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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

Explore the Isle Of Purbeck thanks to a restored 1950s heritage diesel train

Photograph: Andrew P.M. Wright

A restored 1950s heritage diesel train – of the same type that ran on Dorset’s last branch line between Maiden Newton and Bridport for a decade – is to operate a week-long Winter Explorer train service between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Swanage.

The 1950s ex-British Railways three-carriage Class 117 diesel mechanical multiple unit – known as a DMMU for short – will be operating on the Swanage Railway daily between Tuesday, 27 December, 2022, and Monday, 2 January, 2023, inclusive.

With its all-round windows, and the ability for passengers to sit behind the driver and watch the train being driven, the heritage diesel train is the perfect way to enjoy the stunning landscapes that the Isle of Purbeck has to offer; the area being a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

British Railways diesel mechanical multiple units – including the Class 117 units – operated the Bridport branch in west Dorset from 1965 until the county’s last remaining branch line was closed in May, 1975.

The Class 117 diesel mechanical multiple units also visited the Swanage branch line during its last summer of operation in 1971 on promotional day-tripper trains from London and the Thames valley.

Operating six trains a day, the Winter Explorer heritage diesel train service departs Norden at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2.00pm, 3.00pm and 4.00pm.

The special heritage diesel trains depart Swanage at 11.00am, 12 noon, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.30pm.

Volunteer Swanage Railway Company chairman Robert Patterson said: “The diesel mechanical multiple units represent an important part of this country’s post-war railway history as they were developed as part of the 1955 modernisation plan drawn up by British Railways.

“Replacing steam trains, the diesel mechanical multiple units were used on branch lines and secondary routes for almost 50 years – the last of the now heritage trains being withdrawn in the early to mid-1990s.

“The diesel mechanical multiple units not only worked the west Dorset branch line from Maiden Newton to Bridport for ten years, up to the line’s closure in May, 1975, but also the secondary line from Westbury, Castle Cary and Yeovil Penn Mill down to Dorchester West and Weymouth.

“With windows all the way round the heritage unit, the 1950s heritage diesel mechanical multiple unit gives passengers wonderful views and is the perfect way to explore the Isle of Purbeck whose countryside is a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and part of the designated Jurassic Coast.

“There is also the chance to sit behind the driver and watch, through a glass window, the driver at the controls of the train as the diesel mechanical multiple unit clatters along the tracks,” added Robert who is a volunteer porter on the popular Purbeck heritage line.

Steam trains return to the Swanage Railway on the weekend of Saturday, 7 January, and Sunday, 8 January, 2023, for a special Winter Warm Up event featuring both steam and heritage diesel locomotive trains.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out more should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 408466 or email

Story and photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright, Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.

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