An innovative signalling system – enabling trains to run from the Swanage Railway on the national railway network to Wareham – has won a national award for quality as well as the blend of heritage and modern technology.
Dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers won the Abellio Signalling Award at the National Railway Heritage Awards in London with the competition celebrating its 40th anniversary in the presence of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal.
The design, installation, testing and commissioning of the trail-blazing signalling system between Norden Gates level crossing and the main line Network Rail station at Wareham was a four-year project that took 3,000 hours of work by a dedicated team of Swanage Railway volunteers between 2011 and 2015.
A Swanage Railway volunteer for more than 20 years, Mike Walshaw from Swanage – a retired electrical engineer with the Ministry of Defence Scientific Civil Service – led the signalling project linking the heritage railway with the national railway network.
Mike said: “I was absolutely thrilled, especially to be given the award by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.
“The award is important because it recognises the key role of a properly signalled link with the national railway network, enabling us to operate services to Purbeck from Wareham and beyond.
“The biggest challenge of the project was meeting the very demanding standards imposed on us by Network Rail for operating in part on an electrified main line into Wareham station.
“I would like to thank Mike Southey, Tony North and Steve Jenkins of the Swanage Railway, our independent competent person Dick Spencer and our tester-in-charge Dave Helliwell as well as the various Network Rail project managers with whom I had to liaise,” added Mike.
The Swanage Railway’s Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: “The glowing reports by the competition judges are fully deserved as is the award itself.
“I would like to thank Mike Walshaw and his team for the tremendous hard work and effort they have put into the Norden Gates to Wareham signalling project.
“It may be a team effort but the team is richly blessed by having people like Mike willing to lead by example in such an important way,” he added.
When trains run from the Swanage Railway on to the national railway network at Worgret Junction – or vice versa – they are signalled by the Corfe Castle station signal box which liaises with the Network Rail signalling centre at Basingstoke in Hampshire.
Swanage Railway signalling engineers installed Edwardian key-token signalling equipment at Wareham station, in Corfe Castle signal box as well as in a new signal box built at Norden Gates level crossing, west of Norden station.
Built in the style of the former Victorian signal box at Lyme Regis station in west Dorset, Norden Gates signal box handles trains on the four miles of restored line between Norden station and Worgret Junction, a mile west of Wareham station.
In their report, one of the award judges wrote: “Here is an entry which stands out because it brilliantly combines the traditional with the most modern. The Swanage Railway deserves rich praise for keeping heritage alive in this way, a notable achievement which has been accomplished with dedication and finesse.”
Another competition judge wrote: “This is a very well-designed and executed scheme. It combines the needs of a modern railway with the commendable use of heritage elements such as the key tokens and the instruments in the signal box at Corfe Castle and particularly the facilities at Norden Gates, all of which retain a heritage approach.
“The scheme also provides huge and lasting benefits going forward to the railway and the local communities through the facility for through running from Wareham. All concerned can be justifiably proud of what has been achieved and has been well worth all the hard work that has been involved,” added the judge.
It is hoped to have a formal unveiling ceremony for the Abellio Signalling Award plaque on the Swanage Railway in the Spring of 2020.
The award ceremony took place at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall, in the City of London, on Wednesday, 4 December, 2019.
The National Railway Heritage Awards is an independent charitable trust while the signalling award sponsor Abellio is a leading national provider of train and bus services.
The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so, for a chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.