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Published: April 7, 2016

Story and pictures by Andrew P.M. Wright                                                                                              Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer

A centenarian stalwart of the South Wales coal fields, and later the Cornish ball clay industry, has arrived on the Swanage Railway to star in the popular heritage line's three-day Spring Steam Gala – only to immediately make history.

Great Western Railway tank locomotive No. 4247 arrived at the Swanage Railway's new road-rail interchange at Norden on Thursday, 6 April, 2016, and became the first locomotive in steam to use the nearby new £500,000 Norden Gates level crossing.

Manufactured at the Swindon Works in Wiltshire during 1916, the powerful locomotive will be making a second piece of history when it hauls the first timetabled passenger trains to run over four miles of newly restored line towards Wareham.

The annual Spring celebration of steam takes place between Friday and Sunday, 8 to 10 April, 2016, inclusive, and will see an intensive train service between Swanage, Herston Halt, Harman's Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden – including nostalgic freight trains from yesteryear.

Starting from Swanage, four passenger trains each day will be running beyond Norden station, over the newly installed Norden Gates level crossing and on past Motala, Furzebrook, Creech Bottom and East Holme before stopping at the River Frome – within sight of the town of Wareham.

Passengers will not able to board or alight the steam trains running over the four-mile extension beyond Norden station and the trains operating between Norden and the River Frome will have a steam locomotive at each end.

With a powerful tractive effort of more than 31,000 lbs, No. 4247 is being given a starring role in the Spring Steam Gala – spending all three days of the special event helping to operate the four-trains-a-day Norden to River Frome shuttles which start their journeys at Swanage.

Restored and owned by the 4247 Preservation Society, the First World War locomotive will also be hauling a daily early morning freight train from Swanage to Harman's Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden before playing its starring and historic role 'over the road'.

A 2-8-0 wheel arrangement steam locomotive, No. 4247 is visiting the Swanage Railway from its home on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway in Cornwell where it has been hauling trains on the heritage line for ten years.

Swanage Railway General Manager Matt Green said: "It was marvellous to see No. 4247 make history by being the first locomotive in steam to use our new £500,000 Norden Gates level crossing. There was a definite air of expectation and excitement.

"The new state of the art level crossing protects the busy access road to the Wytch Farm oil field as well as Purbeck District Council's pay and display car park next to Norden station.

"I am also delighted for the owners and supporters of the 4247 Preservation Society that their beloved locomotive will be helping to operate the first timetabled passenger trains to run between Norden, Motala, Furzebrook and the River Frome for the first time in 44 years.

"Timetabled passenger trains last ran on that stretch of line on New Year's Day, 1972, when the last British Rail trains ran between Swanage, Corfe Castle and the main line at Wareham.

"No. 4247 and our other steam locomotives will be rather different to the moaning and juddering 'Hampshire' diesel-electric multiple units that provided the branch line service between September, 1966, and the end in January, 1972," he added.

A few years before its withdrawal by British Railways in 1964, No. 4247 was transferred south – from hauling heavy South Wales coal trains to Cornwall where it hauled trains of China Clay from the pits to the port of Fowey.

After spending 20 years languishing in a South Wales scrapyard, the 82-tonne locomotive was rescued and restored to full working order by a dedicated band of railway enthusiasts from the 4247 Preservation Society.

Matt Green explained: "Our dedicated teams have worked very hard over the past 18 months restoring and upgrading the former Network Rail line between Motala and bridge No. 2 which is a quarter of a mile south of Worgret Junction on the main London to Weymouth line just west of Wareham station.

"For operational reasons, our passenger trains can only operate to the River Frome bridge No. 4 where the Network Rail distant signal for Worgret Junction is located. Bridge No. 4 is about half a mile short of the junction with the electrified main line.

"Half a mile of new track has been laid, almost 2,000 wooden track sleepers replaced, a quarter-mile long embankment upgraded and six miles of lineside embankments cut back, fences repaired and drains cleared," he added.

Also appearing during the Spring Steam Gala will be, subject to availability, the Swanage Railway's stable of four steam ex-main line locomotives dating from 1905 through to 1955.

There will be London and South Western Railway M7 tank No. 30053 built in 1905, Southern Railway U-class locomotive No. 31806 built in the late 1920s, Southern Railway Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34070 'Manston' from the mid-1940s and British Railways Standard Class 4 Tank No. 80104 built at Brighton in 1955.

Matt explained: "No. 4247 hauled long 1,000-tonne coal trains from the South Wales mines down to ports for export before hauling the empty wagons back to the coal mines. The powerful steam locomotive was a reliable and hard-working stalwart.

"After being rescued from the famous steam locomotive scrapyard at Barry in South Wales, dedicated volunteers spent 20 years of hard work restoring No. 4247 to the gleaming steam locomotive that is seen and enjoyed by so many people today," he added.

The Swanage Railway's Spring Steam Gala will also see the award-winning Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum next to Norden station open as well as the goods shed museum, exhibition and cinema coach at Corfe Castle station.

Swanage Railway train times – and special event details – are available online at www.swanagerailway.co.uk or by telephone on 01929 425800.