Swanage-Wareham rail line reconnects after four decades
The first regular passenger train service between the mainline and a Dorset seaside resort has been reconnected after four decades.
The original rail line from Swanage to Wareham was closed by British Rail and ripped up in seven weeks in 1972.
Volunteers rebuilt the 5.5-mile (8.8km) stretch from Swanage to Norden over 30 years and have been running it as a tourist attraction since the 1990s.
The first timetabled train ran along the full 10-mile (16km) route earlier.
Bob Richards, who signalled the last British Rail train from Swanage to Wareham 45 years ago, was one of dozens of people to wave off the maroon diesel train.
He said: "To see it return after all these years is amazing - absolutely incredible."
It marks the start of a two-year trial using upgraded 1960s diesel trains on the line, after work was completed on the section of the track from Norden to Wareham.
Swanage Railway will operate four trains a day in each direction between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage, on 60 selected days throughout the summer.
The rail firm's chairman Trevor Parsons said several generations of volunteers had worked to see this "historic" day.
Founder volunteer Peter Frost, who rode on the last British Rail train between the two Purbeck towns, was 13 when the original line closed.
He was among invited guests who travelled on the first trial service which departed Swanage at 10:23 BST and described it as a "poignant moment".
"It was very sad to watch the line being run down, closed and then quickly demolished because I grew up with the branch line during the 1960s, with its station staff and train crews being extended members of my family," he said.
After reaching Wareham, he added: "It's difficult to put into words, it's one those amazing days in your life. We've lost a lot of friends over the past 45 years... but it's great we've made it.
"[Now we want to] deliver an efficient and regular service and make this a success."
Fellow passenger Billy Johnson, 29, who has lived in Swanage all of his life and works on the railway, said: "Hopefully it will bring more people to the town, to the shops and railway itself, so it should be a good thing for us."
Rosemarie Cobb added: "I used to watch the trains go by from the back of my grandparents' garden and they used to take me and my sister down to Swanage from Poole.
"I have very happy memories, today is very nostalgic for me. They've had to fight for this and worked so hard. It's a wonderful achievement."
A new £500,000 level crossing was installed as part of the £5.5m investment by the railway's stakeholders - including Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council and BP - and a £1.8m grant from the government's Coastal Communities Fund.
The work also included the replacement of 1,200 wooden sleepers with concrete ones.
Timetabled trials were originally expected to begin in 2015 but faced delays.
Issues including upgrade works on its diesel trains, ownership of the rail line and nearby hibernating animals.
Swanage Railway history
- 1885 - Ten-mile branch line from Wareham to Swanage opens
- 1972 - British Rail closes the line and rips it up
- 1976 - Volunteers start re-laying track at Swanage Station
- 1979 - Swanage Railway runs its first diesel train over a few hundred yards of track
- 1980 - First Swanage Railway steam train runs
- 1995 - Passenger trains run between Swanage and Norden, via Corfe Castle
- 2002 - Swanage Railway's tracks meets the national railway system at Motala
- 2014 - New signalling system between Swanage Railway and Network Rail commissioned
- 2016 - Norden Gates level crossing officially opens
- 2017 - Reconnects to the mainline