A special main line train has made history after being the first to run on the Swanage Railway’s newly completed three-mile extension towards Wareham – a further step towards running trains to the Purbeck town.
It has taken 18 months to restore and upgrade the former Network Rail line between half a mile east of Furzebrook and a quarter of a mile short of Worgret Junction on the London to Weymouth main line.
Almost 2,000 wooden sleepers have been replaced, half-a-mile of new track laid, a quarter-mile long railway embankment upgraded and six miles of embankments, culverts and ditches cleared and lineside fences upgraded.
The comprehensive restoration, upgrade and improvement work has resulted in train speeds on the new extension being increased to 25mph – with the Project Wareham supporters train being the first to run at the new speed.
Carrying civic guests, two-carriage South West Trains Class 158 diesel unit No 158 881 made two return trips between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Guests included the High Sheriff of Dorset, Sir Philip Williams, Swanage Railway Trust patron Sir William McAlpine, local government representatives and a member of the Government’s Department for Transport in London.
A delighted Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said: “The two trains represented a huge achievement by everyone involved in Project Wareham and our guests were very impressed with the results.
“Project Wareham shows what can be achieved by working with partners and stakeholders. I would like to thank everyone for their professionalism, commitment and sheer hard work over the past 18 months.”
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns added: “There was great expectation and excitement on the train. Our guests were very impressed with what has been achieved, the quality of the track and the views from the train.
“I would like to say a big thank you for the commitment, professionalism and hard work shown by our Project Wareham volunteers and staff – particularly our track and signalling teams – as well as our contractors.”
On behalf of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership (PCRP), Purbeck Council chief executive Steve Mackenzie said: “We were privileged to be part of this historic occasion and are grateful for the hours of hard work, much of which was voluntary, that made it happen.”
The South West Trains Project Wareham stakeholder train ran on Wednesday, 20 April, 2016. A two-year trial passenger train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage is set to start in the summer of 2017.