The Swanage Railway is to re-open with a special fund-raising train service protecting the health of passengers and staff – socially distanced seats being booked on-line, the wearing of face masks and the 1960s heritage diesel trains running non-stop from Swanage to Norden and return with no call at Corfe Castle.
Supporting the heritage railway’s survival plan – and in parallel with its £360,000 ‘Save Our Service’ donation appeal – the socially distanced re-opening comes as the Government permits Covid-19 secure tourist attractions to operate from Saturday, 4 July, 2020.
The Swanage Railway has been awarded ‘Good to Go’ certification by the Visit England tourism body for demonstrating that the heritage railway has met the required level of compliance with its Covid-19 preparations and precautions ahead of re-opening.
Hauled by a 1960 ex-British Railways Southern Region Class 33 diesel-electric locomotive, the special train service will be operating every day from Saturday, 11 July, through to Friday, 31 July, 2020. Passengers will not be able to alight or board the trains at Norden.
The five-carriage long trains will be running four times a day, starting their return journey from Swanage, and will not be able to be boarded or alighted at Herston Halt, Harman’s Cross and Corfe Castle stations.
With on-line bookings opening seven days at a time on the Swanage Railway’s website, the heritage diesel trains depart Swanage station at 10.30am, 12.00 noon, 1.30pm and 3pm for the 45-minute return journey which includes a 15-minute stop at Norden station.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: “We have undertaken a full risk assessment, using Government guidance, that has enabled us to prepare for services that are safe for passengers and staff with trains being cleaned after every journey.
“Trains will be regularly cleaned and surfaces wiped while also being sanitised with a long-lasting spray proven to kill the virus. Seating on trains will be limited to ensure that social distancing can be maintained.
“All passengers and staff on trains will be required – unless exempt for health reasons – to wear face coverings. All seats will be pre-booked in blocks of four to prevent overcrowding and ensure that social distancing can be maintained.
“Any blocks of seats made available for purchase on the day at Swanage station will have to be paid for by contactless card methods while the movement of the public at the station will be managed to ensure that social distancing is maintained,” added Mr Johns, a volunteer signalman on the Swanage Railway.
To protect the health of passengers and staff, there will be no toilets on the trains but the toilets will be open at Swanage station.
In addition to bays of four seats, each train will have four compartments – each seating six people – and four window seats for two people, all available for purchase in advance via the Swanage Railway’s website. There will also be a wheelchair space on each train.
While a socially distanced Swanage station shop will be open, subject to volunteer availability, when trains are running, the catering outlets at Swanage and Norden stations will remain closed.
Gavin Johns explained: “To offer a safe passenger experience requires a different approach to using our trains and the need to reduce seat availability to 40 per cent to ensure social distancing means that the cost of the operation of the trains is critical.
“Our regulators are expecting us to follow a soft approach to the re-start of services to help us gain familiarity with safe Covid-19 compliant operation, hence the decision to run four non-stop Swanage to Norden trains a day from Saturday, 11 July, 2020.
“Initially, we are using 1960s heritage diesel locomotives to test the interest of our customers and during August, 2020, we may be able to allow passengers to join the train at Norden as well as more trains a day depending on the number of passengers we attract.
“Intermediate stations at Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Herston Halt will remain closed for the present because of the difficulty of reconciling the need to manage passenger numbers and train ticket bookings – made in advance on-line – while ensuring social distancing and the safety of our passengers and staff.
“We need to earn money to support our survival plan and we believe that we can do so in full compliance with Government restrictions and health advice,” added Mr Johns.
During the Swanage Railway’s three-month Coronavirus shutdown since mid-March, 2020, the award-winning heritage line has been kept in a care and maintenance state, by a skeleton staff, with its tracks and signalling systems regularly inspected and maintained.
In preparation for the new service, test trains – not carrying the public – will be operating on the Swanage Railway between Saturday, 4 July, and Friday, 10 July, 2020, inclusive.
A special video showing the measures that have been taken to keep passengers and staff safe can be viewed on the Swanage Railway’s website – swanagerailway.co.uk – and on Swanage Railway's YouTube channel.
To make a donation, visit www.saveourservice.co.uk for PayPal or the Giving page on this web site for details about donating by PayPal, bank transfers and cheques along with Gift Aid that can further boost your donation by 25 per cent.
You can also text SOS to 70470 to donate £10 which costs £10 plus a standard rate message. Any whole amount between £1 and £20 can be donated – for example, texting SOS 4 equates to a £4 donation plus the cost of a standard rate message.
Story by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.