A mighty 1940s ‘Orient Express’ steam locomotive has hauled a prestigious excursion train from London to Corfe Castle and Swanage – 46 years after British Rail banned the massive engine from running down to the Purbeck seaside resort.
Pulled by the 150-ton Southern Railway Merchant Navy class Bulleid Pacific No. 35028 ‘Clan Line’ – built at Eastleigh in Hampshire during 1948 – the 13-coach ‘Royal Wessex’ departed London’s Victoria station at 8.45am yesterday, Friday, 27 April, 2012.
An impressive stallion of steam, ‘Clan Line’ usually hauls luxury Venice-Simplon ‘Orient Express’ Pullman dining trains to various destinations around the country.
Forty-six years before, in 1966, ‘Clan Line’ hauled another excursion train from London bound for Corfe Castle and Swanage – but the massive locomotive could not travel further than Wareham because it was too heavy for the single branch line down to the Purbeck seaside resort.
That was on Sunday, 27 February, 1966, when steam trains were on the way out and the nine-coach train named the ‘Dorset Belle’ for the occasion – organised by the Locomotive Club of Great Britain – was packed with several hundred railway enthusiasts.
While ‘Clan Line’ patiently waited in the south bay platform of Wareham station, two small Ivatt class tank steam locomotives – No. 41284 & No. 41301 – took over the train and hauled it down to Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Now, 46 years on, the mighty ‘Clan Line’ hauled the UK Railtours ‘Royal Wessex’ excursion train all the way to Corfe Castle and Swanage because under-bridges on the rebuilt Swanage Railway were strengthened during the early 1990s to carry ‘Merchant Navy’ class steam locomotives.
Swanage Railway Company chairman Peter Sills said: “It was fantastic to finally welcome ‘Clan Line’ to Corfe Castle and Swanage 46 years after it was prevented from running down the branch line from Wareham because of the British Railways locomotive weight restriction policy of the time.
“‘Clan Line’ is a really marvellous machine and is widely considered to be the greatest preserved Southern Railway steam locomotive of them all.
“In tribute to the ‘Dorset Belle’ railtour to Corfe Castle and Swanage in 1966 – the year England won the World Cup against West Germany at Wembley – ‘Clan Line’ carried her original nameplates and number plates from 46 years before.
“Named after Merchant Navy shipping companies, locomotives like ‘Clan Line’ hauled long express trains from the capital to the coast so this 12-coach excursion train from London to Swanage is very fitting and has great historical resonance,” explained Mr Sills who remembers seeing the original ‘Dorset Belle’ at Wareham in 1966 when he was nine years old.
The 500-tonne ‘Royal Wessex’ excursion train with ‘Clan Line’ on the front passed through Wareham just after 1pm, running into Corfe Castle at 1.37pm and arriving in Swanage at 1.53pm. The train departed Swanage for the five-hour journey back to London’s Waterloo station just after 5pm.
The for ‘Clan Line’s historic visit to Corfe Castle and Swanage was Wayne Thompson of DB Schenker based at Eastleigh while the fireman was Rob Binstead.
Withdrawn by British Railways in July, 1967, ‘Clan Line’ is a ‘Pacific’ class 4-6-2 wheel arrangement locomotive – designed during the Second World War by Oliver Bulleid – and now based at the Stewart’s Lane railway depot in London.
It has been owned and maintained to main line standards by the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society since 1967.