Unsung heroes shine as Swanage Railway celebrates its volunteers

The magnificent work done by hundreds of Swanage Railway volunteers took centre stage at a special community weekend, with Swanage, Herston, Harmans Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden stations all taking part.

Currently, around 450 volunteers from Purbeck – and some from far further afield, too – help to ensure a smooth operation on the heritage railway every day of the week.

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A weekend to celebrate volunteers and recruit others generated a lot of interest at Swanage Railway

Half price rail tickets for locals

But there is always room for more, so Swanage Railway threw its doors open with lots of free events and half price rail tickets for all Dorset residents on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th February 2024 to show what goes on behind the scenes.

Limited tickets for signal box tours, a chance to shadow guards and ticket inspectors or the opportunity to drive a diesel shunter were sold in advance, with many being snapped up almost immediately.

There was plenty more to see and do, including the chance to step aboard the footplate of a steam locomotive, see the workings of a signal box, watch the 1940s cranes which helped to rebuild the Swanage Railway tracks, and visit Norden’s mining museum with its working narrow gauge railway.

The sight and sound of steam was very much in evidence along the railway

A rare opportunity for the public to step aboard the tender of a steam locomotive

“Volunteering is very fulfilling”

Event organiser and volunteer guard Clare Collins said:

“Our community weekend is a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes of a working heritage railway, explore some of the many different roles required to operate the Swanage Railway and find out about the opportunities to volunteer here.

“Volunteering on the Swanage Railway is very fulfilling, it’s a great way of meeting new people while assisting with important community projects at one of Dorset’s major tourist attractions.”

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Track maintenance crew keep the railway’s ten mile line in perfect order

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Porters at Swanage station are always on hand to help travellers

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Signalmen at Harmans Cross offer a glimpse behind the scenes

A peek behind the scenes

Clare Collins added:

“Looking after miles of track, stations, rolling stock, infrastructure and operating trains requires a multi skilled team and this weekend is all about our team who do just that.

“Our volunteers run trains, restore and maintain locomotives and carriages, help with retail and catering, look after track maintenance, carry out signalling and help with vital marketing and publicity for the railway.

“We have thrown open the doors so that everyone can peek behind the scenes, meet our teams and find out more about how we keep the railway running.

“And we would love it if some of our weekend visitors decided that they, too, would love to play a part!”

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Looking for extra volunteers at Corfe Castle station

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The T3 No. 563 restored Victorian locomotive pulls in at Harmans Cross station

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First time volunteer Claire Stradling welcomes visitors to Norden station

Stops made at all stations

Trains running across the weekend included the award winning T3 class locomotive 563, which has just taken two national Heritage Railway awards for a £650,000 restoration project which gave a new lease of life to the Victorian loco.

Stops were made at all stations on the line between Swanage and Norden, including Herston Halt where local residents gave tours of the Queen Elizabeth II jubilee pond and a heritage 1930s Southern Railway scenery van, and Harmans Cross with its authentic waiting shelters and working signalbox.

And at Corfe Castle, visitors were invited into the railway museum, a 1960s telephone exchange, a demonstration signalbox and one of the railway’s heritage coaches, with wagons and engineers’ vehicles also on display.

Norden station manager Jo Guess with assistant manager Jonathan Burke and porter Julian Poole

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Steam trains brought hundreds of visitors to Norden station across the weekend

The buffet station at Norden was kept very busy serving teas and snacks

“There has been a really good vibe”

At Norden, station manager Jo Guess said:

“We have been really busy at Norden, it is wonderful to see so many visitors and there has been a really good vibe. We have worked hard on this community engagement weekend as we feel very strongly affiliated to Swanage and we want to nurture that.

“We welcome the chance for local people to come and see us at an affordable rate so they will bring their family and friends and spread the word.

“This is a beautiful little station, and we have had amazing compliments about it!”

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The crew of the T3 No. 563 between journeys at Swanage

A welcome to the footplate experience at the Eddystone locomotive

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There was a chance to take the controls of the Class 08 shunter

“A very special heritage railway”

Chair of the Swanage Railway Trust Frank Roberts added:

“It takes more people to operate, maintain and develop the Swanage Railway than many people realise. Our community weekend is the first of several special events across 2024 that we hope will attract people of all ages to come and see what we do.

“I have been lucky enough to have been a Swanage Railway volunteer for more than 40 years and I find it very fulfilling and enjoyable working alongside a splendid group of people of all ages.

“With the Swanage Railway contributing more than £15 million a year to the local economy, we are delighted to give people across the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset and beyond the chance to enjoy a behind-the-scenes view of a very special heritage railway.”

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A warm welcome to the Corfe Castle station museum

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Waving another full train off from Swanage station

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Hundreds of visitors – and potential volunteers – visited the railway

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