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SPECIAL WEEKEND TO BRING EVOCATIVE TASTE OF LONG CLOSED SOMERSET & DORSET MAIN LINE RAILWAY TO PURBECK

Published: October 31, 2018

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

An evocative taste of the long-closed and much-missed Somerset and Dorset line, axed more than 50 years ago in the infamous Beeching railway cuts, is coming to the Isle of Purbeck – thanks to a special weekend on Saturday and Sunday, 17 and 18 November, 2018.

Appearing at the two-day ‘Somerset and Dorset Weekend’ event will be three classes of steam locomotives that worked on the former main line that linked Bournemouth and Poole with Blandford Forum, Templecombe and Bath. The 102-mile line was closed in March, 1966, with the tracks being lifted between 1967 and 1970.

Hauling trains between Swanage, Herston Halt, Harman’s Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden will be 1945 London Midland and Scottish Railway ‘Black 5’ No. 44871, Southern Railway-designed 1948 Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34072 ‘257 Squadron’ and 1955 British Railways Standard Class 4 Tank No. 80104.

‘Black 5’ No. 44871 made history 50 years ago when it helped to haul the famous ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ end of steam train between Liverpool, Manchester and Carlisle in August, 1968 – the last steam-hauled passenger train run by British Rail – with tickets costing 15 guineas.

‘Black 5’ class steam locomotives hauled passenger and freight trains on the Somerset and Dorset line while Bulleid Pacific class steam locomotives hauled long through trains on the Somerset and Dorset carrying holidaymakers from the midlands and the north down to the popular seaside resort of Bournemouth.

Standard Class 4 tank class steam locomotives, like No. 80104, hauled passenger trains on the Somerset and Dorset line in its final years while the last timetabled passenger train on the doomed line was hauled by a Standard Class 4 tank steam locomotive.

Swanage Railway Company executive chairman Trevor Parsons said: “The controversial closure of the Somerset and Dorset main line 52 years ago was probably the most contentious action recommended by Dr Richard Beeching in his infamous ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ report.

“The Somerset and Dorset line still has a special place in the hearts of railway enthusiasts countrywide because of the length of the line – more than 100 miles, some of it double track – the pretty countryside through which the railway wound and also the variety of steam locomotives used to haul the line’s passenger and freight trains.

“The line from Blandford Forum to Templecombe was lifted in 1967 while the line from Blandford Forum to Broadstone – where the Somerset and Dorset joined the Brockenhurst to Poole line via Ringwood and Wimborne – was lifted in 1970.

“With most of the Somerset and Dorset’s route lost under trees and dense undergrowth, very little trace of the line remains – for much of its length – with bridges demolished, cuttings filled in and much of the railway land having been built on or buried under road schemes. Thankfully, the Somerset and Dorset’s Shillingstone and Midsomer Norton stations have been preserved by dedicated volunteers.

“Somerset and Dorset trains from Bath, Templecombe and Blandford Forum ended their journeys at the old Bournemouth West station in Westbourne where the large Victorian station was demolished in 1970 with part of the Wessex Way town centre by-pass being built in its place,” added Mr Parsons, a Swanage Railway train guard and signalman.

Opened in the 1860s, the Somerset and Dorset line was closed in March, 1966, after being included in the infamous ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ report by Dr Richard Beeching published in March, 1963.

Known as the ‘Beeching Axe’, the aim of the report – commissioned by the then Conservative government – was to stem large financial losses being incurred by British Railways, in the face of increasing competition from road transport, and reduce the amount of financial subsidy from the Government to British Railways.

Appearing on the Swanage Railway courtesy of Riley and Son (E) Limited, the main line certificated ‘Black 5’ No. 44871 –which hauls excursions on the national railway system – was moved by rail to the Swanage Railway courtesy of West Coast Railways.

The ‘Somerset and Dorset Weekend’ will see 12 passenger trains a day operate in each direction between Swanage, Harman’s Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers to help run the heritage line so call 01929 475212 for a chat or email [email protected]

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE EVENT WEBPAGE