The roots of the Swanage Railway as we know it now can be traced back to the run down of the Swanage branch in the years after the Beeching cuts in the 1960's. Whilst the line survived these closures, a cycle of falling traffic and progressive withdrawal of services eventually led to closure in 1972.
Momentum was quickly established to try and take over the branch and press for the return of a mainline connection. These activities became known as the Swanage Railway Project.
Despite local and national attempts to first prevent closure and then lobby for re-opening, this was not enough to prevent much of the track being lifted. As a result to-day's Swanage Railway is really a railway built from scratch.
The early days of the project saw several groups springing up with similar aims. These quickly came together and ultimately resulted in the formation of the Southern Steam Trust (SST). This charitable body was controlled by a number of Trustees who guided the Project.
A separate company - the Swanage Railway Company (SRC) - was established by the SST to undertake trading and operations as required by charity legislation. The SRC continues to fulfil this role to-day.
As the project developed the original constitution of the SST was found to be in need of review. Ultimately the Swanage Railway Trust (SRT) was formed and took over all the assets of the SST including all the voting shares in the Swanage Railway Company. Like the SST the SRT is a registered charity. The SST will continue for some time to allow possible benefactors to update wills and other legal documents.
The arrangement of a Trust - the SRT - having 100% control of a Company - the SRC - has served the Project well but is kept under review. Many other heritage railways have moved to a structure whereby the operating body is a Public Limited Company and this may be an option for the future.