Following long delays and false starts, Swanage Railway is to operate a trial rail service between Swanage and the mainline at Wareham from April to September 2023.
This is one of the first steps towards fulfilling the long held ambition to restore the Swanage branch line, since it was controversially axed by British Rail in 1972. Currently the heritage railway service only runs between Swanage and Norden, several miles short of connecting to the mainline at Wareham.
On 13th June 2017 the first train left Swanage station for Wareham as part of a 60 day trial service
Not a commuter service
The trial, at this stage, is not aimed at Swanage commuters but primarily for bringing visitors into Corfe Castle and Swanage for day trips and holidays from the mainline at Wareham.
This means that tourists from across the UK can travel all the way to Swanage by rail and leave the car at home, taking traffic off the congested A351 road. It will be the first time in 51 years, since the branch line closure, that a ticket will be able to be booked from a main line ticket office to Swanage.
However as there is no government subsidy on the branch line, the cost of a return fare between Swanage and Wareham will be £25 for an adult and £12.50 for a child – more than an off-peak return fare between Wareham and Winchester in Hampshire.
The first day in 2017 that passengers could travel from Swanage to Wareham since 1972
Swanage Railway fares
Fares from Swanage to Wareham
- Adult return £25
- Child return £12.50
- Adult single £20
- Child single £10
Fares from Corfe Castle to Wareham
- Adult return £10
- Child return £5
- Adult single £8
- Child single £4
The trial diesel train service will run on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from Tuesday 4th April to Sunday 10th September 2023 – a total of 90 days.
On operational days, the first train will depart Wareham at 11.19 am and the last train will leave Swanage for Wareham at 4.20 pm – giving visitors the opportunity to spend four hours in Swanage or Corfe Castle. The first train to depart from Swanage to Wareham each day will be at 12 noon.
The Class 117 diesel multiple unit will be operated and staffed by West Coast Railways on behalf of Swanage Railways
“This is an historic moment”
South Western Railway (SWR) regional development manager, Andrew Ardley said:
“SWR is proud to support the Swanage Railway by giving customers the ability to buy tickets through to Corfe Castle and Swanage from any one of the 189 stations on our network.
“This is an historic moment for the Swanage Railway and we look forward to seeing the results of this highly anticipated trial.”
Class 121 diesel multiple unit that will used for the four trains a day service between Swanage and Wareham
Reconnected to the mainline in 2015
Following a long campaign to restore the service since its closure and the removal of most of the train tracks by British Rail in 1972, the Swanage branch line was reconnected to the mainline in 2015.
During the summer of 2017, the Swanage Railway operated a 60 selected day trial train service from Wareham using hired-in diesel locomotives and carriages operated and staffed by West Coast Railways.
Swanage Railway had hoped to operate a second year 90 selected day trial train service from Wareham during 2018 but this was delayed and then the Covid pandemic hit causing further delays.
An attempt to run a 90 day trial in 2022 was considered but ultimately deemed unviable with the pandemic still causing disruption.
Councillor Bill Trite, who at the time was chair of Purbeck District Council, blowing the whistle on the first day of Swanage Railway trains to Wareham in 2017
“Far-sighted investment of £5.5 million”
In order for the 90 day trial to go ahead in 2023, Swanage Railway worked with the government’s Coastal Communities Fund, the Department of Transport, the former Purbeck District Council, Dorset Council, British Petroleum, Perenco, Network Rail and South Western Railway.
Chair of the Swanage Railway Trust, Gavin Johns said:
“I would like to thank our valued stakeholders for their far-sighted investment of £5.5 million to re-connect Swanage and Corfe Castle with the main line at Wareham which included £1.8 million from the government’s Coastal Communities Fund so we could restore and upgrade our 1950s heritage diesel trains for running on the main line directly into Wareham station.”
The former Purbeck District Council invested £3.2 million from housing developers’ transport improvement contributions for re-signalling improvements between Wareham, Worgret Junction and the Swanage Railway in 2013.
“It’s a big step for the railway”
Chair of the Swanage Railway Company which runs the trains for the Swanage Railway Trust, Trevor Parsons said that it had been a complicated and detailed project, that had been as ambitious as it had been challenging. He added:
“I’m quite excited – it’s a big step for the railway. We need to undertake the 90 day trial and then see where we can go from there. It will be difficult with the current economic situation but the main benefit for Swanage in the short term will be to bring more people into the town from further afield.
“We also need to see how the trial service works from a practical point of view and how it integrates with the mainline and the heritage service.
“Hopefully, ultimately, we will be able to put in place something permanent but elsewhere passenger services are heavily subsidised to enable that to happen, so we will have to see.”
In 1976 work began to restore Swanage station followed by the relaying of the track in 1977
The original campaigners who set about the restoration of the Swanage Railway, pictured in 2017 taking the first train from Swanage to Wareham since 1972
“We’re finally getting nearer to our aim to restore the railway service”
The Purbeck Community Rail Partnership comprising local councils, businesses and rail organisations has been working since 1997 to make the dream of a regular passenger service from Swanage to Wareham, a reality.
Chair of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, Mike Whitwam, who’s also a town councillor and Swanage Railway trustee said:
“I’m very happy that we’re finally getting nearer to our aim to restore the railway service, which was the original intention in 1976, when work began to rebuild the derelict Swanage station. We’ve developed a successful heritage railway in the meantime but that wasn’t the original plan.
“It’s a trial service that will allow us to test the water and develop a mould for the future. Our hope is to extend the operation every year so in the long term we can have a community rail service that really is there for the community!”
- Tickets for the trial heritage diesel train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage will be available from 10 am on Monday 13th March 2023 via the Swanage Railway website
- Telephone bookings for tickets between Wareham and Swanage will be available on 01929 425800 from 10 am on Wednesday 15th March 2023