ENTHUSIASTS around the world were able to enjoy a heritage rail day in Dorset – from their own homes.

The Realtime Trains website installed global positioning system (GPS) units in carriages being hauled on the Swanage Railway so that followers could view a map showing where the diesel trains were on the line. Internet surfers could log on to the website and see the planned and actual progress of the trains – and if they were running early, on time or late.

The initiative came during last weekend’s diesel gala, which incorporated a beer festival at Corfe Castle.

Swanage Railway general manager Matt Green said: “It was very exciting and the first time that a preserved railway has been involved with Realtime Trains – putting the Swanage Railway at the cutting edge of the digital age in providing live information about the running of its trains.

“Operating since October, 2012, Realtime Trains had to install temporary GPS units on our trains – with the data being broadcast over the mobile network – because the company normally draws its information from Network Rail.”

He added: “The Realtime Trains Swanage Railway webpage was accessed in 19 different countries – including the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Portugal, Norway, France, Germany and Poland.

“During our gala, there were 1,880 unique visitors to the Realtime Trains website with more than 4,700 visits looking at some 14,000 page impressions.”

The service also provided live information about the location and punctuality of diesel gala’s driver experience trains where members of the public drove an ex-BR Class 33 loco under the supervision of a

Swanage Railway driver.

Using GPS fitted Class 33 diesel locomotives No. 33 111 and No. D6515, the service was fully booked and ran along four miles of line between the Norden and the River Frome south of Worgret Junction, within sight of Wareham.

Matt Green explained: “Statistics reveal that 95 per cent of the visitors to the Realtime Trains website visitors were from the United Kingdom and that half of the visitors used a mobile phone or tablet computer – with the rest of the visitors using desktop computers.

“Some 70 per cent of the visitors viewed the Realtime Trains website using a mobile connection and the maps page was viewed for a total period of 68.8 days – all very impressive.

“The GPS units and service information were provided only for our diesel gala but we are exploring whether it’s possible and appropriate to introduce this train running information for the public on a longer term basis,” he added.

In its twelfth year, the four day diesel gala and beer festival saw more than 3,500 people carried on the trains between Norden, Corfe and Swanage.

The major gathering of classic diesel traction from the 1960s and the 1970s featured two firsts – the most diesel locomotives to attend the annual event and the first appearance on scheduled trains of a green-liveried Class 47 at Swanage and Corfe Castle since the summer of 1966.

Ten diesel locomotives visited the event with the Swanage Railway’s two classic 1960s ex-British Rail Southern Region Class 33s taking the number of classic heritage diesel locomotives hauling the passenger trains to twelve.