Published: 24th April 2015
The Swanage Railway, one of Britain’s Premier League heritage lines, runs between Swanage and Norden park-and-ride station, passing through Harmans Cross and Corfe Castle en route. That the timetable for the line’s April 17-19 Spring Steam Gala listed Wareham as a destination beyond Norden, albeit with no train times appearing, was a portent of things to come.
Listing Wareham as one of its stations was a clear statement that the ambitions expressed when a society was formed to revive the branch in May 1972 – reinstatement of a year-round community rail service to Wareham – will start to become reality early in 2016.
The last BR passenger service from Wareham to the seaside town ran on January 3 1972. In just seven weeks BR lifted and scrapped the six and a half miles of track between Motala and Swanage, leaving just a long siding from Worgret Junction serving the sidings at Furzebrook. Over the ensuing 30 years volunteers succeeded in reinstating the lost track to create a thriving heritage railway.
Another 14 years will have been spent completing the task of fully reinstating the branch – with trial DMU services to provide a community link between Wareham and Swanage running on 50 days in 2016. These operations will expand to 90 days in 2017, with the eventual target of providing an all-year amenity train service, interlaced with heritage steam (and diesel) trains over the Norden – Swanage route.
Working the Wareham services requires running over Network Rail metals for about a mile between Wareham and Worgret Junction, where the branch swings away from the Weymouth - Bournemouth main line. Operation by a main line registered Train Operating Company is therefore essential with all the expense and work associated with this operation. It is made more complicated because the last mile is on a 650volt DC electrified main line.
Although the initial assumption was that the Swanage Railway would do a deal with an existing TOC to work these trains, the Swanage Railway has decided to form its own TOC and handle the task itself. A key factor was realisation in talks with existing TOCs that such an arrangement would not have produced the kind of service the Swanage Railway was looking for. Going in-house will also aid the priority requirement of ensuring the DMUs operating the community services gel seamlessly with the line’s core business of operating heritage trains.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has formed a TOC which operates on the national network between Whitby, Grosmont and Battersby. Their maximum speed is 45mph and the line is mainly single track with passing loops. The West Somerset Railway could also follow this TOC route for running between Norton Fitzwarren and Taunton possibly followed by the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway to run the final 750 yards on main line metals to Risborough. The latter would be along a 15mph network siding though rather than a main line passenger line.
The precise name of the new TOC has yet to be determined, but it will operate into Wareham under a Non-Main Line Safety Case, probably under the aegis of the Swanage Railway Company.
Work is in progress to up-grade the line’s Safety Management System and provide additional training for its staff (paid and volunteer) to enable drivers, guards and permanent way staff to achieve the required main line Personal Track Safety certification.
A full-barrier level crossing with lights is due to be installed at Norden by Swiss contractors Schweizer this summer. The layout of the new crossing will incorporate a revised road/rail interface and provision for an envisaged three-car DMU bay platform at Norden planned as part of a future rebuilding of the station.
Some reinforcement of an embankment south of Furzebrook which has been weakened by animal activity also needs to be undertaken. In all other respects the infrastructure to enable running to Wareham is in place. DMUs to operate the trial services are currently being prepared by Arlington Fleet Services at Eastleigh.
Two guest locomotives formed the headline attractions for the Spring Steam Gala. NRM-owned Maunsell SR 4-4-0 No. 925 Cheltenham visited from its Mid-Hants Railway base to become the first ‘Schools’ class locomotive to run at the railway. Indeed, while the class once headed expresses through Wareham on the London to Bournemouth and Weymouth main line, they never ventured on to the Swanage branch, making Cheltenham’s appearance a significant ‘first’.
While Cheltenham arrived by road from Hampshire, the second star guest, main line registered ‘Britannia’ No. 70000 Britannia (owned by the Royal Scot Locomotive and General Trust) arrived in advance of the gala on March 31 after a seven-hour rail journey from the West Somerset Railway via Bristol, Salisbury and Southampton. Britannia had run over Swanage metals previously at the head of a charter train off the national network, but this was the first time No. 70000 had worked service trains on the Purbeck Line.
The visiting attractions joined Swanage residents SR Maunsell U class 2-6-0 No. 31806, LSWR M7 0-4-4T No. 30053, BR 4MT 2-6-4T No. 80104 and ‘Battle of Britain’ No. 34070 Manston to provide a strong line-up of steam power on the branch. Offering a vivid contrast, Hampshire Narrow Gauge Railway Trust’s ex-Dinorwic slate quarry Hunslet 0-4-0ST Cloister was in steam on the 2ft gauge running line at Norden associated with the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum offering ‘Driver for a Fiver’ opportunities to gala visitors.