Swanage Railway based Southern Railway U Class No.31806 took to the main line for the first time in 52 years – thanks to the Swanage Railway.
Included in the test run were two challenging five-mile climbs between Weymouth and Dorchester as well as a five-mile climb from Maiden Newton to Evershot on the line to Yeovil. On its first run up the bank out of Weymouth with 5 coaches and a dead in transit class 33, the weight of 8 coaches, the summit of the 1 in 50 climb was crested at 24 MPH.
Swanage Railway ‘U’ class steam locomotive No. 31806 hauled the empty five-carriage test train which had a 1960 ex-British Railways heritage Class 33 diesel-electric locomotive on the rear.
The seven-hour test run of 115 miles on the main line – No. 31806 hauling the train a total of 57 miles at speeds of up to 60 mph – took place on Friday, 13 April, 2018.
The route for No. 31806 – known as a ‘Mogul’ because of its 2-6-0 wheel arrangement – was from Swanage to Worgret Junction, where the train joined the main line, and then to Wareham before the run to Dorchester and Weymouth.
Then it was back to Dorchester and up to Yeovil, back down to Weymouth and then up to Dorchester again before the test train returned to Wareham and Worgret Junction where it ran on to the Swanage Railway.
In tow were five 1950s ex-British Railways carriages that the Swanage Railway has, like No. 31806, upgraded for main line running. No members of the public were on the train.
The upgrade of No. 31806 – so it could haul a train on the main line – was made possible thanks to a £75,000 Government grant to the Swanage Railway Trust from the Department for Transport as part of its Heritage and Community Rail Tourism Innovation Competition. The Trust supplied £25,000 of labour towards the work.
With No. 31806 equipped with the required signalling and monitoring equipment required to run on Network Rail, the upgrade work to the locomotive and carriages gives the Swanage Railway the potential to run special steam trains to Wareham in the future.
Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said: “The successful test run of a Swanage Railway steam locomotives on the main line was a marvellous and very special piece of railway history – the first time since 1965 that a Southern Railway ‘Mogul’ class steam locomotive had run on a Dorset main line.
“No. 31806 performed very well and kept to time throughout its test run through Dorset and Somerset – the locomotive is certainly capable of hard work”.
“I would like to thank all the people on the Swanage Railway who have worked so hard to make this test run happen as well as Network Rail, for allowing the test run to take place on the main line, and the Government’s Department for Transport for its £75,000 grant towards 31806’s main line upgrade work.
“My thanks also go to the staff of the Yeovil Railway Centre, next to Yeovil Junction station – where No. 31806 was watered and serviced before its return to Dorset – as well as West Coast Railways which provided the crews for the test train”.
The Richard Maunsell-designed No. 31806 departed Swanage station on its historic main line test run at 12.24pm on Friday, 13 April, 2018, with the train returning to Swanage at 8.42pm after running 115 miles on the main line.
At the rear of the historic test train was Swanage Railway-based 1960-built Class 33 diesel-electric locomotive No. D6515 ‘Lt Jenny Lewis RN’ which was the last locomotive to run from Poole to Wimborne before Wimborne station closed in 1977.
No. 31806’s main line test run was ahead of the steam locomotive hauling part of a main line ‘GB X1’ excursion train from Cardiff to Swanage on Thursday, 26 April, 2018, with the special train running from Swanage to London on Friday, 27 April, 2018.
Swanage Railway based N class No.31874 was earmarked to undertake mainline running. 31874 is progressing well, but due to significant delays in the boiler overhaul element of the restoration it was decided to allow 31806 onto the mainline in its place.
Work on 31874 continues and its mechanical overhaul is now largely complete, the locomotive will rapidly come together once the boiler is delivered back from the appointed contractors. A full update on 31874 will be coming soon.