The Railway is facing increasing running costs and falling passenger numbers, which are adversely affecting its finances. Its ‘Save Your Railway' appeal aims to boost the financial reserves of the Swanage Railway's financial reserves through the early part of next year before its main trading season resumes in the spring.
Alongside the appeal, the Swanage Railway Company – which runs the Trust's heritage steam trains – has set itself the goal of cutting operating costs by £350,000, while working to attract more visitors during 2024.
Swanage Railway was rebuilt in the 1970s after the commercial passenger service was closed and British Rail began demolishing the infrastructure. A battle between the authorities and local railway enthusiasts resulted in the Isle of Purbeck heritage railway being established.
Volunteers with the Swanage Railway Society volunteers began restoration work at the boarded-up Swanage station in February 1976. Three years later, the first diesel trains ran over a few hundred yards of track at Swanage, and the first steam trains came to the restored Victorian station in 1980. In 1984, the train service was extended to the one-mile point at a newly-built halt at Herston, while more track was laid further westwards.
Steam trains were extended to the three-mile point in 1989, with Dorset's first new station in fifty years being built at Harman's Cross. Steam trains returned to Corfe Castle and Norden in 1995. By 2002, the Swanage Railway had relaid almost seven miles of track from Swanage, enabling the heritage line to meet the national railway network at Furzebrook.
Today, the Swanage Railway Trust has around four thousand members around the country, and is kept going by four hundred and fifty volunteers, who carry out a variety of operational, maintenance, restoration and commercial duties.
To donate to the ‘Save Your Railway' appeal, you can donate online here.
Swanage Railway Trust chair Frank Roberts, who lives in Swanage and has been a volunteer on the Swanage Railway for almost forty years, said: “We are well aware that the cost of living crisis is affecting very many people but every pound donated to our ‘Save Your Railway' appeal will help the Swanage Railway.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the Swanage Railway has found it challenging to attract more passengers while also trying to reduce strong inflationary and economic pressures.
“While our passenger numbers are recovering – more than 141,000 people so far this year compared with more than 202,000 people for the whole of 2019 – they have not returned to 2019 levels while inflation continues to increase our operating costs with the Swanage Railway having to pay more for coal, oil, water and other services.
“We have also had to carry out the expensive upgrade and overhaul of a Victorian metal girder bridge, carrying the Swanage Railway over a road, near Furzebrook at the western end of our heritage line.
“To increase income, we will be repositioning the Swanage Railway into a broader and more commercial visitor experience while also maintaining our heritage train business. It's a challenge as well as an opportunity to shape the Swanage Railway for the future.
“We are working to make the Swanage Railway more efficient and effective as well as being capable of attracting increasing numbers of passengers.
“We have gaps in our management structure that need to be filled by willing volunteers with relevant skills and experience.
“The longer term survival of the Swanage Railway depends on a positive and quick response to our call to arms”