TRAIN lovers will be treated to an evening of informative entertainment at the hands of local author and transport historian, Brian Jackson.

Mr Jackson will be discussing the history of the Weymouth and Portland railway between 1865 and 1965.

He’ll cover all the momentous moments of these 100 years, from the opening of the first terminus in Victoria Square on Portland to the eventual closure of the line altogether.

The construction of the railway in the 19th century was far from simple, not least because it was operated jointly by two rival rail companies.

It took construction workers 12 years to blast through the solid rock and required three extensions of Parliamentary time.

The line originally reached Castletown on Portland to meet the Merchant’s Stone Tramway, Dorset’s earliest railway, that was built exclusively for the use of Portland’s stone industry.

It took until 1877 for the new line to be extended to the Breakwater, and it was 1900 when the Easton and Church Hope Railway was finally opened.

In 1903, a new station at Wyke Regis in Weymouth was announced to serve the growing population living near Whitehead’s Torpedo Factory.

The factory had opened in 1891 and was increasingly employing a considerable local workplace, but construction of the platform did not take place until 1909.

The Weymouth to Portland branch faced challenges from developing bus services – which were favoured for being able to go through residential areas – and the two world wars.

It was the combination of these factors which ultimately led to the railway’s demise.

Two days after war broke out in August 1914, all railways came under government control.

The Portland branch soon became a vital part of the war effort, transporting coal for ships in the harbour. Casualties who landed on Portland were taken to hospitals around the country on special ambulance trains.

The government took control of railways again in 1939. More than 700 evacuees were brought to Portland by train but were quickly moved elsewhere when it was realised that the naval facilities meant the island would be a major target for air attacks.

Indeed, several bombs fell on the railway through the war. An air raid on June 11, 1940 came close to destroying the line. The signal box at Portland station took a direct hit, killing the unsuspecting signalman and closing the railway for several days.

The continued fuel rationing in 1950 saved the railway from the improving bus services that threatened to make it redundant. When rationing ended, it was a different story.

“Like many urban branch lines, its days were numbered,” says Mr Jackson. Passenger services ceased in 1952 and many local people took the opportunity to travel on the railway for the final time: more than 800 passengers boarded the six-coach train from Melcombe Regis to Easton on March 1, 1952.

Freight traffic remained profitable and continued for a number of years, yet this too suffered from economic losses. The final trains departed the island on March 27, 1965.

Today, parts of the line can still be walked and are popular with locals and visitors. The Rodwell Trail is a footpath that runs from Wyke Regis to Weymouth’s town centre, travelling along the former route of the railway. It is part of the South West Coast Path.

Mr Jackson has a wealth of knowledge and experience, having authored four books covering the branch which has what he calls “a complex and interesting history.”

*Talk on the history of the Weymouth and Portland railway between 1865 and 1965 with Brian Jackson, Girt Hall, St George’s Centre, Reforne, Portland, Thursday, May 2 at 7pm. Entrance to the event costs £5 on the door, or £4 for Friends of Portland Museum members.

All proceeds will go to the Portland Museum. For more information, call 01305 821804.