The ‘Save Your Railway’ appeal is aimed at boosting the financial reserves of the Swanage Railway through the early months of 2024 before the main trading season resumes in the spring.
As well as the Swanage Railway Trust launching its ‘Save Your Railway’ appeal to raise £450,000, the Swanage Railway Company – which runs the heritage steam trains on behalf of the Trust - aims to reduce operating costs by £350,000 while also working on an initiative to attract more visitors to the Isle of Purbeck during 2024.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Frank Roberts said: “We are well aware that the cost of living crisis is affecting very many people but every pound donated to our ‘Save Your Railway’ appeal will help the Swanage Railway.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Swanage Railway has found it challenging to attract more passengers while also trying to reduce strong inflationary and economic pressures.
“While our passenger numbers are recovering – more than 141,000 people so far this year compared with more than 202,000 people for the whole of 2019 - they have not returned to 2019 levels while inflation continues to increase our operating costs with the Swanage Railway having to pay more for coal, oil, water and other services.
“We have also had to carry out the expensive upgrade and overhaul of a Victorian metal girder bridge, carrying the Swanage Railway over a road, near Furzebrook at the western end of our heritage line.
“To increase income, we will be repositioning the Swanage Railway into a broader and more commercial visitor experience while also maintaining our heritage train business. It’s a challenge as well as an opportunity to shape the Swanage Railway for the future.
“We are working to make the Swanage Railway more efficient and effective as well as being capable of attracting increasing numbers of passengers.
“We have gaps in our management structure that need to be filled by willing volunteers with relevant skills and experience.
“The longer term survival of the Swanage Railway depends on a positive and quick response to our call to arms,” added Frank who lives in Swanage and has been a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer on the Dorset heritage line for almost 40 years.
The Swanage Railway Trust has a national membership of 4,000 people while 450 people volunteer their services on the Swanage Railway - in a variety of operational, maintenance, restoration and commercial roles - so the steam trains can run.
After the ten-mile branch line from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage was controversially closed by British Rail in January, 1972, most of the line was lifted.
Volunteers with the Swanage Railway Society started restoration work at a disused and boarded up Swanage station in February, 1976.
The first diesel trains ran over a few hundred yards of track at Swanage in 1979 with the first steam trains appearing at the restored Victorian station in 1980.
In 1984, the train service was extended out of Swanage station to the one-mile point at Herston where a halt was built while the track was relayed further westwards.
Steam trains were extended to the three-mile point at Harman’s Cross in 1989 where another station was built – the first in Dorset in more than half a century.
Steam trains returned to Corfe Castle and Norden in 1995 and by 2002 the Swanage Railway had relaid a total of almost seven miles of track from Swanage so the heritage line could meet the national railway network at Furzebrook.
Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email email@example.com. Details about volunteering can also be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.
Donations to the Swanage Railway Trust’s £450,000 ‘Save Your Railway’ appeal can be made on-line at swanagerailwaytrust.enthuse.com/saveyourrailway while cheques can be sent to the Swanage Railway Trust, Station House, Swanage, Dorset, BH19 1HB marked ‘Save Your Railway Appeal’.
Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.