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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

Volunteers win two national awards for ambitious restoration of unique Victorian steam locomotive

Photograph: Andrew P.M. Wright

Dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers are celebrating after winning two prestigious national awards for their six-year restoration of a unique Victorian steam locomotive so it could haul its first passenger train in almost 80 years. 

 

The Swanage Railway Trust’s 563 Locomotive Group scooped the Heritage Railway Association Chairman’s Special Award and also the Association’s Steam Railway Magazine Readers’ Award for the ambitious project costing £650,000. 

 

The two Heritage Railway Association awards to the Swanage Railway Trust came just days after the Swanage Railway won the Business of the Year Award, for its contribution to tourism in the Isle of Purbeck, from The Total Guide to Tourism, in the Purbeck Business Awards. 

 

563 Locomotive Group chairman Nathan Au was presented with the two awards by Heritage Railway Association vice-chairman Chris Price and Steam Railway deputy editor Thomas Bright at a special Heritage Railway Association Annual Awards evening in Brighton, East Sussex, on Saturday, 10 February, 2024. 

 

The Heritage Railway Association chairman is Sir Peter Hendy, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, who is also the chair of Network Rail, a trustee of the Science Museum Group and a director of the London Transport Museum. 

 

Resplendent in its new lined out 1890s Drummond passenger green livery, the 81-tonne T3 was officially unveiled in a special ceremony at Swanage station in October, 2023, so that it could haul its first passenger train since 1945 when the locomotive with withdrawn by the Southern Railway after having run a total of 1.5 million miles. 

 

With the £650,000 cost of the meticulous restoration almost all covered by generous donations from railway enthusiasts, No. 563 hauled its first freight train since 1945 during a special Winter Warm Up weekend on the Swanage Railway in January, 2024. 

 

Built in 1893 to a design by renowned engineer William Adams – and one of the finest express passenger train locomotives of the Victorian era – the non-working T3 No. 563 was donated to the Swanage Railway Trust by the National Railway Museum in 2017. 

 

Due to be scrapped in the late 1930s, No. 563 was spared by the start of the Second World War in 1939 while with the coming of peace, the T3’s cutting up was prevented when the steam locomotive was selected to be part of the centenary celebrations for London’s Waterloo station in 1948. 

 

563 Locomotive Group chairman Nathan Au said: “We are delighted to have won these two Heritage Railway Association awards and I would like to thank everyone who voted for the T3 project which has been fulfilling while also being challenging at times. 

 

“We are also very grateful to everyone who has been involved with the T3’s restoration for their hard work and commitment as well as to our supporters for their donations, contributions and faith in the six-year project that turned a non-working exhibit into a fully working steam locomotive from the late Victorian era. 

 

“It was a thrill to see the T3 steam for the first time and drive the locomotive when it hauled its first passenger trains since 1945 – experiencing what it was like to be a Victorian engineman,” added Nathan who is a volunteer driver on the Swanage Railway. 

 

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Frank Roberts explained: “The Swanage Railway Trust is thrilled to have won these two prestigious awards from the Heritage Railway Association which reflect the achievement and professionalism of the T3 restoration. 

 

“I would like to thank the National Railway Museum for its faith in donating the T3 to the Swanage Railway Trust so the Victorian locomotive could be fully restored so the public can enjoy it hauling passenger trains for the first time since 1945. 

 

“Had it not been for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, and then the celebrations marking the centenary of London’s Waterloo station, No. 563 – the last of the T3s – would have been cut up for scrap metal.  

 

“The T3 is a time machine, a living and breathing machine when glamorous railways ruled supreme with their brightly painted and highly polished steam locomotives. When No. 563 was born, the motor car was a curiosity and the first aeroplane had yet to fly. Railways powered by steam dominated the movement of people and freight. 

 

“By the time the T3 was retired after the Second World War, the transport landscape had changed forever; the dawn of mass motoring was on the horizon and aircraft were crossing the world,” added Frank, a Swanage Railway volunteer for 40 years. 

 

Restoration of the T3 was started in late 2017 with work on the Victorian locomotive being carried out by specialist contractors at the Flour Mill engineering workshops in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, as well as at the Swanage Railway’s Herston engineering works on the outskirts of Swanage. 

 

Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright, 

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer. 

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