Railway pioneers have boarded the first service in 45 years from Swanage to Wareham, in Dorset.
Two generations of enthusiasts rebuilt the line following its closure in January 1972, with the inaugural service marking the start of a two-year trial public service.
The line was originally built in 1885 but after closure – along with Swanage and Corfe Castle stations – less than a century later, 6.5 miles of the line was demolished.
But thanks to the efforts of volunteers and the financial backing from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund (£5.5 million), Purbeck District Council (£3.2 million) and BP Wytch Farm (£500,000), Swanage has now been re-connected to the national rail network with the restoration of the link to Wareham.
Work has included the installation of a ‘unique and trailblazing’ signalling system between Corfe Castle and Wareham and a new level crossing west of Norden station, so that regular passenger trains can run through to Wareham.
A number of partners have been involved in the project, including: Swanage Railway volunteers, the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, Purbeck district and Dorset county councils, BP Wytch Farm, Perenco, Network Rail and South West Trains.
Councillor Bill Trite, who was chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust from 1991 to 2008, said that the trial needs to demonstrate the service’s sustainability.
He added: “Restoration of the rail link with a through public passenger service has been the long-held objective of many, many people over the last 45 years since closure of the branch line in 1972.
“Unfortunately, but inevitably, a significant proportion of them are no longer with us to see that ambition realised.”
Diesel trains will operate on the Swanage to Wareham line on 60 selected days during the summer of 2017 – with four trains a day in each direction between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage – and on 90 selected days during 2018.