Swanage Railway set to join main line after funding from Dorset Council
Regular trains between Swanage and Wareham could return within two years as vital signals will join the Swanage Railway to the main line.
The modern signals will cost £2.7million to install, and Dorset County Council has handed over the first instalment of funding to Network Rail.
The Swanage Railway, which is run by volunteers changes its points at Worgret Junction manually, while people waving flags provide signalling. The upgrade will mean the service will be able to run up to eight return journeys per day, putting it among the biggest community railways in the country.
Dorset County Council Leader Cllr Angus Campbell said: "We are grateful to the many people who have worked behind the scenes for so long to achieve this funding agreement.
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"Now we need to focus on the next phase of the project which is to help Swanage Railway lease and upgrade the line between Norden and Worgret Junction and to ensure the legal agreements are in place to allow it to use the Furzebrook sidings to store and maintain trains."
Work on the new signals will start in October, and would allow trains to join the main line at Worgret Junction and reach Wareham.
Swanage Railway chairman Peter Sills said: "We're delighted that this once-in-a-generation opportunity has come to fruition. It has been a team effort by everyone involved, especially the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership.
"The Swanage Railway already makes an important contribution to Purbeck in terms of employment, bringing extra commercial opportunities to many businesses and reducing traffic congestion.
"Linking Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line railway at Wareham can only increase this benefit."
The funding for the upgrade has come from developers' contributions as part of the Purbeck Transportation Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to improve movement around the district, taking traffic away from the busy A351 by using alternative forms of transport.
Purbeck District Cllr Mike Lovell was closely involved in securing the funding deal with Network Rail.
"This is the first major step towards providing a regular service between Swanage and Wareham for 40 years" said Cllr Lovell.
"It is crucial as it will allow people to travel to Corfe Castle and Swanage by train from anywhere in the country. Railway enthusiasts will be keen to try it and so will families and holiday-makers who want to leave the car at home.
"It will also be a key transport link for people who work or study in Wareham, Poole or anywhere along the south coast."
A further £300,000 will link the new signals to Swanage Railway's award-winning signal box at Corfe Castle, which was installed last year.
Jim Morgan, principal programme sponsor for Network Rail said: "We have worked closely with Dorset County Council and the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership to make this connection to the national rail network possible.
"Linking the line from Swanage, via Corfe Castle, to Wareham will give a boost to the local area and provide a viable rail service to local people and an alternative way for tourists and visitors to travel to this part of the country."