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Published: July 28, 2016

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

A teenager who travelled on the last British Rail train from Swanage to Wareham in 1972 has driven the first timetabled diesel train to carry passengers from Norden along four miles of newly upgraded line – to within sight of Wareham.

Forty-five years on from that sad and controversial last passenger train, Peter Frost took to the controls of the 1960 heritage rail bus along the Swanage Railway's extension to the River Frome, half a mile south of the branch line's junction with the main line through Wareham.

A founder Swanage Railway member and volunteer since restoration work started from nothing at Swanage in 1976, Peter said: "It was a very exciting and special moment to drive the first diesel train to the River Frome which is within sight of Wareham – you could see the tower of Lady St Mary's Church across the water meadows.

"The last time I rode on a timetabled diesel train between Norden and the River Frome I was back in 1972 when I was 13 years old – sometimes the British Rail drivers would let me ride in the cabs. Forty-five years later, I was driving the train which was exhilarating and absolutely marvellous.

"There was an air of excitement and expectation on the train as passengers enjoyed the views of the countryside between Norden and the River Frome not seen by passengers on a regular timetabled diesel train since January, 1972, when British Rail closed the branch line from Wareham to Swanage.

"I regularly rode the branch line from Wareham to Swanage as a child with my mother and knew many of the staff. I watched the line closed and the tracks ripped up for scrap but myself and other Swanage Railway volunteers – many of them teenagers like me – were determined to rebuild it," added the married father of one who grew up in Corfe Castle the son of a publican.

As Peter drove the first two-carriage Class 108 diesel multiple unit (DMU) between Norden, Motala, Furzebrook, Creech Bottom and Holme Lane on Monday, 25 July, 2016 – en route to the River Frome – he admitted to being sad at the thought of many hard-working Swanage Railway volunteers not living to see the historic day.

"It's a shame so many Swanage Railway volunteers – and many former members of branch line staff – have not lived to share the excitement of the first diesel trains to within sight of Wareham after experiencing the anger of closure 45 years ago. Most people thought the trains would never return.

"The special trains enabled the public to see the transformation achieved by the Swanage Railway over 18 months in restoring and upgrading three miles of former Network Rail freight-only line which saw the last gas train visit Furzebrook during 2005," added Peter who lives in Swanage.

Restoration work has seen 1,200 wooden track sleepers replaced, half a mile of track laid, a quarter-mile-long embankment upgraded, undergrowth and drainage cleared along six miles of embankments as well as the installation of a new track points at Furzebrook.

It was on the dull and cold Saturday, 1 January, 1972 – New Year's Day – that the last British Rail passenger trains ran between Swanage, Corfe Castle, Norden and the River Frome en route to Wareham.

For more than five years, the Swanage branch train service had been formed of moaning and juddering three-coach ' Hampshire' diesel-electric multiple units (DEMUs) built at Eastleigh during 1957.

Opened in May, 1885, the ten-mile branch line from Wareham to Corfe Castle and Swanage officially closed on Monday, 3 January, 1972, in the line's 87th year of operation.

Seven miles of track between Swanage, Corfe Castle, Norden and Motala – a spot half a mile east of Furzebrook – was lifted for scrap in just seven weeks during July and August, 1972.

It was in September, 2014, that the Swanage Railway took on the lease of three miles of former Network Rail line – from Motala, a mile west of Norden station, to a quarter of a mile south of Worgret Junction near Wareham – to give tracks, bridges and embankments a major upgrade.

A new state of the art level crossing has been installed on the access road to the Wytch Farm oil field and Norden station while 2,235 cubic metres of earth has been excavated – and a new siding laid – so a new road-rail interchange could be built to enable the creation of the Norden Gates level crossing.

The special two-day diesel service between Corfe Castle, Norden, Furzebrook and the River Frome was operated because Swanage and Harman's Cross stations were closed for two days due to shooting taking place for a new feature film set in 1940 at the start of the Second World War.

During the two days – Monday and Tuesday, 25 and 26 July, 2016 – the two-carriage diesel rail bus, built in the midlands during 1960 for British Railways, made 24 eight-mile return trips to the River Frome with trains running every 45 minutes between 10am and 6pm.

The Swanage Railway's steam train service between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman's Cross, Herston Halt and Swanage resumed on Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, with steam trains every 40 minutes between 10am and 6pm.

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