NINE volunteers who in 1979 worked to ensure the first ever passenger trains ran on the Swanage Railway have been honoured.

Special 35 year service certificates and badges were presented by Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns, in front of the small industrial diesel shunter that hauled that first train over a few hundred yards of re-laid track.

Those first trains ran at just five miles an hour and carried 1,600 passengers over ten August afternoons.

Last year, the more than 210,000 passengers travelled on the railway, that now stretches six-and-a-half miles through the Purbeck countryside.

Swanage Railway officials say the railway boosts the Purbeck economy by £14million every year.

Mr Johns said: “Thirty five years ago, Corfe Castle station was a derelict and overgrown wasteland, but at Swanage the first seeds were being sown with track being laid by hand.

“All this had been achieved by the dedicated efforts of our volunteers and staff. Through these 35-year service awards, the Swanage Railway Trust is thanking a group of pioneering volunteers – who have a total of 280 years of devoted service between them – for their support and achievement.

“This is a poignant opportunity to remember those people who cannot celebrate this achievement today and their main contribution is very gratefully acknowledged.”

Pioneering volunteer Peter Frost, who also helped to lay the tracks since 1976, could not attend the award ceremony as he was driving the prestigious steam locomotive, Tornado, at the time. So Peter received his certificate and badge in a separate ceremony.

Fellow 35-year service recipient, and steam locomotive driver, Nigel Clark said: “Although there were times in the early days when things looked bleak, I was confident that the Swanage Railway would ultimately succeed because I was a teenager full of enthusiasm and optimism.”

Today Swanage Railway is the third busiest heritage railway in the country.