IT’S full steam ahead as an ambitious and historic project to restore and upgrade three miles of former Network Rail line on the Swanage branch towards the main line at Wareham is almost complete.

However the date of a trial train service from Swanage to Wareham has been put back a few months, Swanage Railway has announced.

In September 2014 Swanage Railway took on the lease of three miles of former Network Rail line – from a mile west of Norden station to a quarter of a mile south of Worgret Junction near Wareham, to give tracks, bridges and embankments an upgrade ahead of a trial train service.

The start of the service from Swanage and Corfe Castle to Wareham is due to start during the first quarter of 2017 – instead of June, 2016 – because of the need to replace, rather than restore, non-standard specialist equipment on two ex-BR diesel trains being upgraded to exacting main line standards.

Restoration work has seen 1,200 wooden track sleepers replaced, half a mile of track laid, a quarter-mile-long embankment given a major upgrade, undergrowth and drainage cleared along six miles of embankments as well as the installation of a new set of track points at Furzebrook. A new level crossing has also been installed on the access road to the Wytch Farm oil field.

Swanage Railway has been given a £1.86m grant from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund to introduce a trial passenger train service from Swanage to the main line at Wareham. It is planned to run the service on 50 selected days in during 2017 and 90 selected days in during 2018.

Swanage Railway Company Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: “The historic transformation has been remarkable and I’d like to pay tribute to everyone, on the ground and behind the scenes in planning and logistics, for all their hard work which will see the ambitious upgrade of our three-mile extension completed by the end of March, 2016.

“It has been a major undertaking. Detailed technical examination has concluded that new non-standard axles and wheel bearings, known as wheel-sets. need to be manufactured by specialist contractors in Americathe United States, South Africa and England. We estimate the completed trains will be tested and delivered to the Swanage Railway during the Autumn of 2016.

“We’re very grateful for the assistance of our specialist contractors who have been very helpful in progressing the detailed examination and manufacturing work needed on our two diesel trains so they can carry passengers to Wareham.”