- Andrew P.M. Wright
Trial train service from Wareham into the heart of Purbeck - thanks to working in partnership
Leave your car at home and travel by rail is the message from the Swanage Railway which is to operate a trial heritage diesel train service from the main line at Wareham into the heart of the Isle of Purbeck - thanks to working in partnership.
Operating from April to September, 2023, tickets for the service will also be available from main line train operating company South Western Railway so its passengers can add tickets for Corfe Castle and Swanage to their main line tickets.
It will be the first time in 51 years - since the last day of British Rail passenger trains between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage on Saturday, 1 January, 1972, before the branch line was controversially closed with most of the track lifted during the summer of 1972 - that such a main line ticket facility for travel to Swanage has been possible.
In another first, the Swanage Railway will be 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 - one mile of which will be on the Network Rail main line from Worgret Junction and directly into Wareham station.
The trial service will operate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 4 April to 10 September, 2023, with the first train departing Wareham at 11.19am and the last train leaving Swanage for Wareham at 4.20pm – giving visitors the opportunity to spend four hours in Swanage or Corfe Castle. The timetable is subject to change on special event days.
Gavin Johns, the volunteer chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust, said: “This trial train service is the result of working in partnership with the Government's Coastal Communities Fund, the Department of Transport, the former Purbeck District Council, Dorset Council, British Petroleum, Perenco, Network Rail and South Western Railway.
“I would like to thank our valued stakeholders for their far-sighted investment of £5.5 million to re-connect Swanage and Corfe Castle with the main line at Wareham which included £1.8 million from the Government's Coastal Communities Fund so we could restore and upgrade our 1950s heritage diesel trains for running on the main line directly into Wareham station," added Gavin who is also a volunteer Swanage Railway signalman.
South Western Railway’s regional development manager, Andrew Ardley, said: “SWR is proud to support the Swanage Railway by giving customers the ability to buy tickets through to Corfe Castle and Swanage from any one of the 189 stations on our network. This is an historic moment for the Swanage Railway and we look forward to seeing the results of this highly anticipated trial.”
On behalf of the Swanage Railway, the trains will be operated and staffed by West Coast Railways which is one of Britain’s leading main line charter and special train operators with whom the Swanage Railway has worked on many occasions.
The four trains a day service from Wareham will be 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 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 trains running on the national railway network.
Trevor Parsons – the volunteer chairman of the Swanage Railway Company which runs the trains for the Swanage Railway Trust – explained: “I would like to say a big thank you to our valued stakeholders for their invaluable help and patience with a complicated and detailed project that has been as ambitious as it has been challenging.
“This trial train service would not be possible without the former Purbeck District Council committing £3.2million from housing developers’ transport improvement contributions for re-signalling improvements between Wareham, Worgret Junction and the Swanage Railway as part of Network Rail’s Poole to Wool re-signalling scheme in 2013,” added Trevor, a volunteer Swanage Railway signalman and train guard as well as a Swanage Railway Trust director.
The chairman of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, Councillor Mike Whitwam, said: “This trial train service to Wareham marks an important opportunity to return to a fully-functioning and sustainable rail service that meets the needs of local communities, visitors and businesses.
"The trial service holds the prospect of Isle of Purbeck residents travelling anywhere possible by rail, leaving their cars at home and taking traffic off the congested A351 road," added Mike who is a Swanage Railway Trust trustee and Swanage town councillor.
During the summer of 2017, the Swanage Railway operated a 60 selected day trial train service from Wareham using hired-in diesel locomotives and carriages operated and staffed by West Coast Railways.
The Swanage Railway had hoped to operate a second year 90 selected day trial train service from Wareham during 2018 but this was delayed and then the Covid pandemic hit with further delays caused its practical and economic effects.
Tickets for the trial heritage diesel train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage will be available at swanagerailway.co.uk from Monday, 13 March, 2023.
Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 475212 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More details about the varied volunteering opportunities on the Swanage Railway can be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.
Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.