 passengers were carried during the first year of our trial train service to Wareham – during the summer of 2017 – which compares well with the target figure of 12,000 passengers in the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership business plan.”

“Up to 70 per cent of passengers travelling on last year’s Swanage to Wareham service arrived or departed from Wareham by a main line train which fulfilled one of the trial service’s key objectives.

“The performance of our Wareham trains was good, thanks to a robust timetable, with our connections with main line trains being well maintained – an operational success,” added Mark, a Swanage Railway volunteer since a teenager in the mid-1980s.

The Heritage Railway Association spokesman said: “Peter Manisty was very active and supportive in the early days of railway preservation when he was the inspector responsible for the heritage sector at Her Majesty’s Railways Inspectorate. Without Peter’s support, heritage railways would be very different today.”

The challenging project for contractors to restore and upgrade the Swanage Railway’s two ex-British Railways 1960s heritage diesel trains – to main line standards – has delayed the second year of the trial train service from Swanage to Wareham to 2019.

The trains are being given new wheel-sets, a Network Rail-compliant train protection and warning system, an on-train monitoring recorder, a GSM-R wireless communications system and central door locking so the units can run into Wareham.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers so, for a chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 408492 or email him at [email protected]