IT was a train that had taken 37 years to arrive.

When the track was ripped up in 1972, the idea of a service running from London to Swanage ever again was unthinkable to most.

But not in the minds of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, who, after almost four decades of work to restore the Wareham to Swanage branch line following its closure by British Rail, saw their dream come true yesterday.

At 2pm, for the first time since January 1, 1972, a proud station volunteer announced over the tannoy that the 8.45am service from London Victoria was arriving. As the diesel-hauled 12-carriage Purbeck Pioneer – driven by Poole’s Dave Gravell – slowly pulled up, the applauding crowds knew they were witnessing history in the sunshine.

On board were Wareham father and son Frederick and Peter Sills, who were passengers on the final service in 1972.

Peter, 51, a Swanage Railway director and volunteer, said: “Riding on that last train from Wareham to Swanage as a 15-year-old was a very sad occasion, because everyone thought the railway was gone for good.”

Frederick, 86, added: “It’s absolutely amazing that the clock has been turned back and history reversed by the Swanage Railway volunteers. All credit to them, they have performed miracles.

“I have to admit that when I saw them start rebuilding and restoration work at a desolate and disused Swanage station back in 1976, I thought they did not stand a chance of relaying the line.”

Watching from the platform at Swanage was veteran campaigner Moyra Cross, 87.

When closure plans were announced in 1968, she began the fight to keep the line open and continued to campaign for its reinstatement from 1972 onwards.

Moyra, still a volunteer, said: “When work started on rebuilding the railway from nothing at a desolate Swanage station, we never thought that it would take this long for the first through train to run in from Wareham – a gap of 37 years."

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Mike Whitwam, added: “It’s what has always been the aim of the Swanage Railway, to join up with the main line. This is the penultimate step to a regular service from Swanage to Wareham."

He said the next project was to raise funding for re-signalling.

The train – the longest to travel the route since the end of steam in the late 1960s – passed through Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole, Wareham, Corfe Castle and Harman’s Cross before arriving to a fanfare at Swanage. It stayed until 4pm before heading back to London Waterloo.