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“Bittern” marks a railway record, SouthWest Trains makes railway history

Sunday, June 30 2013

Bittern hauling The Ebor Streak London-York special at 90 mph on the East Coast Mainline. Film by Ryan Skinner.

Yesterday, two special trains, marked two major railway preservation milestones – events so extraordinary that they could probably only have occurred in Great Britain!

On Saturday 29 June 2013, Gresley A4 pacific 4464 Bittern hauled the first of three high speed passenger trains permitted to run at 90 mph. The temporary derogation to exceed the UK’s 75 mph national speed limit for large-wheeled (1) steam locomotives was granted as part of the Mallard 75 celebrations to commemorate sister A4, Mallard, setting a world speed record for steam of 126mph, 75 years ago on July 3 1938 – a record that has never been broken.

The Gresley Pacifics were superb locomotives capable, when properly maintained, of regular 90 mph running, but they did have a design weakness and suffered from cracked frames. Bittern was no exception in this regard and it is a tribute to the dedication of her owner Jeremy Hosking and all who have maintained the locomotive that she passed all of the stringent tests demanded by Network Rail prior to be allowed to stretch her legs once more at 90 mph.

Bittern on its high speed test run in May 2013. Seen here at Taplow, the loco and test train ran from Maidenhead to Slough at an average speed of 93 mph. Film by MrKnowwun

(1) with driving wheels of 6ft 2in diameter or larger

UK Railtours special The Purbeck Adventurer in the Swanage Station bat platform on 29 June 2013. Film KINGANDCASTLE.

Meanwhile, less prestigious perhaps than the high-speed streak of 4464 from London, King’s Cross to York that was commemorating a milestone from the past, another, rather more modest train, which ran from London on the same day was actually making railway history. Two SouthWest Trains 159 diesel units, nos. 159009 and 159006, ran from London, Waterloo to Swanage in Dorset.

41 years have passed since the start the project to restore a community rail service to the Isle of Purbeck. Under the banner of the Swanage Railway Society – a collaboration between environmental campaigners, railway enthusiasts and local activists – the objective was set of restoring an all-the-year-round community railway service linking to the main line at Wareham which would run over a railway track ‘subsidised’ by the operation of steam-hauled heritage trains during the holiday season.

At first progress on the project seemed to run in reverse – British Railways’ contractors were actually lifting the track when the project was launched to the local community in August 1972. It took three years to secure the future of the Swanage Railway Station, and eight years to persuade Dorset County Council not to build a Corfe Castle by-pass over the railway route.

Then the track had to be built and to a sufficiently high standard to allow main line locomotives to run over it. In 1979, demonstration trains ran over a short length of line re-opened. This was extended first to Herston Halt and then to Harman’s Cross in 1988. In 1995 the railway reopened from Swanage to Corfe Castle and the present terminus of the line at a “Park & Ride’ car park at Norden Park.

In January 2002 the track was relaid right up to (but not joined with) Railtrack’s Furzebrook freight line at Motala. The tracks were temporarily connected to allow a Virgin Trains “Voyager” Class 220 diesel multiple to travel (though without any passengers) to attend a naming ceremony in Swanage on 8 September 2002. The connection was then severed. It took 5 years of negotiation to establish a permanent connection between the Swanage Railway and the Furzebrook spur which by now belonged to Network Rail. Another 2 more years were to pass before the first passenger train originating from a station on Network Rail actually passed over the permanent connection to arrive at Swanage.

Since then a number of premium-priced specials, originating on the external railway network (both diesel and steam hauled) have made Swanage their destination. However, yesterday’s train was the first family-priced special and the first originating from Waterloo from where express trains with through coaches for Swanage ran in the line’s heyday.

[Ed. As I toast the achievement of all concerned with a glass of Zubrowka I hope that the day will not be much longer in coming when a through train from the outside world arriving at Swanage will be so common as to no longer be a news story.]

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