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6 October 2016, 10:11
A new £500,000 level crossing enabling regular passenger trains to run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham for the first time since 1972 is to be officially opened by the High Sheriff of Dorset.
Sir Philip Williams will be cutting a ceremonial ribbon and unveiling a plaque at Norden station for the nearby level crossing - located 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.
The occasion will also be a celebration of the completion of the 18-month restoration and upgrade of the three miles of former Network Rail line 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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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 for trains 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 Creech Heath - a protected Site of Special Scientific Interest - 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 as well as carrying out examination work on all structures along the three-mile route," explained Mark, a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer since the early 1980s.