Treasures of Dorset: Swanage Railway
Image by Andrew PM Wright
Published in March ’17
It is often assumed that Dr Beeching’s 1963 review of the British railway system killed off the branch line between Wareham and Swanage, opened in 1885. Not so – in fact it was the British Rail board, who announced in 1968 that they wanted to shut the line. Opponents delayed the closure, but only until 3 January 1972, when the last passenger service ran. The stretch from Furzebrook to Wareham remained for the transport of clay and later oil and gas.
British Rail were dead against preserved lines and ripped up the track with indecent haste, but the newly formed Swanage Railway Society persuaded Swanage Town Council to buy the town’s station and Dorset County Council to buy the track-bed. Slowly, painfully, enthusiasts re-built the line, initially giving passenger rides behind a diesel shunter over 200 yards of track. Herston was reached in 1982, Harmans Cross in 1987, Corfe Castle in 1995 and Furzebrook in 2002. What astonishing vision, dedication and ingenuity those early volunteers showed!
Today, the railway carries over 200,000 passengers a year through the beautiful Purbeck countryside, acting as a magnet for tourists and relieving the pressure on the main A351. Visitors might find themselves travelling behind an ex-main line express locomotive such as Bulleid Pacific ‘Manston’, or perhaps a 112-year-old Drummond M7 which pulled trains on the line before its closure. There are trains every day from April to October and at holiday times during the winter, including the immensely popular ‘Santa Specials’.
Although the link with the existing line was made fifteen years ago, the need for new signalling, staff training and rolling stock suitable to run on the main line has meant that only this year will a scheduled service be available between Wareham and Swanage once again. It is hoped that trains will run on at least 50 days and in 2018, the second year of a two-year trial, on at least 90 days.