Dorset High Sheriff officially opens new £500,000 level crossing enabling passenger trains to Wareham
Story by Andrew P.M. Wright
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer
A new £500,000 level crossing enabling regular passenger trains from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham – for the first time since 1972 – has been officially opened by the High Sheriff of Dorset.
During Victorian times, the family of Sir Philip Williams were among the promoters who brought the 1847-opened railway from Southampton to Dorchester via Wareham – and his great-grandfather was a director of the London and South Western Railway until the company's end in 1922.
The High Sheriff of Dorset cut a ceremonial ribbon at Norden Gates level crossing –located just west of Norden station and half a mile north of Corfe Castle – that has taken dedicated Swanage Railway volunteers four years and more than 3,000 hours of design, building and testing work.
Also a celebration of the completion of the 18-month restoration and upgrade of three miles of former Network Rail line – to within a quarter of a mile of Worgret Junction and the main line to Wareham – Sir Philip unveiled a brass plaque on Norden station.
After the official opening, the High Sheriff of Dorset and his wife joined more than 60 guests on a special five-coach train that ran over the level crossing and on to the four-mile line that takes the Swanage Railway's tracks to within a quarter of a mile of Worgret Junction and the main line to Wareham.
A key part of the Swanage Railway's two-year trial train service to Wareham from June, 2017, the funding of Norden Gates level crossing has been provided thanks to the 'legacy' support of the Wytch Farm oil field's previous operator British Petroleum (BP).
Located west of the Swanage Railway's Norden station, the state of the art level crossing called 'Norden Gates' allows trains to cross a busy and important road giving access to the Wytch Farm on-shore oilfield as well as Purbeck District Council's car park next to Norden station.
Her Majesty the Queen's judicial representative in Dorset, a delighted Sir Philip Williams said: "It is a great honour, as well as obviously a great pleasure, to be asked to open this latest stage in the full re-integration of the Swanage Railway into the national railway network.
"I am proud and privileged that this occasion has fallen within my year as High Sheriff and that, as a life-long railwayman, I can therefore play a part.
"The official opening of Norden Gates level crossing marks one more decisive stage in the long and tireless efforts of numerous enthusiasts, volunteers and staff who – by their vision and their contribution with time and abilities of brain or muscle – have refused to let the Swanage Railway die."
"I congratulate all who have brought the revival of the Swanage Railway to this stage and I look forward to its enjoying many years of success and prosperity into the future."
"My family first became involved in extending the railways into Dorset and the West Country by facilitating the Southampton and Dorchester Railway nearly 200 years ago."
"I’m not sure if my great-grandfather, who was the longest-serving director of the London & South Western Railway when it lost its identity in 1922, ever opened a line himself but I do hope that he would be proud that Wareham and Swanage will soon be connected by passenger-carrying rails again," added the High Sheriff who is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: "The safety of the public, and our passengers, is our paramount concern. The new full-barrier level crossing will enable regular passenger trains to run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the Wareham for the first time since 1972.
"A hugely complex infrastructure project has been successfully completed by a volunteer-led organisation and is about to bring main line-connected rail travel back to a corner of south-east Dorset for the first time in more than 40 years. The infrastructure has been completed and is ready for trial services to take place on 140 selected days over two years from the summer of 2017.
"This success is thanks to the foresight of our Project Wareham funders as well as the commitment of our volunteers and supporters. The Swanage Railway's hard-working staff are also to be congratulated.
"The Swanage Railway is also grateful to former Wytch Farm oil field operator British Petroleum (BP) for providing the 'legacy' payment of £500,000 so the new Norden Gates level crossing could be built," added Mr Johns.
Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons explained: "Equipped with full barriers, warning lights and audible alerts, the signal box for Norden Gates level crossing has been built of wood – with a slate roof – in the style of the branch line signal box at Lyme Regis station in west Dorset.
"A lot of detailed work has gone into designing, building and installing the signal box and signalling system at Norden Gates – together with its electrical operation and safety systems – and I thank everyone involved, including Project Wareham director Mark Woolley and his project manager Frank Roberts," added Trevor, a Swanage Railway train guard and signalman.
Approved by the Government's Department for Transport, the level crossing's computer-controlled safety systems, crossing barriers and road user warning systems were designed and installed by Schweizer Electronic of Switzerland.
Swanage Railway's Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: "Thanks to a grant from the Government's Coastal Communities Fund and Swanage Railway resources, the work has included raising the line speed to 25mph, upgrading and widening a quarter-mile long embankment near Furzebrook as well as laying half a mile of continuously welded rail on concrete sleepers through the protected Creech Heath to reduce intrusive track maintenance.
"We have also repaired three miles of fencing; carried out tree and vegetation removal and repair works; replaced more than 1,000 sleepers; increased the track ballast to improve rail and train ride quality," explained Mark, a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since the early 1980s.
Purbeck Community Rail Partnership chairman, Councillor Mike Lovell, said: “This is a huge step in the project to enable a regular passenger service from Wareham to Swanage.
"On behalf of the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership, I would like to thank the Swanage Railway and all the contractors and funders who have made this possible. We very much look forward to the start of a trial service," he added.
The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers – for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email '