• Andrew P.M. Wright

Teenage passenger on last train to Swanage in 1972 to drive 50th anniversary heritage diesel service


Photograph: Andrew P.M. Wright

A dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer who rode on the last British Rail train from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage as a young teenager on New Year’s Day, 1972 – and watched the branch line demolished before helping to rebuild it – is to drive a special 50th anniversary train service marking the sad and controversial event.


Growing up in Corfe Castle, and now living in Swanage, Peter Frost will be driving a heritage British Railways 1960-built three-carriage Class 117 diesel multiple unit between Norden, Corfe Castle and Swanage on Saturday, 1 January, 2022.


It was on the evening of Saturday, 1 January, 1972, that the last British Rail train ran from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage with the ten-mile branch line closing on Monday, 3 January, 1972.


The five trains a day 50th anniversary commemorative train service will be operating between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Swanage from 10.30am to 4pm. The service will also be running on Sunday, 2 January, and Monday, 3 January, 2022.


Marking the Swanage branch line’s last British Rail train and the 50th anniversary of its closure, a special commemorative heritage Edmondson card ticket has been produced which will be given to passengers travelling between 1 and 3 January, 2022, inclusive.


To help protect passengers against the coronavirus, the Swanage Railway uses a long-life anti-bacterial spray on its trains and stations while passengers are required to wear face coverings on the trains which have openable top-light windows or pull-down windows in the doors to increase ventilation.


A delighted Peter, who became a Swanage Railway volunteer driver in the early 1980s, said: “It’s a great privilege to be chosen to drive the last British Rail train 50th anniversary service because in 1972 bringing the railway back seemed impossible.


“It doesn’t seem 50 years ago since I rode on the last British Rail train to Swanage and back to Corfe Castle as a 13-year old. The train was packed and it was a deeply sad occasion because everyone though the line was gone forever.


“I had known the Swanage branch as a child and its staff were extended members of my family. It was very sad to watch British Rail run down the train service, and make staff redundant, during its five-year attempt to close the line.


“Watching the track being ripped up during just seven weeks in the summer of 1972 was very depressing because rebuilding the line seemed an impossible task,” he added.


After three years of campaigning by railway enthusiasts and community volunteers – and following a referendum among Swanage residents in 1975 – the town council gave the fledgling Swanage Railway Society a one-year lease of the disused terminal station.


Peter explained: “Gaining access to the boarded up station on the first day of restoration work in February, 1976, was incredible because we had been given the chance to rebuild the railway. Many people thought it was an impossible task but we wanted to give it a try.


“It took just seven weeks to rip up the tracks and more than 30 years to relay them. Several generations of volunteers have worked tirelessly to rebuild the Swanage Railway which is a tribute to the power and determination of the human spirit,” he added.


Opened in May, 1885, the ten-mile Swanage branch line was controversially closed by British Rail, after five years of trying, against the opposition of local people and councils.


Composed of two three-carriage 1957-built British Railways diesel-electric multiple units, the last train left Wareham at 9.45pm for Corfe Castle and Swanage. It was boycotted by protesting Wareham councillors angry at the closure of the Purbeck branch line.


With 500 passengers on board, who had each purchased a specially printed British Rail Edmondson card ticket costing 50 pence for an adult and 25 pence for a child, the last train departed a gas lit Swanage station platform at 10.15pm before passing through Corfe Castle at 10.24pm and pulling into Wareham at 10.40pm.


The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out more should contact Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Jonathan Evans on 01929 408466 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


Available in advance – and on the day from station booking offices – return daily tickets for the Saturday, 1 January, to Monday, 3 January, 2022, inclusive, special commemorative heritage diesel train service are £10 for adults, £5 for children aged five to 15 years with children aged under five travelling free.


Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.