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Published: October 10, 2018

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

A mighty 1940s Southern Railway Bulleid Pacific class express steam locomotive that first ran on the Swanage Railway 28 years ago – and which has been out of service since 2003 – will be returning to service during the heritage line’s annual Autumn Steam Gala.​

The 90-ton No. 34072 ‘257 Squadron’ was withdrawn from service on the Swanage Railway in January, 2003 – after hauling trains on the relaid Purbeck Line for 13 years – because the leviathan of steam required a heavy engineering overhaul.

Built in 1948, the Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific will be returning to service on the Swanage Railway after being given an extensive engineering overhaul by its owners – Southern Locomotives Limited – at the Swanage Railway’s heavy engineering facility on the outskirts of Swanage.

On the theme of the historic locomotive exchange trials in 1948 – which included the Bulleid Pacific class and took place on the newly nationalised British Railways network to evaluate different classes of steam locomotives from the previous ‘Big Four’ railway companies – the Autumn Steam Gala runs from Friday to Sunday, 12 to 14 October, 2018, inclusive.

At least seven steam locomotives will be in action through the Isle of Purbeck during the three-day event, including three visiting locomotives – 1938 London Midland and Scottish Railway No. 6233 ‘Duchess of Sutherland’, 1945 London Midland and Scottish Railway Stanier ‘Black 5’ No. 44871 and 1954 British Railways Class 4 Tank No. 80078.

Featuring a varied and intensive service, the Autumn Steam Gala will see steam trains running the five and a half miles between Swanage, Harman’s Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden – with some steam trains running four miles further on to the River Frome bridge, within sight of Wareham.

Tickets for a return trip in the brake van of a freight train between Swanage and Corfe Castle during the Autumn Steam Gala are £10.

Available from the Swanage Railway website, brake van ride tickets are only available to holders of Autumn Steam Gala rover tickets.

As places are limited, brake van ride tickets should be purchased as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Any unsold tickets will be available for purchase on the day.

Swanage Railway Company executive chairman Trevor Parsons said: “Our Autumn Steam Gala will feature an exciting and varied timetable, four nostalgic freight trains running each day between Swanage and Corfe Castle, some passenger trains running on our four-mile extension from Norden to the River Frome, within sight of Wareham, as well as evening dining trains on the Friday and Saturday.

“The appearance of ‘257 Squadron’ hauling passenger trains through the Isle of Purbeck for the first time since 2003 will be a special occasion because No. 34072 was the first main line express steam locomotive to run on the Swanage Railway in November, 1990.

“Back in November, 1990, the locomotive had just been restored to working order from a scrapyard condition – by Southern Locomotives Limited and the Swanage Railway only ran passenger trains along three miles of line from Swanage to Harman’s Cross.

“When ‘257 Squadron’ arrived in Swanage on a road transporter in late October, 1990, the Swanage Railway’s tracks had only been relaid the two miles from Harman’s Cross to Corfe Castle a few months before – with the line yet to be relaid further on to Norden,” added Mr Parsons who is also a volunteer train guard and signalman on the Swanage Railway.

Built at Brighton Works in Sussex and completed in April, 1948, ‘257 Squadron’ was allocated to Dover shed to work continental boat trains to London and the Night Ferry.

No. 34072 also hauled local train services between the Kent coast and Charing Cross station in London, once hauling trains on the Tonbridge to Redhill line which is believed to have been a first for a Bulleid Pacific.

The electrification of the Kent coast lines in 1958 saw ‘257 Squadron’ moved to Exmouth Junction in Devon during February, 1958, from where the locomotive worked trains to Salisbury and Plymouth as well as destinations in north Devon and Cornwall.

British Railways moved No. 34072 to its final shed – Eastleigh in Hampshire – during June, 1964, for working trains on the main line to London Waterloo and at the end of October that year the steam locomotive was withdrawn from service. During its 16-year working career, No. 34072 ran a total of almost 700,000 miles.

‘257 Squadron’ was sold for scrapping to Dai Woodham at Barry in South Wales with the rusting locomotive arriving there in February, 1965 – bound for the cutter’s torch. Nineteen years later, the rusting hulk was rescued by Southern Locomotives Limited.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers to help run the heritage line so call 01929 475212 for a chat or email [email protected]