Swanage Railway volunteers take first trip on Steam and Lights train after tough year

With the Covid crisis leaving Swanage Railway with huge overheads to pay and little income, those who kept the railway going through the pandemic were rewarded for their efforts with a trip on the Steam and Lights spectacular.

The breath-taking train ride officially opens to the public on Saturday 5th December 2020 but volunteers got a special preview on Friday 4th December 2020 as a thank you for all their help.

Volunteers prepare to board the Swanage Railway Steam and LIghts train at Swanage Station
Swanage Railway booking office

Now only limited availability

The round trip from Swanage Railway Station lasts about an hour and there are two departures most evenings at 5.15 pm and 7.15 pm up until the new year. Tickets sold quickly and there is now only limited availability.

The massive success of this event is a huge relief to the management team at Swanage Railway, who back in April 2020 were facing financial ruin.

A fundraising campaign was launched and that has now raised over £330,000. The railway also successfully applied for a COVID-19 recovery grant and received £223,200 from the government.

However, what it really needed to do was literally get ‘bums on seats’ and fortunately the Steam and Lights spectacular has done just that.

Lights being added by crew to train at Swanage Station
Lights being added by crew to train at Swanage Station

Delayed the return of the rail link from Swanage to the main line at Wareham.

Alongside the financial crisis which resulted in some staff redundancies, the coronavirus pandemic has caused even further damage to the railway by delaying the return of the rail link from Swanage to the main line at Wareham.

Swanage Railway chairman and volunteer signalman, Gavin Johns said:

“It was intended in 2020 to start a 90 day trial service from Swanage to Wareham but that was stopped in its tracks by coronavirus. We hope to restart the process in early 2021 and to run some trains up to Wareham next year but realistically the 90 day trial won’t now happen until 2022 when hopefully some normality returns to rail services.”

Lights being added by crew to train at Swanage Station
Train driver on the Steanm and Lights train

Awarded a £50,000 grant to fund a feasibility study and business case

There has been some good news on the plans to reinstate the train service to the mainline though – Swanage Railway has just been awarded a £50,000 grant from the UK Government’s Department of Transport to fund a feasibility study and business case for the reconnection of services from Swanage and Corfe Castle to Wareham.

“We’re delighted that our bid was successful”

Gavin Johns said:

“We’re delighted that our bid was successful. It now means that we can have an updated feasibility plan and business case, which will work out the investment that is required to make the project successful.

“It’ll take in a whole range of factors, looking at whether more signalling is required or a new maintenance depot. It’ll also look at the viability of the cost of fares and what it will take to make people switch from their cars to the train.”

Steam and Lights at Corfe Castle Station
Steam and Lights at Corfe Castle Station

“An updated way ahead”

Swanage Railway Project Wareham director Mark Woolley, who’s volunteered at the railway for more than 35 years, added:

“We look forward to working closely with the government and our stakeholders in the next stages of the ‘Restoring Your Railway’ process

“Funded by the government grant, we hope the outcome of the feasibility study and business case work will provide us with an updated way ahead on how to operate a sustainable train service to Wareham.”

Further information

More about the Steam and Lights Spectacular and how to book tickets subject to availability can be found on the Swanage Railway website

Steam and lights train at Harmans Cross

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