Swanage Railway marks 50 years of battling to restore branch line

Two rail enthusiasts who started the fight in 1972 to save Swanage Railway, returned 50 years later to pay tribute to generations of dedicated railway volunteers.

Andrew Goltz and John Sloboda were both 22 year old students from London in 1972 when they visited the disused station at Corfe Castle, just months after British Rail controversially closed the Swanage to Wareham branch line.

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John Sloboda with Andrew Goltz at Swanage Station, whose keys they obtained in 1976
ANDREW P.M. WRIGHT

Return journey for John Sloboda (left) with Andrew Goltz (right) at Swanage Railway Station

Inspired to form the Swanage Railway Society

After walking along the abandoned tracks, which were due to be ripped up by a demolition team, the two friends were inspired to form the Swanage Railway Society. Their mission was to reopen the 10 mile branch line in defiance of the railway bosses.

Reuniting for the 50th anniversary of that historically important decision, Andrew and John, along with others who have contributed to save the branch line, were given a guided tour of the now hugely successful Swanage Railway.

They also laid flowers at a memorial to generations of railway workers and volunteers.

JOHN SLOBODA

A scene similar to the day in 1972 when the line was shut and about to be ripped up by British Rail

“Corfe Castle station had a powerful magic”

Andrew Goltz, who flew in from Poland where he now lives to attend the ceremony on Sunday 9th October 2022 said:

“It was very moving to be back. With the castle ruins rising above, Corfe Castle station had a powerful magic.

“I remember walking along the rusting tracks on that warm early summer day with John saying the memorable words: ‘This is all too attractive to be allowed to be swept away for a Corfe Castle by-pass. We have to save it.’

“I knew the line from the 1950s, after three years of holidays in Swanage in a row. My parents had found the town in a British Rail holiday book, we’d come down to a little B and B in Newton Rise and we’d had a wonderful time.

“Then in the mid 1960s when my parents decided to take a holiday in Bournemouth, I persuaded them to drive to the Isle of Purbeck to look for narrow gauge railways.

JOHN SLOBODA

Stationmaster’s office at Corfe Castle as Andrew recalls it from the 1950s

JOHN SLOBODA

Living quarters at the Corfe Castle station, recreated from the 1950s

“I decided not to take no for an answer!”

Andrew continued:

“I’d been interested in joining the Isle of Purbeck railway preservation group that had declared an interest in running the line should it close.

“But the group decided to liquidate when they were told that Dorset County Council would only support them if they could run into Wareham, and British Railways told them that they would never be allowed to run between Worgret and Wareham.

“So I decided that I would have a go at forming a new society that would not take ‘no’ for an answer!

“It was a bit daunting, but we knew that Swanage and the wider area has lots of enthusiastic friends and we felt that a venture to take over the line as a community railway would gain a lot of support. We were right!”

Andrew P.M. Wright

Andrew Goltz carrying out renovations at Swanage Railway Station in 1976

Swanage railway station 1977
Andrew PM Wright Collection

New track started to be laid at Swanage Railway Station in 1977

British Rail immediately lifted the tracks for scrap

The newly formed Swanage Railway Society faced an immediate hurdle after forming in June 1972, as British Rail went ahead with its plan to lift the tracks for scrap, which marked the start of a four-year battle to get permission to rebuild the line.

Eventually, Swanage Railway Society was given a one-year lease of the disused Swanage station by the town council and started restoration work there in February 1976.

A small shunting engine and a 1940s Southern Railway carriage eventually made a journey over a few hundred yards of hand-laid track in the summer of 1979, with the first steam train setting off for Easter, 1980.

Now the railway carries more than 200,000 passengers a year and generates an estimated £15 million a year for the local economy.

JOHN SLOBODA

Swanage resident Robin Brasher (right) was another early volunteer, joining Andrew and John in 1972

“If a goal is worth pursuing, start it”

John Sloboda said:

“We were invited back to Swanage Railway by the chairman of the trust, Gavin Johns, to pay tribute to all those no longer alive who worked to bring about the result we now see – a successful heritage railway with the track and signalling reconnected to the main line.

“We met several people who were there with us in the 1970s including an old school friend Peter Burke, and Nick Hanham and Robin Brasher, two of the very early volunteers.

“We also met with people who could help the railway to at last achieve the aim that motivated us in 1972 – through trains running from the main line as a regular dependable public service for residents and visitors.

“Lesson – if a goal is worth pursuing, start it and trust that others will complete the job!

“It has been very emotional to see the difference between what we saw in 1972 and today’s vibrant and loved working railway. It is wonderful that there is so much care and love for the Swanage Railway.”

Andrew P.M. Wright

John Slobodan (centre with cap) and Andrew Goltz (centre) with Swanage Railway volunteers at the memorial

Andrew P.M. Wright

Memorial stone at Harmans Cross to all the volunteers who have worked on Swanage Railway

Flowers laid at a simple stone memorial

After being shown around Corfe Castle station, Andrew and John took a steam train trip to Harmans Cross station, where they were joined by Catherine Shaw, the granddaughter of Dorothy Gosling, one of Swanage Railway Society’s early campaigners.

They then laid flowers at the simple stone memorial next to a platform at Harmans Cross, a station that Swanage Railway volunteers built in the late 1980s.

JOHN SLOBODA

A throwback to the beloved signal boxes of the steam age

Without volunteers there would be no railway

Chair of Swanage Railway Trust Gavin Johns said:

“It was very moving to meet Andrew Goltz and John Sloboda because without them and the other volunteers they recruited to their campaign 50 years ago, there would not be the Swanage Railway that so many people enjoy today.”

Andrew P.M. Wright

Andrew Goltz (seated) and John Sloboda at Harmans Cross station

“What the power of human spirit can achieve”

Chair of Swanage Railway Company Robert Patterson added:

“What those dedicated volunteers achieved, against the odds, shows what the power of the human spirit can achieve.

“I pay tribute to all the volunteers who gave so much over the years to the Swanage Railway, many of whom are no longer with us.”

Reconnecting the Swanage branch line to the rail network remains an aspiration

While the heritage line is a popular tourist attraction between Swanage and Norden, the aim to restore the branch line to Wareham and connect to the national rail network remains to be achieved.

All the track and signalling has now been fully restored between Swanage and Wareham, however a crucial trial service was postponed due to the Covid pandemic. The trial is necessary to provide the evidence that the service would be viable in the long term.

Despite an attempt to run the trial in 2022, it was cancelled again, much to the disappointment of many.

Still 50 years after its destruction, the dream of reconnecting the Swanage branch line remains an aspiration.

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