THE first trains of a new rail service linking Corfe Castle to Weymouth and Salisbury have been hailed a huge success.

Swanage Railway, the volunteer-led heritage line, has teamed up with mainline operator South Western Railway on the project, which was announced towards the end of last month.

This new summer Saturday service has now run for the first time, and will continue to do so every Saturday up until September 8.

Speaking after the first historic service, Swanage Railway Company chairman Trever Parsons said: "This new summer Saturdays service to Corfe Castle shows what can be achieved through joint working and the Purbeck Community Rail Partnership.

"We’re delighted at how well the first day went and I would like to thank everyone who worked so hard to make it happen.

"After the investment in the future grant contributions from the Purbeck and Dorset councils – and the government’s coastal communities fund – in helping us upgrade the link between the Swanage Railway and the national railway network, we are keen to see the four-mile line between Norden station and Worgret Junction used as much as possible."

The Saturday service, comprised of a three carriage South Western Railway diesel train, attracted more than 100 passengers on its maiden run.

South Western Railway head of service Chris Loder said: "It was astonishing to see so many people coming to Corfe Castle by train from across the region.

"Our new partnership with the Swanage Railway will make this innovation a great success.

"We’ll be gathering feedback to improve the service as much as we can over the summer."

Starting at Salisbury, the weekly train calls at Tisbury, Gillingham, Templecombe, Sherborne, Yeovil, Maiden Newton, Weymouth, Dorchester South, Moreton, Wool and Wareham before running to Corfe Castle and returning to Wareham.

The train then makes two further return trips to Corfe Castle before departing Wareham just after 4pm for the return trip to Salisbury – the route being via the same stations as the inward-bound morning trip – with the train arriving at London Waterloo at 8.19pm.

South Western Railway passengers from Bournemouth, Branksome, Parkstone and Poole will also be able to change trains at Wareham for the new summer Saturdays shuttle service to Corfe Castle.