RAIL minister Huw Merriman took a trip on the Swanage Railway during an informal visit this week.
The MP (Con, Bexhill and Battle) visited the Dorset heritage line via the trial diesel train service from the main line at Wareham on Tuesday (August 22).
He was accompanied by South Dorset MP Richard Drax and Dorset Council transport portfolio holder, Councillor Ray Bryan.
On arrival, the minister was hosted by Purbeck Community Rail Partnership chair Mike Whitwam and Dorset Council Councillor Beryl Ezzard, of the Friends of Wareham Station, for a tour of the station built in the 1880s.
Swanage Railway Trust chair Gavin Johns then joined the minister for a journey on Swanage Railway’s trial heritage diesel train service to Corfe Castle and Swanage.
At Swanage station, the minister met volunteers before enjoying a footplate ride on 1940s Southern Railway Bulleid Pacific West Country class steam locomotive No 34028 ‘Eddystone’ during a trip from Swanage to Corfe Castle.
Once at Corfe Castle station, Mr Merriman toured the Swanage Railway Trust Museum – housed in the Victorian goods shed – before visiting the station signal box which liaises with the Network Rail signalling centre at Basingstoke, Hampshire, when Swanage Railway trains run on to the main line into Wareham.
He then rounded off the trip with a return journey to Wareham on the heritage diesel service operated by overhauled former British Railways Class 117 and Class 121 diesel units from the 1950s.
SRT chair Mr Johns said the group was ‘delighted’ to welcome the minister.
“We were able to show the minister our trial heritage diesel train service from the main line at Wareham down to Corfe Castle and Swanage which has been achieved thanks to partnership working with the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership and a £1.8 million grant from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund,” he said.
“The minister was impressed by the number of long-serving volunteers as well as the professionalism, commitment and hard work shown by everyone he met.
“The minister was also introduced to guards and signalmen who explained their work in helping to operate the Swanage Railway safely and efficiently.
“(He) asked that his grateful thanks be passed on to everyone involved in making his visit to the Swanage Railway so informative and enjoyable.”
Mr Merriman was ‘genuinely interested’ in the work of the trust, and ‘keen to meet our dedicated volunteers and staff’, he added.