SWANAGE Railway will be operating a special fund-raising train service from this weekend.

In support of the heritage line's £360,000 Save Our Service appeal, the non-stop service, the first on the line since coronavirus forced its closure mid-March, will run from Swanage to Norden, returning with no call at Corfe Castle.

Passengers will not be able to alight at Norden, socially-distanced seating will be in operation throughout the five carriages and face masks must be worn.

The railway's trains will operate four times a day, from Saturday up until Friday, July 31.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: "We have undertaken a full risk assessment using Government guidance that has enabled us to prepare for services that are safe for passengers and staff with trains being cleaned after every journey.

"Trains will be regularly cleaned and surfaces wiped while also being sanitised with a long-lasting spray proven to kill the virus. Seating on trains will be limited to ensure that social distancing can be maintained.

"All passengers and staff on trains will be required – unless exempt for health reasons – to wear face coverings.

"All seats will be pre-booked in blocks of four to prevent overcrowding and ensure that social distancing can be maintained.

"Any blocks of seats made available for purchase on the day at Swanage station will have to be paid for by contactless card methods while the movement of the public at the station will be managed to ensure that social distancing is maintained."

Initially the trains, which have passenger capacity reduced to 40 per cent, will be hauled by the 1960s diesel engine.

The railway has also been awarded 'Good to Go' certification by the Visit England tourism body, for demonstrating it has met compliance levels with its Covid-19 preparations.

Online bookings will open on the railway's website, with heritage diesel trains departing Swanage station at 10.30am, 12noon, 1.30pm and 3pm for the 45-minute return journey, which includes a 15-minute stop at Norden.

Mr Johns said: "Our regulators are expecting us to follow a soft approach to the re-start of services to help us gain familiarity with safe Covid-19 compliant operation, hence the decision to run four non-stop Swanage to Norden trains a day from Saturday, 11 July, 2020.

"Initially, we are using 1960s heritage diesel locomotives to test the interest of our customers and during August, 2020, we may be able to allow passengers to join the train at Norden as well as more trains a day depending on the number of passengers we attract.

"Intermediate stations at Corfe Castle, Harman’s Cross and Herston Halt will remain closed for the present because of the difficulty of reconciling the need to manage passenger numbers and train ticket bookings – made in advance on-line – while ensuring social distancing and the safety of our passengers and staff.

"We need to earn money to support our survival plan and we believe that we can do so in full compliance with Government restrictions and health advice."