Swanage Project has new boss

by

Mike Whitham, chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust
(c) Andrew Wright, Swanage Railway Company

The Swanage Railway Trust Council of Management has elected Mike Whitham to be its new chairman, following the resignation of Bill Trite who had lead the Railway for 17 years. After his election Mr Whitham said, “Ever since my first visit to the Swanage Railway in the mid-1980s, I have passionately believed in the railway, its achievements and its objectives. I am honoured to be chosen to take the Swanage Railway into its next exciting venture – an all-year round amenity train service between Swanage and Wareham.” He also pledged, “I will ensure that this does not compromise the Swanage Railway’s current heritage steam and diesel services.” Mr Whitham started as a trainee signalman on the Swanage Railway in 1996. He became the railway’s volunteer liaison officer in 1999 and then took on the role of youth protection officer. Since May, 2007, he has also been a member of Swanage Town Council. Mr Whitam will also be chairman of the operating company, the Swanage Railway Company.

The Swanage Railway has, since the beginning of the project in 1972, always had the twin objective of both restoring a community rail service linking up with the main line at Wareham and running a heritage railway. Inevitably the signalling iimprovements to make this possible would be very costly. However, under Bill Trite, the Trust’s management have always shied away from raising share capital in the manner of other British heritage railways such as the North Norfolk Railway (the first to do so), the Severn Valley Railway (the first to raise over £100,000) and several others. This context makes Mr Whitham’s next statement very interesting, “It is also important that we secure substantial fundraising to achieve all our goals – as well as exploring the possibility of raising capital for specific projects through grants and seeking new methods for general fundraising. I see my role as ensuring the Swanage Railway further improves its services to the public, as well as attracting more passengers and increasing profitability so the railway can achieve its goals while retaining its unique character.”

Mike’s predecessor, Bill Trite became chairman of the then Southern Steam Trust following a stormy annual general meeting of the Trust in 1991 when the Swanage Railway was in a precarious financial position. With the help of local residents and legal advice from David Morgan, Heritage Railway Association (the UK umbrella body) chairman, Bill Trite lead the railway’s financial recovery and then put in the management systems to ensure that such a crisis could never befall the railway again. Under Bill Trite’s management the Swanage Railway became one of the most popular railways in the South. Last year the Railway carried more than 200,000 passengers, had an annual turnover in excess of £ 2 million, had over 4,000 members, some 400 active volunteers and employed 45 people in full and part-time posts.

The Swanage Railway Project was started by Andrew Goltz, at the time a student at Birmingham University. Together with John Sloboda he formed the Swanage Railway Society in 1972. As Society chairman he lobbied the local authorities, ultimately successfully, to withdraw from using the railway formation for a by-pass and to allow the railway Project to go ahead. From 1978 to 1991 the Project was lead by Southern Steam Trust chairman, Mike Stollery, under whose leadership the physical rebuilding of the railway track, and the restoration of historic rolling stock, made substantial progress; and the operation of revenue earning tourist trains begun.

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One Response to “Swanage Project has new boss”

  1. K. Jackman Says:

    Dear Sir,

    I wonder if this may be of interest to you. As lad of 14, my first job was as a cleaner on the Swanage M7 tank engine that run the push and pull service to Wareham. After 6 months, I transferred to Bournemouth Loco Depot and eventually to Nine Elms Depot, which is now Covent Garden market.

    At Nine Elms I rose through the links, to the mainline top link. All my work then was express passenger trains. My engine on the mainline was a Merchant Navy class No. 35017 Belgian Line. They were fine engines and, at that time, had 280 lbs/sq in pressure that would have retained a head of steam even if shovelled with cow pats.

    As a passed fireman on occasion, I drove the Atlantic Coast express, the Bournemouth Belle and the Devon Belle. I have nothing but fond memories of my time on the footplate, I could see which way things were heading and as driving electrics never appealed to me I decided to leave the job and become a London taxi driver.

    This past Christmas I was back home in Swanage and seeing the trains run on that historic line made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

    I wish you every success in your endeavour to get the line between Swanage and Wareham reopened and look forward to once again riding that route in the future, hopefully the near future.

    Yours sincerely

    Keith Jackman

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