The first diesel multiple unit train service to the main line at Wareham since 1972 has been started by the Swanage Railway – with a dedicated volunteer who was among the first to start rebuilding the Isle of Purbeck heritage line in 1976 being the conductor driver of the first train.
As a 13-year old growing up in Corfe Castle, Peter Frost rode on the last British Rail train from Swanage to Wareham on the evening of Saturday, 1 January, 1972, composed of two three-carriage 1957 Eastleigh-built ‘Hampshire’ class diesel-electric multiple units.
Fifty-one years later, Peter Frost was in the cab of a former British Railways diesel mechanical multiple unit on Tuesday, 4 April, 2023, when the four-carriage train formed the 10.44am Corfe Castle to Wareham train and the return 11.19am Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage train.
That historic heritage diesel train marked the first day of the Swanage Railway’s 90 selected day trial, four-day a week, heritage diesel train service from the main line at Wareham into the heart of the Isle of Purbeck between 4 April and 10 September, 2023.
For the first time, the Swanage Railway is using its restored and upgraded 1950s heritage diesel trains, used by British Rail across its network from the 1950s to the 1990s, to operate the eleven mile service from Swanage - one mile of which is on the Network Rail main line from Worgret Junction into Wareham station.
From the end of April, tickets for the Swanage Railway’s Wareham service will also be available from main line train operating company South Western Railway so its passengers can purchase add-on tickets for Corfe Castle and Swanage with their main line tickets.
That will be the first time in 51 years - since British Rail controversially closed and lifted the Swanage branch line in 1972 - that such a main line ticket facility for train travel to Swanage has been possible.
On Tuesday, 4 April, 2023, the first train from Wareham, the 11.19am to Corfe Castle and Swanage was waved off by the Mayor of Wareham, councillor Malcolm Russell. Later, Malcolm welcomed the Mayor of Swanage, Tina Foster, when she arrived at Wareham at 1pm on the first train from the seaside terminal station at Swanage.
Now living in Swanage, Peter Frost, aged 65, said: “It was wonderful when the train left the Swanage Railway single line and ran on to the main line at Worgret Junction for the final mile of the journey into Wareham. I certainly felt the hand of history on my shoulder.
“That first passenger train into Wareham was something that several generations of dedicated and determined Swanage Railway volunteers have worked towards since 1972.
“I rode on the last British Rail train from Swanage to Wareham as a 13-year old on the cold evening of Saturday, 1 January, 1972, before witnessing the sad sight of the track being ripped up for scrap during that summer. Most people thought that really was the end.
“After seven miles of track from Swanage through Corfe Castle to Furzebrook had been lifted in just seven weeks, it seemed the branch line would never come back. Rebuilding the Swanage Railway, and returning trains to Wareham, seemed impossible to most people but we had a dream and wanted to try and make it come true,” added Peter who has been driving steam locomotives on the Swanage Railway since the late 1970s.
The Swanage Railway’s trial 90-selected day Wareham service operates on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until 10 September, 2023. With the first train departing Wareham at 11.19am - and the last train leaving Swanage for Wareham at 4.20pm – visitors have the ability to spend up to four hours in Swanage or Corfe Castle. The timetable is subject to change on Swanage Railway special event days.
The Wareham trains are being operated and staffed for the Swanage Railway by West Coast Railways, one of Britain’s leading main line charter and special train operators. A Swanage Railway conductor driver and conductor guard are required to be on the Wareham trains with the West Coast Railways driver and guard.
The four trains a day Wareham service is formed of a three-carriage heritage Class 117 diesel multiple unit that can have a one-carriage heritage Class 121 diesel multiple unit added at busy times, giving a total of 292 seats. The units are berthed and serviced at a depot built in the goods yard at Corfe Castle station.
The two heritage diesel trains have been restored and upgraded for the Swanage Railway by specialist contractors who fitted the same technical, signalling and safety equipment that is installed on all other main line trains running on the national railway network.
The conductor guard on the first day of the Swanage Railway’s Wareham heritage diesel train service was volunteer guard and signalman Trevor Parsons who is chairman of the Swanage Railway Company – which runs the heritage trains – and a director of the Swanage Railway Trust which manages the volunteer-run heritage line.
Anyone interested in finding out about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 475212 or send an email to email@example.com.
More details about the Swanage Railway’s varied volunteering opportunities can be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.
Tickets for the trial heritage diesel train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage are available at swanagerailway.co.uk
Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.