History is to be made next month with the return of a public diesel train service from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham – for the first time in 45 years.
The volunteer-led Swanage Railway plans to run its first diesel-hauled passenger train into Wareham station on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017.
That will be the achievement of a long-held aim by determined railway campaigners dating back to 1972 when the Purbeck branch line was controversially closed and demolished by British Rail.
The special first train will mark the start of a two-year trial public service using diesel trains operating on 60 selected days during this summer – with four trains a day in each direction between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Visitors from London, and stations across the country, will be able to visit Swanage and Corfe Castle by train while the service will enable tourists in campsites around Wareham to visit Corfe Castle and Swanage by rail.
To avoid disappointment, and guarantee a seat, passengers should book their tickets on-line via the Swanage Railway at www.swanagerailway.co.uk. Limited parking at Wareham station – especially on weekdays – means that passengers are advised to travel to the station by public transport.
Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said: "This is the culmination of a far-sighted investment by our stakeholders of £5.5 million to re-connect Swanage and Corfe Castle with the main line at Wareham. We're working very closely with our partners at Network Rail and South West Trains to finalise arrangements for what is a complex operation.
"The trial public service will be historic because it has been the Swanage Railway's ambition to return passenger trains to Wareham for more than 40 years – with several generations of volunteers working to achieve this," added the Swanage Railway volunteer signalman and train guard.
After the last public British Rail train ran to Corfe Castle and Swanage in January, 1972, – leaving a three-mile stub from the main line to Furzebrook for clay and later Wytch Farm oil field trains – few people thought that passenger trains from Swanage and Corfe Castle would ever return to Wareham.
It took seven short weeks to demolish Purbeck's 87-year old rail link to the main line at Wareham but 40 long years for the Swanage Railway to rebuild it.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns explained: "This is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work by our dedicated volunteers and the support of our valued stakeholders. It shows just what can be achieved thanks to a strong vision, determination and working together in partnership.
"My thanks go to the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, the Government's Coastal Communities Fund for its £1.8 million grant, Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, Network Rail, South West Trains and the Department for Transport for their help in reaching this historic milestone for Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck," he added.
To enable a public train service to run from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage, Purbeck District Council and Dorset County Council together made a strategic investment of £3.2 million – the money coming from a transport development fund paid into by housing developers across Purbeck.
That £3.2 million enabled Network Rail to upgrade the track at Worgret Junction – a mile west of Wareham where the line from Swanage joins the main line – and also install new signalling equipment at Wareham and Worgret Junction. The investment also paid for Swanage Railway signalling equipment between Wareham station, Worgret Junction and Corfe Castle signal box.
The trial public service of four return trains a day between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage will operate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays until Sunday, 3 September, 2017, inclusive.
On the first day of the public service – Tuesday, 13 June, 2017 – the first public train will be the 2.23pm from Swanage that will form the 3.15pm train from Wareham. The last train of the day will be the 4.23pm from Swanage and the 5.15pm from Wareham.
The first two trains from Swanage to Wareham and return on that day will be for Swanage Railway guests, stakeholders, volunteers, staff and supporters.
Main line train operator West Coast Railways is supplying two diesel locomotives and train crews to operate the Swanage Railway's trial train service between Swanage, Corfe Castle and Wareham on 60 selected days during the summer.
With a diesel locomotive at each end, the four-carriage trains will run four times a day – in each direction – between Wareham, Norden, Corfe Castle and Swanage with the ten mile journey taking 45 minutes. Train times and fares for the Wareham service can be viewed on the Swanage Railway website.
To enable regular passenger trains to again run to Wareham, three miles of former Network Rail line – from south of Worgret Junction to half a mile east of Furzebrook –has been restored and upgraded over a two-year period.
That challenging work has seen 1,200 wooden track sleepers replaced, half a mile of new track laid, a quarter-mile-long embankment upgraded as well as undergrowth and drainage ditches cleared along three miles of railway line.
Linking the Swanage Railway with the national railway system, a unique and trail-blazing signalling system has been installed, tested and commissioned between Corfe Castle and Wareham in what was a four-year project.
Thanks to a £500,000 legacy donation from BP, the Swanage Railway has built a new level crossing west of Norden station – on the access road to Perenco's Wytch Farm oilfield – so that regular passenger trains can run to Wareham.
Tickets will be £15 for an adult or senior citizen day-return between Swanage and Wareham and £9 for an adult or senior citizen single. Children, aged 5 to 15, will be £10 for a return and £6 for a single. Swanage Railway Purbeck resident's discount card holders will receive a 33 per cent discount while National Railcards will not accepted.
The Swanage Railway's Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: "Our two 1960s-built heritage diesel trains, which together make up four carriages, will be used for the second year of the trial service to Wareham.
"They are being refurbished and upgraded to main line standards which is challenging and specialist work because of the age of the heritage diesel units, their design as well as modern health and safety standards," added Mr Woolley, a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since the mid-1980s.
Passengers on the new Wareham service should book seats in advance via the Swanage Railway website at www.swanagerailway.co.uk