Published: 24th October 2014
The three crucial miles of trackbed between Motala (half a mile east of Furzebrook) and a location a quarter of a mile south of Worgret Junction (a mile west of Wareham where the Swanage branch leaves the London to Weymouth main line) is now in the hands of the Swanage Railway. The line was acquired by Dorset County Council from fellow Purbeck Community Rail Partnership member Network Rail, DCC then agreed a 99-year lease of the land to the Swanage Railway.
With access to the land, the heritage line can commence upgrading works to bring the three-mile line to a standard which will allow 25m.p.h. running of passenger trains. Services, initially on a trial basis running on 140 selected dates over two years (50 days during the first year and 90 days during the second) could commence in autumn 2015. These will be the first passenger trains between Wareham and Swanage for over 40 years.
Major tasks include replacing some 1,700 wooden sleepers, repairs to bridges, clearing six miles of embankments, examination and repair of six miles of lineside fencing. Work will also be needed on a level crossing and road-rail interchange just west of Norden station, the Swanage Railway’s present normal operating terminus.
The new 99-year lease from Dorset County Council also includes the existing six and a half mile Swanage Railway from Motala to the Northbrook Road bridge at Swanage station. This section was previously covered by a shorter lease. Securing the lease enables the Swanage Railway to fully access the £1.47million Government grant from the Coastal Communities Fund to develop a train service to Wareham, which has been a founding objective of the Swanage Railway since its formation in 1972. It also opens the way to applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other major grant-making bodies for significant financial assistance.
Following the ceremonial signing, witnessed by members of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, of the new lease at Purbeck District Council's Wareham headquarters on September 8 Swanage Railway Company chairman, Peter Sills, observed that this was an important and historic day for the Swanage Railway and the development of public transport in Purbeck. "I am very grateful to Swanage Railway Trust Chairman Gavin Johns and Mick Stone, our lands and property specialist, for their professionalism and determination in leading the detailed and lengthy lease negotiations," he commented.
"Completing the lease is an important milestone for the Swanage Railway and the Purbeck area,” confirmed Swanage Railway Trust chairman, Gavin Johns. “It provides a sound long-term basis on which to plan the Swanage Railway's growth and development, encapsulating commitments to develop a vision for rail travel with the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership. Many of our staff and volunteers have contributed much time and effort to reach this stage and I'd like to thank them all for their support and commitment in reaching this important point," explained Mr Johns who is also a volunteer Swanage Railway signalman.
The Swanage Railway lost little time in setting to work on the newly-leased line. On October 15 the heritage line’s old boundary connection with the national railway system at Motala was dismantled. This link was installed as a safety system when the Swanage Railway signed a connection agreement with Network Rail in 2006. It served to enable special trains to run between the national network and heritage line, the points at Motala being unlocked by keys held by the two parties.
The equipment removed during a five-hour operation included two trap points and related lever frame, a pair of metal gates across the track and a lineside hut. The points were replaced with a length of plain track.
The new boundary between Network Rail and the Swanage Railway, a quarter of a mile south of Worgret Junction, is protected by a new Network Rail signalling system.
"The historic removal of the old Swanage Railway boundary with the national railway system at Motala is a great achievement and very significant in the long campaign to return regular passenger trains between Swanage and Wareham,” commented Peter Sills. "Motala is historically important to the Swanage Railway because it was where British Rail cut short the old branch line and set up a stop block in the summer of 1972 – six months after the last passenger train ran from Swanage and Corfe Castle to Wareham in January of that year." The latter observation was particularly poignant for Mr Sills, who had travelled on that final 1972 BR train from Swanage to Wareham.
A new webcam has been installed on the roof of Corfe Castle signalbox. In addition to showing train movements in real time (rather than a series of stills as more usually found from heritage railway webcams) the image presents views of the ruined, but still impressive, castle high above the station.
The webcam can be accessed via the Swanage Railway's website www.swanagerailway.co.uk .
The installation was the idea of John Hallett, a volunteer porter at Corfe Castle station. The cost of obtaining, setting up and maintaining the new webcam has been covered by RailCam.org.uk, a not-for-profit group relying on public donations to set up and maintain webcams on railways around the country for enthusiasts and the general public to watch.
Part of Corfe Castle, which served as a royal palace, fortress and prison, dates from the 10th century. Forming a Royalist stronghold during the mid-17th century English Civil War, following a siege and capture it was partially demolished by Parliamentary forces, hence its ruinous state.