The age of the train
Still using the engines which took passengers on the
line in the late 1920s, there are fewer more authentic lines than
the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. As it celebrates its 85th
birthday, Chris Price hopped on board.
Shuffling their feet with anticipation, wide-eyed children peer
down the line at New Romney station.
Yet their expectation turns to wonder as the figure emerging
from under the railway bridge is a steam locomotive in miniature,
which doesn’t even reach the height of their parents’
“People are fascinated by the size of the trains,” said Danny
Martin, general manager of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch
“If you have never been to a railway where everything is
complete but in miniature, then this is the place to come.”
For many, the sight of these majestic 1920s engines is just a
part of everyday life. Carrying 100,000 passengers a year, the line
is used by many children to get to school.
It employs 45 people, making it the third biggest employer on
Romney Marsh, behind the Marsh Academy and Dungeness power station.
It also has about 100 volunteers, who give up at least 10 days of
their life a year to help.
On its 14-mile route from Hythe to Dungeness, there are holes in
many of the fences of the houses along the way, which children peek
through when they come to visit nan and grandad. Not so long ago
the space where those houses now sit was just fields and marsh.
When the line was built, 85 years ago this weekend, there were
just small pockets of houses around each station. Then as the train
emerges onto the Willop – the stretch of track between Hythe and
Dymchurch – passengers are taken back to the 1930s, sitting in
authentic carriages being pulled by the line’s original steam
engines, staring out at fields filled with sheep.
Reaching top speeds of 20mph, this 20-minute stretch of line is
like a scene from a black and white film, save for the odd pylon in
The railway opened on July 16, 1927, and was the brainchild of
racing drivers Captain JEP Howey and Count Louis Zborowski, the man
who engineered the car which inspired Ian Fleming’s novel Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang. Both were railway enthusiasts and, crucially for
such a big project, very rich. “They wanted it to be the best 15
inch gauge railway ever, which it was,” said Danny.
Count Zborowski was tragically killed racing in the Italian
Grand Prix in 1924. He never saw the railway which he had planned
with his friend. “That was what made Captain Howey carry it on,”
said Danny. “He made it his mission to build and run this railway.
He was quite a fierce and demanding guy apparently.”
However, the line was only designed to last for Captain Howey’s
lifetime and by 1964 it was shot to pieces. The engines were in
good order but the stations were crumbling and the rails worn.
Within a few months of Captain Howey’s death, his wife had sold
the railway. “A group of businessmen bought it as a money making
venture but railways don’t make money and they got rid of it after
seven years,” said Danny.
“They made a few inquiries to see if there was some way of
keeping it going and a few enthusiasts got together and created the
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway Association.”
The organisation still runs the line today, now as a PLC.
“No one buys the shares to make money,” said Danny. “People buy
them to keep it going. Every penny the company has made has been
reinvested. There has never been a dividend paid. Shareholders get
free travel for life and the honour of playing their part to keep
Staring out at the marshes as the engine chugs along, it is
clear every penny is worth it.
Hythe, Dymchurch, St Mary’s Bay, Romney Warren, New Romney,
Romney Sands and Dungeness.
It takes one hour and five minutes to get from Hythe to the end
of the line at Dungeness and a round trip takes about three
Learn to drive
Railway lovers can jump in the engine room of the locomotives at
a Driver Experience Day.
The day-long course gives expert tuition from regular drivers,
giving hands-on experience to enthusiasts and curious families
They run in February, March, October and November. Cost £260.
Advanced course £390.
Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway celebrates its 85th
birthday this month. An all day RomneyRovercorrect ticket
costs £15, seniors £13, children £7.50, families £39.50. Call 01797
362353 or visit www.rhdr.org.uk.
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