The man who set up the Swanage Railway’s first signalling school – and helped ensure the safe operation of its trains as a signaller and signal box inspector on the Purbeck heritage line – has retired after 31 years of volunteering for the service.
Alan Greatbatch – aged 68 and from the Branksome, Poole – first became a Swanage Railway volunteer in 1991. He set up a school on the heritage line to train the first signallers ahead of the first signal box being built.
At that time, the railway only ran passenger trains on three miles of line from Swanage to Harman’s Cross and the first signal box would not be brought into operation until 1997. There are now four signal boxes that have been built on the line.
Alan spent his 44-year working career on the main line railway as a signaller between Brockenhurst and Dorchester. He joined British Rail in 1971, when freight trains still ran to Wimborne and West Moors, via Poole and Broadstone, and when there was a branch line from Maiden Newton down to Bridport in west Dorset. Alan retired from Network Rail at Bournemouth in 2015.
Alan was a volunteer signalling inspector on the Swanage Railway for 20 years, visiting the signallers weekly, and signing the train register.
Alan said: “I am very proud of what we have achieved on the Swanage Railway over the years in rebuilding the line against the odds. I am one small cog in a massive machine and without all the other people, it would not have happened.
“I volunteer on the Swanage Railway because I enjoy it, I believe in it and because of those original determined campaigners who battled against the odds to be allowed to rebuild the line and then worked so hard to slowly rebuild it.
“The most enjoyable part of my job has been seeing people achieve their dream of becoming a signaller which involves training and sitting an exam every two years. Being a signaller is enjoyable because you are keeping our train passengers safe.
“If someone had told me in 1967, when our beloved steam engines stopped hauling trains in southern England for British Rail, that in 2022 I would be in a mechanical signal box pulling semaphore signals for steam engines I would not have believed it but that’s exactly what we are doing on the Swanage Railway which is fabulous.
“The past 31 years have flown by – I don’t know where the years have gone. It has been a challenge but also fun and I have worked with many good people.”
Gavin Johns, chair of Swanage Railway Trust, said: “Over the years, Alan has helped to train, mentor and examine more than a hundred signallers and he has been an excellent role model and example to our team of volunteer signallers in their training and continuing development as they signal trains safely and efficiently.”
Alan was presented with a framed photograph showing him at work signalling trains in Corfe Castle signal box.
The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out more should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 408466 or email email@example.com.
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