A bright red aspect still shines out from signal DR205, more than 30 years after the last scheduled train passed it in order to make its way towards Weymouth Quay station, by travelling along what must surely be the finest and most wasted section of railway line in Dorset – the 1.2 mile long Weymouth Harbour Tramway.
For a route last used when a charter train passed over it in May 1999, the Harbour Tramway remains remarkably intact, still signalled at its junction north of Weymouth’s Town station and surprisingly free of obstructions, such as the parked cars that were once literally bounced out of the way when the Channel Isles Boat Express made its sedate progress along Commercial Road and Custom House Quay.
As a schoolboy trainspotter on a day away from grandparents in Yeovil, I clearly remember the remarkable sight of a class 33 loco gingerly hauling its rake of passenger coaches, with specially mounted bell clanging at the front and a pair of flag bearing railwaymen preceding the train on foot, just like they did when the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in the 1830s.
With the Channel Island ferries now running from Poole, the old ferry terminal at the Quay station has a sadly abandoned air, unlikely ever again to witness the footsteps of sun-seeking holidaymakers bound for Jersey, yet the Tramway itself is such a remarkable and unique piece of railway history that it must find a new use as a tourist attraction.
Efforts have been made to revive its fortunes. Two years ago a petition in favour of revival started by a local schoolboy, James Newall, attracted significant interest, but since then nothing seems to have happened and the line remains in a state of limbo, not officially closed, but without any traffic.
Tourism is a vital pillar of the local economy in Weymouth, the quayside is a delightfully attractive spot, as some of these photos show, while the Quay station is next to a leisure complex and within a stone’s throw of the sea-front, so ideally suited for tourist use.
With two heritage railway sites in the county, at Swanage and at Yeovil Junction, which could help provide motive power and rolling stock, the time has come for some bold action. I have no doubt that a summer-time steam-hauled shuttle service from somewhere like Dorchester West to Weymouth Quay, with a platform built alongside the Town station, would prove massively popular and bring many thousands more new visitors to the area.