Volunteers Celebrate Returning Swanage to Wareham Train Service for First Time in 45 Years
Two generations of volunteers, going back to the Swanage Railway's birth in the mid-1970s, have been celebrating public transport history – returning a train service to Wareham from Swanage and Corfe Castle for the first time in 45 years.
The first train was the 10.23am departure from Swanage to Wareham on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, with the four carriages having a diesel locomotive at each end for ease of operation. Swanage-based Class 33 locomotive No. D6515 was on the Wareham end of the train while West Coast Railways Class 37 No. 37 518 was on the Swanage end.
Sending off the first train, Purbeck Community Rail Partnership chairman Councillor Bill Trite blew a brass horn first used in May, 1885, to dispatch the first train from Swanage – 132 years before – after the ten-mile Victorian branch line to Wareham was opened.
The last British Rail passenger train ran between Swanage and Wareham in January, 1972, with seven miles of railway line being demolished that summer from Swanage back to Furzebrook – three miles from Worgret Junction and the main line to Wareham.
Forty-five years later, Swanage Railway pioneers, volunteers and staff who have worked across two generations to rebuild – and re-connect the heritage line – had the honour of travelling on the first passenger service train from Swanage to Wareham.
Early Swanage Railway volunteer Julian Hathaway flew in from his home in Scotland to ride on the first train. In 1979, he helped to drive the first passenger train at Swanage, an industrial diesel shunter and a carriage, over a few hundred yards of hand-laid track.
Julian said: "It was a day of high emotion and great excitement. It was truly memorable and surreal being in a whirlwind of emotion and a sea of smiling faces – and to think back to the first day of the Swanage Railway's rebuilding in 1976 and say: 'I was there'.
"I had a small part in helping to start the ball moving, it's the later past and present people – who pushed the ball faster and kept on pushing it – who are the true heroes and heroines. A take my hat off to them," added Julian.
A Swanage Railway volunteer signalman for 25 years, Malcolm Munro travelled on the last British Rail train from Swanage to Wareham as a 16 year old in January, 1972. Malcolm said: "It was a wonderful day I will never forget and one I had waited so long to be a part of. There was a great feeling of belonging to something really special.
"It was like a great family celebration but I was mindful of those people who played a part in reaching this moment and are sadly no longer with us to take part.
"It was so good to see so many old faces, and the younger ones too, enjoying their part in what has been created from so much toil and devotion over the years," he added.
The achievement of returning trains from Swanage to Wareham has not just been the result of 40-plus years work by Swanage Railway volunteers but also the heritage line working in partnership with the Government's Coastal Communities Fund, Purbeck district and Dorset county councils, BP, Perenco, Network Rail and South West Trains.
The first Swanage Railway train to Wareham on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, marked the start of a two-year trial service using diesel trains with four trains a day in each direction between Swanage and Wareham.
The trial service runs on 60 selected days during the summer and 90 selected days during the summer of 2018 with the Swanage Railway contracting West Coast Railways to operate the service during the first year.
Because of limited parking at Wareham station – especially on weekdays – passengers are advised to travel to Wareham by public transport for the train service to Corfe Castle and Swanage on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Bob Richards also rode on the first train from Swanage to Wareham in 45 years. In January, 1972, he was the British Rail signalman at Corfe Castle who signalled the last train between Swanage and Wareham. Bob said: "I had a great day meeting many people who have worked so hard to make it possible. I thought back to the many happy days of working on the Swanage branch and the staff who were all such great characters."
Growing up in Corfe Castle, Peter Frost knew the branch line well as a child and rode on the last British Rail train in 1972. Four years later, as a 17 year old, he was one of the first group of Swanage Railway volunteers that begun restoration work at Swanage.
Peter said: "It was a fantastic occasion – realising the aspirations of the Swanage Railway's pioneer members to re-instate a regular amenity train service to Wareham and re-connect Swanage to the national railway network.
"We celebrated the culmination of the collective effort by so many who gave their all. I felt immensely proud of what the Swanage Railway has achieved," he added.
Neil Tatchell was also a teenager when he started as a Swanage Railway volunteer in 1976: "Riding on the first train to Wareham in 45 years was one of the happiest days of my life. We all looked very much older but we were all very proud of our collective success. Meeting old friends was fantastic and the years just melted away.
"I'd like to thank all the people who put in so much effort in the very early days when we had little chance of success. Sadly, after more than 40 years, many of those people are not alive to celebrate with us," added Neil.
Purbeck District Council committed £3.2million for re-signalling improvements and other work between Wareham station, Worgret Junction and Swanage Railway’s existing signalling system at Corfe Castle – the work taking place during 2013 as part of Network Rail’s Poole to Wool re-signalling scheme.
Dorset County Council underwrote Purbeck District Council's financial commitment to the signalling work, the funding being raised through the Purbeck Transport Strategy – which aims to improve traffic movement around the district – by contributions from developers.
A Swanage Railway volunteer since 1976 – when restoration work started at Swanage – Jeremy Weller said: "It was a great day. I felt overwhelmed and had a few quiet moments to take it all in. The goal has been achieved - wow what a journey.
"We should not forget those people from the early days who backed the Swanage Railway, many of whom are no longer with us. It was amazing to meet so many people from the Swanage Railway's early days, some I hadn't seen in 25 years," he added.
A dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since a teenager in the 1980s, Mark Woolley said: "Returning trains to Wareham shows that great things can be achieved through community action, dedication, hard work, teamwork and partnership.
"It was wonderful to meet so many founding and early Swanage Railway volunteers – some of whom I had not seen for 30 years – a lot of which were understandably emotional. The realisation of a 45 year dream is something to be celebrated," added Mark who is the volunteer director of the Swanage Railway's Project Wareham.
Linking the Swanage Railway with Network Rail and the national railway system, a unique and trail-blazing signalling system has been installed, tested and commissioned between Corfe Castle and Wareham in what was a complicated four-year project.
Thanks to a £500,000 legacy donation from BP, the Swanage Railway has built a new level crossing west of Norden station – on the access road to Perenco's Wytch Farm oilfield – so that regular passenger trains can run to Wareham.
Barry Thirlwall travelled on the last British Rail trains between Swanage and Wareham in January, 1972. Forty-five years later, he again travelled from Swanage to Wareham.
Barry said: "It was a wonderful experience and almost surreal. I took my 1972 ticket with me which is now paired with my Swanage Railway Wareham souvenir ticket.
"In 1972, I got off the train at Swanage and went to a meeting in the Railway Hotel where preservationists were desperately trying to whip up support. I was sympathetic but I thought they had no chance – I am so glad to have been proved wrong," he added.
Tickets are £15 for adult or senior citizen day returns between Swanage and Wareham and £9 for adult or senior citizen singles.
Children, aged 5 to 15, are £10 for a return and £6 for a single while Swanage Railway Purbeck resident's discount card holders receive a 33 per cent discount. National Railcards are not accepted.
Tickets for the Wareham service can be purchased from a booking office outside Wareham station's main building – when trains are running – as well as from Swanage Railway booking offices at Swanage, Corfe Castle and Norden.
The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org