Friday, 11 May 2007

site visit - swanage railway May 2007

The park and ride station at Norden.

Crowds at Swanage - on a wet Wednesday in May!

Soft focus Corfe Castle.

I visited the Swanage branch a few times shortly before it closed in 1972. Then it was a depressing sight with almost empty trains traversing a long siding and reaching a forlorn terminus. It seemed barely believable that a line that passed the tourist honeypot of Corfe Castle and terminated in a classic small seaside resort could do anything but make money, even in the 70s.

The line duly closed, the track was ripped up on most of the route, the platforms at Swanage were demolished and the station site at Corfe was threatened - unbelievably - with a by-pass. For several years the future of the line was in the balance, the preservation society struggled and the by-pass was still a threat on the horizon. To visit the line today both of these previous situations seem incredible - it is a thriving transport link as well as one of the most important tourist facilities in the region.

We arrived at Norden on a wet Wednesday, not even sure trains were running. Not only were they running, but behind steam (albeit a GWR loco!) We had a few minutes in the catering coach, which had a nice range of snacks etc. The journey is quite scenic, especially around Corfe, running through heathland and fields. The train had five coaches which were pretty full throughout. The coaches themselves were a little spartan. The staff were very friendly at all points and seemed to really enjoy what they were doing.

The shop at Swanage was a little bland with nothing standing out as a must-buy. The destination is excellent, with many small shops, a vegetarian restaurant and of course the sea front. You really feel like you've used the train to get somewhere.

There were a lot of junk wagons lining the route but the lineside generally was neat and tidy with no litter. The intermediate stations were pleasant, especially Corfe Castle which had a real Southern Region atmosphere.

Generally a very pleasant and professional set up with much to commend it to both railway enthusiasts and the general public. I'm looking forward to visiting again in a few years with hopefully the extension to Wareham complete and the narrow gauge museum at Norden open and running demonstration trains on a decent length of track.
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