Published: 00:01, 30 June 2013
Thousands more visitors could come to Tenterden when a planned extension to the light railway is completed.
Work on restoring the missing link between Bodiam and Robertsbridge is already under way.
When finished, it will link the Kent & East Sussex Railway with mainline connections to London and Hastings, enabling tourists to visit Tenterden by train.
Press officer for the project Mark Yonge, said: “This could provide a huge tourist boost for Tenterden.”
Work on the restoration of the missing link to Robertsbridge is already under way.
It will give access to mainline trains to London and Hastings, and enable tourists to visit Tenterden by train.
The project is being carried out by the Rother Valley Railway (RVR).
Press officer Mark Yonge said: “This could provide a huge tourist boost for Tenterden.
“Visitors will be able to travel from London or Hastings to Robertsbridge, then switch to the Kent & East Sussex Railway (KESR) to Tenterden.
“An independent survey has estimated it could increase passenger numbers on KESR by up to 30%.”
RVR was formed in 1991 with the sole purpose of restoring 3.5 miles of line between Bodiam and Robertsbridge.
The cost of the project is estimated at £3-5m. With finance from private benefactors, 1.5 miles and five bridges have already been restored or rebuilt.
RVR has bought more than half the land necessary, and work has started on building a station at Robertsbridge next to the mainline station.
Mr Yonge said: “We have all the funding in place to complete the job.
“We see people from all the country coming to Tenterden. There will be a massive increase in visitor numbers, and it will transform the line.”
RVR hopes to finish the station at Robertsbridge in around 18 months, and have the whole line complete in four to five years.
A test train has already been run to Junction Road, beyond Bodiam.
When the project is finished, RVR will sell the extended section to KESR for £1.
Earlier this year, RVR won the restoration award in the Institution of Civil Engineers South East Region’s Engineering Excellence Awards for refurbishment of the bridges along the line.
Steam railways have been a hobby of Mr Yonge since he joined KESR as a volunteer in 1963. He was chairman of the charity in the 1970s and was a founder of RVR.
The extension of the railway was described as a long-held dream by KESR chairman, Geoff Crouch.
“We are working closely with the RVR to ensure that they are building exactly what we need to run a service,” he said.
“We see the enlarged railway as having a number of benefits for the local communities and for our customers too.
“Tenterden will receive more tourists and all our customers will have benefited from a ride through our beautiful valley."
The railway line from Rolvenden to Robertsbridge was opened in 1900.
An extension of the Rother Valley Railway, as it was then called, to Tenterden opened in 1903.
The renamed Kent & East Sussex Railway (KESR) was nationalised in 1948.
User numbers dropped as people switched to cars and in 1954 the line was closed to passengers. It continued for freight until 1961 when the railway was closed.
A society of enthusiasts was formed to preserve the line and they took over the Tenterden to Bodiam section as the present KESR charity in 1973.
The first two miles were opened in 1974, followed by an extension to Wittersham Road in 1977, to Northiam in 1990 and Bodiam in 2000, 100 years after the line first opened.