Fifty years after the end of Southern steam, passenger services are running again over the entire length of one of the fabled seaside branch lines that served the south coast. While the Swanage Railway has long been hailed as a perfect microcosm of the Southern Railway/Region as it was in the days of steam, it was diesels that hauled the ground-breaking debut ‘real’ services between the Purbeck resort and Wareham on Tuesday, June 13, writes Robin Jones.
WEST Coast Railways revolutionised the West Highland tourist economy with the development of its summer walk-on ‘Jacobite’ steam services. Last year, the Carnforth operator ran the North Norfolk Railway’s trial dining trains to Cromer. And this year, the firm has now headed to the south coast, to take charge of the Swanage Railway’s grant aid-funded ‘real’ passenger trains over the entire length of the LSWR branch.
While steam over the line from Swanage to Wareham in future years is not only an aim but a distinct possibility, the new regular services – the first over the branch in 45 years – are set to be handled by a pair of heritage DMUs currently being refurbished at Eastleigh but meanwhile are waiting for new wheelsets to arrive.
However, in the meantime, diesel locomotives will top and tail these services, operated by West Coast, which has been brought in because they will run over the national network between Wareham and Worgret Junction.
Going back to the Sixties and Seventies, many rail revival groups were founded with the aim of restoring regular services to branch lines axed in the Beeching era.
However, only a few select BR lines were either saved or later restored in their entirety – the Keighley & Worth Valley, the Dartmouth Steam Railway and more recently the Ecclesbourne Valley come immediately to mind.
While the West Somerset Railway did run carmine-and-cream-livered DMUs for a number of years in a bid to provide ‘real’ as opposed to enthusiast services, most revivalist groups never succeeded in reaching that goal, and settled for a very different animal indeed – the heritage line.
The Swanage branch closed – nobody appears to know exactly why – on January 1, 1972. Around 500 passengers made the last return trip on a six-coach train, comprising two 1957-built Hampshire DEMUs.
A special ticket had been printed by British Rail, costing 50p for adults and 25p for children. The driver was ‘Johnny’ Walker, from BR’s Bournemouth depot. He had also driven the last timetabled steam train out of Swanage in September 1966.
Read more in Issue 230 of HR – on sale now!