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Published: April 16, 2016

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

A rare Victorian-designed M7 tank steam locomotive has hauled a passenger train to Furzebrook, Creech Bottom, East Holme and down to the River Frome – within sight of Wareham – for the first time in more than 50 years.

The special piece of railway history involving Drummond Locomotive Society-owned No. 30053 took place on Friday, 8 April, 2016, on the first day of the Swanage Railway's Spring Steam Gala.

A veteran of the Swanage branch in the late 1930s and during the 1940s – as well as from late 1963 to May, 1964 – the M7 was built for the London and South Western Railway at Nine Elms in London during 1905.

No. 30053's historic first run started when it departed Swanage station with the 4.30pm to Norden where 1916-built Great Western Railway Tank locomotive No. 4247 was attached to the rear of the train for the four-mile run to the River Frome.

Then, at 5.02pm, the train departed Norden station for the River Frome with No. 30053 hauling its first passenger train between Norden and half-a-mile short of Worgret Junction for the first time since May, 1964, when the last of the M7s – including No. 30053 – were withdrawn from traffic at Bournemouth shed.

After reaching the Frome River bridge No. 4 at 5.15pm – location of the new Network Rail distant signal for Worgret Junction on the London to Weymouth main line west of Wareham – the train stopped for ten minutes to allow passengers to take in the views of the Frome valley as well as Wareham with the bell tower of the Medieval Lady St Mary's church by the town quay.

At 5.25pm, the train departed the Frome River with No. 4247 on the front and M7 No. 30053 on the back – passing over the Norden Gates level crossing at 5.40pm before running into Norden station.

On the footplate of No. 30053 for its historic first run between Norden, Motala, Furzebrook, Creech Bottom, East Holme and the River Frome since May, 1964, was driver Ian McDavid and fireman Alexander Atkins.

A delighted Alexander said: "It was fantastic to go over the new Norden Gates level crossing and on to Furzebrook and down the bank to the River Frome because it was the first time that an M7 has been on that stretch of line since 1964 which is amazing in itself.

"Luckily, we didn't run out of steam or water on the way up to Furzebrook and, in fact, No. 30053 she flew up with the equivalent of around eight coaches on. It was the perfect way to start a new era.

"It was very pleasing to fire the M7 on its first run down to the River Frome, mainly due to the ability of No. 30053 to haul the equivalent of eight coaches up the 1 in 78 gradient – coming back from the River Frome to Furzebrook – unassisted. Moreover, the M7 actually accelerated up the bank. 

"Ian McDavid, my driver, and I were rather chuffed that we managed the climb the two mile gradient from the River Frome to Furzebrook in such fine fashion – full second valve, 25 per cent cut off, injector on and pressure hovering on the red line all the way to the top.

"It was a real thrill to fire No. 30053 on its first passenger train between Norden, Furzebrook and the River Frome since May, 1964 – the Edwardian locomotive is an absolutely marvellous machine," added the former member of the Swanage Railway's Sygnets youth group.

The Swanage Railway's three-day Spring Steam Gala also saw two other firsts take place on the newly completed four-mile extension between Norden Gates level crossing and the River Frome.

It was the first time that a Bulleid Pacific steam locomotive had hauled a timetabled passenger train on that section of line since September, 1966.

And it was also the first time since the early 1960s that a Southern Railway 'U' class locomotive had performed the train-hauling honours between Norden, Furzebrook and the River Frome.

Starting from Swanage, four passenger trains a day during the Spring Steam Gala ran the four miles 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 were 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 had a steam locomotive at each end.

Swanage Railway Company director and director for Project Wareham, Mark Woolley, said: "It was a real thrill to see the Drummond Locomotive Society's M7 tank make such a special piece of history and run past locations that the locomotive last visited more than 50 years ago.

"It was very lucky that No. 30053 escaped the cutter's torch in 1964 and was purchased by an American millionaire for his locomotive museum in the United States.

"It was even more remarkable that a group of Swanage Railway volunteers was able to purchase the locomotive from the museum more than 20 years later, return No. 30053 to the Swanage Railway and restore her to full working order.

"The M7 represents some 40 years of Swanage Railway locomotive history, from the 1920s through to the 1960s, and it is the archetypal Purbeck branch line engine.

"Our dedicated teams have worked very hard over the past 18 months restoring and upgrading the three-mile former Network Rail line from Motala through Furzebrook, Creech Bottom and East Holme down to the Frome River.

"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," added Mr Woolley, a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since the early 1980s.

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 was 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 was the Swanage Railway's stable of four steam ex-main line locomotives dating from 1905 through to 1955.

There was 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 visited 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 saw 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.