A NEW £500,000 level crossing was used fully for the first time on a heritage railway which is getting closer to its dream.

Norden Gates level crossing has taken Swanage Railway volunteers four years and more than 3,000 hours of design, building and testing work to bring to fruition.

It is a key part of Project Wareham – a two-year trial train service to the main line at Wareham – and was used for the first time to signal the Purbeck and Bournemouth Explorer excursion train from the Midlands.

Carrying some 450 passengers and hauled by two Class 50 diesel locos, the train started its journey to Swanage at Derby and was operated by Pathfinder Tours and GB Railfreight.

The level crossing allows trains to cross an access road to the Wytch Farm on-shore oilfield and to a council car park next to Norden station. Former oilfield owners BP funded the crossing.

It was built in the style of the signal box at the former Lyme Regis station and has computer-controlled safety systems, crossing barriers and road user warning systems.

Project Wareham director Mark Woolley said: “It was wonderful and very exciting to see the long excursion train use our new level crossing at Norden Gates on its way down to Corfe Castle and Swanage. The new crossing will enable regular passenger trains to run from Swanage and Corfe Castle to Wareham for the first time since 1972.

“We are grateful to former Wytch Farm oil field operator BP for promising the ‘legacy’ payment of £500,000, to the current operator Perenco for delivering the payment and to Dorset County Council for administrating the process which has enabled the new Norden Gates level crossing to be built.”.

It is hoped the trial train service to Wareham can start in June 2017.