Published 27th February 2013
We love going to the seaside and what better way to get there than by rail? Well, perhaps travelling to the coast behind a steam locomotive represents the icing on the cake.
Two announcements of grant backing from the Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) made at the beginning of February bring great news for rail passengers to Swanage in Dorset and Whitby in North Yorkshire - and the prospect of a lot more steam-hauled trains serving these seaside towns.
A £1.47 million grant to the volunteer-run Swanage Railway Company, owned and controlled by the Swanage Railway Trust charity, will enable operation of regular trains between the national network station at Wareham and the heritage line’s Swanage station, probably by spring 2015.
The money comes from the CCF following a bid supported by the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, which is composed of Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, Poole Borough Council, Network Rail, South West Trains, the Swanage and Purbeck Hospitality Association and Perenco which runs the Wytch Farm oil field north of Corfe Castle.
The Swanage branch was closed by BR in 1972 and reviving the link from Wareham to Swanage has been the ambition behind the revival of the branch as a heritage line ever since. “It took British Rail just seven weeks to lift the seven miles of track between Furzebrook, Corfe Castle and Swanage but 30 long years for the Swanage Railway to relay it,” observed Swanage Railway Company chairman Peter Sills, who rode on the last BR train from Swanage to Wareham in January 1972 as a teenager.
The CCF cash will finance upgrades to track and bridges on Network Rail’s three mile line from Worgret Junction (on the London to Weymouth main line) to Motala, just east of Furzebrook. Here, there is an end-on junction with Swanage Railway metals which continue to Nordon, where the current heritage operation commences from a station adjacent to a large car park onwards through Corfe Castle to Swanage.
The single-track Worgret Junction – Motala line currently sees use by occasional excursion trains off the main line to Swanage but requires upgrades before it can become a line used by regular passenger services.
The grant money will also finance bringing two 1960s DMUs up to main line running standards and fund the acquisition of legal permissions required before regular trains from Swanage can run into Wareham. The Swanage Railway is working with NR and Dorset County Council to ensure land access and lease arrangements between Worgret Junction and Motala are in place as soon as possible.
The intention is to commence running a trial service between Swanage and Wareham on 50 days in 2015, increasing to 90 days in 2016. The eventual target is operation of an all-year amenity train service.
These trains are aimed at improving rail access to the coast at Swanage for tourists and providing an enhanced transport link to Poole and Bournemouth for Isle of Purbeck residents, while simultaneously reducing car use on local roads. It is estimated a fully restored train service between Swanage and Wareham will directly create 10 new jobs and a further 40 new jobs indirectly.
Securing the grant cash to upgrade the Worgret Junction to Motala line completes the last piece of a complex jigsaw assembled over many years. It follows incorporation of re-signalling between Wareham and Worgret Junction within NR’s re-signalling of the London to Weymouth line between Poole and Wool, this being made possible by £3.2 million of funding contributed by Purbeck District and Dorset County councils last year. This work included a new connection (turnout) at Worgret Junction installed by NR during December.
Also contributing to the scheme is a £500,000 level crossing at the Wytch Farm oil field and Norden Park & Ride access road just north of Corfe Castle which is being paid for by British Petroleum and French petrol company Perenco.
On the same day as the announcement of a £1.47million grant to the Swanage Railway, it was also confirmed the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) had landed an £800,000 grant from the Coastal Communities Fund towards development of Whitby station.
The NYMR has operated steam-hauled trains from its terminus at Grosmont to Whitby over Network Rail’s Esk Valley line for the last seven years. The arrangement of shared use of the Esk Valley line and Whitby station with Northern Rail’s national network service has worked well, but expansion of the NYMR’s steam services to the coast are constrained by the limited facilities at Whitby station following rationalisation undertaken by BR in the 1960s/1970s.
Last year the NYMR started work aimed at assembling a funding package to develop the station, the central plank of which is reinstatement of a second platform and provision of a run-round loop at the NR-owned station, which would also receive other enhancements to passenger facilities.
With a £500,000 contribution from Network Rail and £800,000 from the CCF, which in turn unlocks a further £100,000 from the Railway Heritage Trust to be spent on heritage improvements, the NYMR has assembled a total funding package of £1.4 million.
With the funding now in place, the NYMR envisages the new platform coming into use in April 2014, enabling the NYMR to increase its service from three to five daily trips to Whitby. Extra trains means more passengers (and income) for the NYMR and more people arriving at Whitby will put more cash into the local tourist economy. Moreover, the better facilities at Whitby station will be good for all rail users, whether arriving from the heritage line or travelling by Northern Rail services.
The investment has also been hailed as a welcome vote of confidence in the long term future of the Esk Valley Line by the Esk Valley Railway Development Company, a not-for-profit Community Rail Partnership