Rail Minister rides first train after commissioning of new signalling scheme for main line connection
Rail Minister Claire Perry MP has made history after riding on the first train to be run under a newly commissioned £3.2 million signalling system that will enable a trial passenger train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Hosted by the volunteer-led Swanage Railway, the special trip in a two-coach South West Trains Class 158 diesel unit saw the Rail Minister, Purbeck Community Rail Partnership members, stakeholders and guests travel from Wareham to Corfe Castle and return on Thursday, 5 February, 2015.
Swanage Railway Trust Chairman Gavin Johns said: "The commissioning of the new signalling system is a major milestone in joining Swanage and Corfe Castle to the national railway network which has been our aim since 1972. It will also enable trial train services to take place in 2016 and 2017.
"I would like to thank our dedicated volunteers and our stakeholders who have worked so hard, over several years, to help bring the new signalling scheme to fruition.
"Purbeck District Council and Dorset County Council, the South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance and other members of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership also deserve thanks because it has been a real joint effort.
"It was a privilege to have the Rail Minister on board the first train running under the new signalling system and a pleasure to show her what working together in partnership can achieve for the improvement of the Isle of Purbeck's transport network as well as the local economy," added Mr Johns.
Taking Network Rail and the Swanage Railway four years to design, install and test, the new signalling system between Wareham and Corfe Castle is based on long-proven technology used for controlling trains on single lines and interfaces with a Network Rail state of the art signalling control centre.
The new system sees Network Rail's signalling control centre at Basingstoke linked to the award-winning Victorian-style signal box at Corfe Castle station.
After Network Rail closed old mechanical signal boxes at Poole, Hamworthy, Wareham and Wool and re-signalled the line with modern technology last year, signallers at Basingstoke now control main line trains between Poole and Wool – including Worgret Junction which is close to the start of the Swanage Railway.
Purbeck Community Rail Partnership Chairman Mike Lovell – who is also a Purbeck district and Dorset county councillor – said: “We were delighted that the Rail Minister was able to travel on the first train to use the new signalling.
“Although further investment is still needed to reinstate a regular service, the completion of the signalling is a huge step towards a trial community service that will enable people from Corfe Castle and Swanage to travel by train to anywhere in the country," he added.
Gavin Johns explained: "The Swanage Railway is very heartened by the support that it engenders locally. We look forward to jointly developing the potential of a main line connected heritage railway with the help of our partners, stakeholders and volunteers."
"The new signalling system between Corfe Castle and Wareham is thought to be unique in the United Kingdom because of its scale and the way it works – being a safety interface between the Swanage Railway and Network Rail.
"It has re-established the traditional style of 'electric key-token' method of working trains that operated between the Corfe Castle and Worgret Junction signal boxes until the Swanage branch line was closed by British Rail in January, 1972," explained Gavin who presented the Rail Minister with a framed photograph of a steam train at Corfe Castle taken by Andrew P.M. Wright.
Driven by South West Trains Bournemouth-based driver Peter Burton - and displaying 'Corfe Castle' as its destination - the historic train carrying the Rail Minister and guests left Wareham at 4.15pm for the trip to Corfe Castle where it arrived at 4.40pm.
Waiting on the platform at Corfe Castle was Bob Richards, the last British Rail signalman at Corfe Castle who signalled the final passenger train from Corfe Castle to Wareham on the night of Saturday, 1 January, 1972.
In Corfe Castle signal box, Bob met up with Swanage Railway volunteer signalman Peter Horne who had the honour of signalling the first train from Wareham to Corfe Castle, using the single line key-token system, in 43 years.
Swanage Railway Trust Chairman Gavin Johns escorted the Rail Minister to the signal box where she was greeted by Peter Horne and where Mike Walshaw, the volunteer who designed the Swanage Railway's part of the signalling scheme and was responsible for its installation, was presented to a delighted Claire Perry.
After a five minute stop, and displaying 'Wareham' as its destination, the unit - No. 158890 based at Salisbury - returned to Wareham where it arrived in the 'up' platform at 5.10pm.
The new Corfe Castle to Wareham signalling system improves the ease and speed of signalling trains between Wareham, Norden Park & Ride, and Corfe Castle.
Using the 'electric key-token' system introduced to the country's railways more than 100 years ago, the new system has been modernised so that a signal box on the main line at Worgret Junction is not required.
With 'electric key-token' instruments provided at Corfe Castle signal box and Wareham station – the latter being used by the drivers of trains from the Swanage Railway – the new signalling system is thought to be unique in the country because of its scale and the way it works.
The new Corfe Castle to Wareham signalling system comprises a four-mile single line 'electric key-token' section that crosses from a heritage railway and on to Network Rail. From Worgret Junction – where the single line from Corfe Castle ends – trains run for one mile on the 'third rail' electrified main line into Wareham station.
Last September , Dorset County Council awarded the Swanage Railway a 99-year lease of the three-mile former Network Rail line from south of Worgret Junction to the then start of the Swanage Railway east of Furzebrook.
The Swanage Railway is currently in the process of upgrading that line for passenger trains between Wareham and Corfe Castle – replacing 1,700 wooden sleepers, clearing embankments of overgrown trees and undergrowth as well as repairing bridges and six miles of lineside fences and drains.
In February, 2013, the Swanage Railway was awarded a £1.47 million grant by the Government's Coastal Communities Fund – followed by a further £390,000 'top-up' award in August, 2014 – to introduce a trial passenger train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage. That trial train service is set to start during the first half of 2016 and run on 140 selected days over two years.
It was in 2010 that Dorset county and Purbeck district councils pledged to invest £3.2 million, over three years, to pay for a new signalling system to enable passenger trains between Wareham and Corfe Castle – £2.85 million going to Network Rail and £350,000 to the Swanage Railway for the work.
That investment has come from a transport improvement fund into which property developers pay – the money being collected by Purbeck District Council and spent by Dorset County Council as the transport authority.
The Purbeck Community Rail Partnership is an alliance of Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, the Swanage Railway, South West Trains, Network Rail, the Perenco oil company and the Borough of Poole Council.
6th February 2015