The Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the Swanage Railway and, like many businesses; it was forced to suspend all of its services a year ago when the first lockdown came into effect.
Following Government requirements to keep the public safe, we were subsequently able to operate some services during the peak of last summer and in to the autumn although social distancing regulations significantly reduced capacity on trains.
December, 2020, saw the introduction of a new attraction to the Swanage Railway and the Isle of Purbeck, a Covid-safe train of steam and lights which was extremely popular – so much so that it is planned to offer these festive trains again in December, 2021.
Following Government guidelines to keep the public safe, the fund-raising gift shop at Swanage station remained open while the steam trains were running but, sadly, it has been closed since the end of December.
Income was very badly affected by the Covid pandemic and had it not been for a successful Save Our Service appeal for donations, support arising from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme and a fund-raising team that successfully bid for a number of grants, the picture could have been very different.
It had been hoped to resume services between Swanage and Wareham in 2020 but this was not possible and, indeed, this is unlikely to be possible until 2022.
Despite the on-going difficulties of living with coronavirus – and following Government requirements and guidelines to keep people safe – volunteers and other staff have not been idle during the winter and have been carrying out essential maintenance work; work that can’t be carried out when trains are running.
Major repairs were undertaken at the New Barn bridge – two miles from Swanage – which involved repairs to the structure and the track. The Swanage Railway is responsible for a number of bridges that pass over roads and safety is of paramount importance.
Essential work has also been undertaken to maintain the signalling systems but one of the largest pieces of work undertaken was to replace to boiler on 1920s Southern Railway U Class locomotive 31806 with a refurbished boiler. The work took three months, in sometimes inclement weather conditions, and the quality of the work produced is a credit to the team of skilled locomotive fitters.
With spring in the air, our dedicated staff and volunteers are now preparing for the Swanage Railway to re-open, in a Covid-safe manner with assigned socially distanced seating on the trains, on Monday, 12 April, 2021.
Steam locomotives have been cleaned, fuelled and lubricated prior to being tested. In order to ensure the competency of operational staff after long break, test trains – carrying no passengers –are now operating daily.
It is not just locomotive crews that need to be refreshed but also signalmen, guards and those who staff the booking offices, the shop and hopefully catering facilities – including the Wessex Belle train. The optimism is tangible.
We hope that passengers will return this summer and allow us to return to normality, reminding people of what steam locomotives were really like while also helping to enhance the local economy. More details of train services can be found by visiting our website at www.swanagerailway.co.uk.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Swanage Railway.