History made in Dorset as steam locomotive No. 31806 hauls first mainline passenger train in 50 years

No. 31806 at Yeovil
Credit: Andrew P.M. Wright

History has been made in Dorset when Southern Railway ‘U’ Class No. 31806 hauled the first mainline passenger train between Yeovil and Weymouth for the first time in 50 years.

The Swanage Railway ‘U’ class hauled the eleven coach train on Thursday last week as part of the ‘Great Britain XI’ railtour.

It is also the first time that a 1920s ‘mogul’ steam locomotive has been turned on the turntable next to Yeovil Junction in 50 years.

The locomotive had assistance from LMS Black 5 No. 45212 on the rear. No. 31806 hauled the heavy train up the climb from Yeovil to Evershot.

The excursion ran back to Dorchester and on to Wareham, with 31806 on the rear, from Wareham, 31806 hauled the train for the final nine miles on the Swanage Railway.

What did the officials say?

The Swanage Railway’s delighted locomotive director, Kevin Potts, said:

“No. 31806 performed very well and made a magnificent sight as it worked hard hauling the long excursion train up the bank from Yeovil to Evershot which is quite a sustained climb.

“No. 31806 is a marvellous machine. The fact that No. 31806 runs like a finely tuned and oiled sewing machine is a tribute to the team of dedicated Swanage Railway staff and volunteers who have been working on the locomotive over the past few years.

“It was also a very special moment when No. 31806 was turned on the turntable at the Yeovil Railway Centre next to Yeovil Junctions station. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone at the Yeovil Railway Centre for their help and for making No. 31806 so welcome.

“My thanks also go to Network Rail, as well as West Coast Railways, for their invaluable help and co-operation in enabling No. 31806 to run on the main line,” added Mr Potts who lives in Poole, Dorset, and is a retired Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilot.

Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons explained:

“No. 31806 was upgraded – so it could haul trains on the main line – thanks to a £75,000 Government grant to the Swanage Railway Trust from the Department for Transport’s Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation Competition.

“The Trust supplied £25,000 of labour towards the work which also included the upgrade, to main line standards, of five ex-British Railways 1950s carriages that normally run on the Swanage Railway heritage line.

“With No. 31806 now equipped with the required signalling and monitoring equipment required to run on Network Rail, the upgrade work to the locomotive – as well as a set of five carriages – gives the Swanage Railway the potential to run special steam trains from Swanage and Corfe Castle to the main line at Wareham in the future.

“The last time that a Southern Railway 1920s ‘mogul’ steam locomotive – like No. 31806 – hauled a passenger train on the main line in Dorset was in 1965 before the last of that class of steam locomotive were withdrawn from service by British Railways.

“The Southern Railway ‘mogul’ steam locomotives, of the same class as No. 31806, were based at Bournemouth and Weymouth from the 1920s to the 1960s – working both passenger and freight trains.”