Steam train gala celebration for Kent’s smallest railway

  • WATCH: Video report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw from New Romney Station.

One of the world’s smallest public railways has held a steam train gala to mark its 95th anniversary.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway first carried passengers in 1927, with the line extended the following year to run from Hythe to Dungeness in Kent.

The original steam locomotives were involved in this weekend’s celebrations, which included all-night running along the 13-mile line.

Railway historian Andy Nash has been visiting since he was a toddler: “We always came here on holiday and I fell in love with the place at four years old.

“I gradually got more and more involved, coming down from London on the train on my own at 12 years old. Working my way through the ranks, and became a steam driver just before I was 40 years old.”

The 95th anniversary gala involved all the RH&D Railway's available steam locomotives.

Enthusiasts were able to see trains on loan from another similar-sized line in Cumbria. Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway provided two steam engines for the gala, held on Saturday and Sunday (14-15 May).

The 15-inch gauge line was the brainchild of millionaire racing drivers Captain Jack Howey and Count Louis Zborowski, who both invested a small fortune in its construction.

Enthusiast William Sands believes the pair would be proud if they could see the legacy their project had left the communities of Romney Marsh.

“I think they'd be so pleased that we’ve managed to keep everything going and the engines now are kept in such phenomenal nick. You can see all the lovely brass - all tiptop,” said Mr Sands.

The official opening took place on 16 July 1927, with the inaugural train running from Hythe to New Romney. Credit: British Pathé

Round-trip tickets in its opening year would have cost passengers three shillings (15p), compared to £24 now.

During the Second World War the railway was requisitioned by the military, with the army creating the only miniature armoured train in the world. It was used to patrol the Kent coastline as the threat of German invasion loomed.

Although it’s unclear how effective the unusual military vehicle was. Andy Nash added: “They shot down one Luftwaffe plane but it was apparently by taking the gun and balancing it on a guy’s shoulders who was standing on the ground.”

Following the death of the original owner, the line almost went out of business in the 1960s, before businessman Sir William McAlpine rescued it in 1973.

It would go on to be known as "Kent's Mainline in Miniature" by railway enthusiasts. The popular tourist attraction has stations in Hythe, Dymchurch, St Mary’s Bay, Romney Warren, New Romney, Romney Sands and Dungeness.