The 8:55 train from London Victoria is running 37 years late. We apologise for any inconvenience to customers.
Swanage Station, test train from bay platform during Railway Inspectorate inspection of phase on 9.2.2009.
Photo ©Andrew Wright, Swanage Railway
Some 37 years ago, the fledgling Swanage Railway Society wrote to British Railways announcing their plans to operate the Swanage Railway as a preserved railway running community and heritage trains and asking BR to permit the operation of a special train down the Wareham – Swanage branch to publicise the formation of the Society.
The line had closed in 4 months earlier in January 1972 and, unknown to the Society and to most of the elected local authority members in the area, the County Surveyor of Dorset County Council and the Estate Surveyor of British Railways, Southern Region had already reached an understanding about a sale of railway land for a planned by-pass around the village of Corfe Castle half way along the line.
So in July 1972 instead of a special passenger train, British Railways responded to the Society’s inauguration by organising a scrap merchants train to remove track materials from the Swanage branch as quickly as possible.
A 5 year campaign followed, fought mostly by a local residents lobby group. It was they who helped persuade Dorset County Council that the best future use of the railway land would be for a railway, and Swanage Town Council that the best use for Swanage Station would be as a transport hub incorporating a restored railway.
As well as the lobby group the Society had also set up another group to gather items of historic rolling stock. In due course, the members of the latter became members of a purpose-designed designed charitable trust, the Southern Steam Trust and as the local authorities gradually swung round to support the restoration of the railway, the other organisations, were incorporated into the Trust.
Under the auspices of the Trust, the line was gradually rebuilt in stages and finally, after a period of 30 years, the track reached Furzebrook in January 2002 and a temporary connection was made with British Railways tracks a few months later. The connection was made permanent in 2007, but but both connections were only used for empty stock and locomotive movements. No passenger trains ever crossed the boundary between the Swanage railway and BR’s successors, Network Rail.
Now as a result of negotiations led by Swanage Railway Trust chairman, Mike Whitwam, Network Rail have agreed to a limited number of special trains to run from their tracks onto Swanage Railway metals. The first passenger carrying train to run from the national railway network onto the branch since the closure of the branch by BR in 1972 will be a diesel-hauled UK Railtours special on 1st April, 2009.
The train will leave from London Victoria (provisionally 08.55) running via Leatherhead, Effingham and the Pompey Direct, Southampton, Bournemouth, Worgret Junction (prov. 13:02) and Corfe Castle to Swanage (prov. 13:50). Return will be as outward to Southampton then via Romsey, the Laverstock Loop and Basingstoke, reaching Waterloo by around 20.30. Motive power is expected to be a DB Schenker (formerly EWS) Class 66 throughout, with Mark 1 passenger coaches.
It is a sign of the extent to which the story of the Swanage Railway has caught public imagination that, in spite of the special train being diesel hauled and running on a Wednesday, demand for was so high that a second train had to be organised for the following day, 2 April. At least two more special trains, this time steam hauled, are due to traverse the link between Network Rail and the Swanage Railway.
At 08.00 on Saturday May 2nd 2009, ‘The Dorset Coast Express’, a ten-car special hauled by Battle of Britain 34067 ‘Tangmere’, will depart London Victoria to travel to Swanage via Woking, Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Bournemouth and Worgret Junction, returning to London diesel-hauled. On Monday 4th May 2009, a second special, ‘The Royal Wessex’, will run diesel-hauled from London via the same route and return to London Waterloo hauled by unrebuilt light Bulleid pacific 34067 Tangmere.
Mike Whitwam hopes that Network Rail re-signalling in 2013 will facilitate the ultimate objective of the Swanage Railway of running a community service connecting with Network rail at Wareham. We congratulate Mike for taking the Swanage Railway to this important milestone and at the same time hope that a way may be found of running the community service before 2013!