The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
The Railway Today
|Hurricane at Dungeness|
with her train
(Yes it was Halloween)
The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is a 15" gauge railway just short of 14
miles in length. As you might expect the railway crosses Romney Marsh and in so
doing, links the towns of New Romney, the railways headquarters, and Hythe,
some eight miles distant. In the other direction the line runs from New Romney
Station across a vast bank of shingle thrown up by the sea to Dungeness.
Although the whole railway was once double track the Dungeness section is,
sadly, single. The terminus is almost in the shadow of the massive
structures that make up the Dungeness nuclear power station and an excellent
free tour of the plant is available. Also nearby is a historic lighthouse from
the top of which anyone fit enough to scale its many spiral steps can enjoy a
A journey on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch involves bending to get into the
minute coaches but these turn out to be surprisingly comfortable once inside.
Most trains are hauled by steam, and the locomotives are little gems,
following the spirit and outline of a standard gauge express engine.
Whatever may be the views of some purists, this railway is certainly not a toy
and provides a public service between sizeable towns as well as attracting large
numbers of tourists. The Romney Hythe and Dymchurch is also under contract to
the council to transport school children to and from school every day and for
this purpose a special train is run. Normally diesel hauled, on occasion in
winter this train has been equipped with snow ploughs and, moved by two steam
engines, has got its precious cargo safely to school on days when many of those
travelling by road could not attend.
|Straight, level, double track|
One unique feature of this railway is the running of narrow gauge trains over
straight and level tracks that allow sustained running at 25mph or more. This
may not sound fast in our modern world but for trains of this size it feels
very quick and makes these the fastest trains of their size running anywhere in
History and Origins
In 1923 - 24 The well known miniature railway company Basset Lowke were engaged
in building an Atlantic locomotive for Count Louis Zborowski for his 15" gauge
Higham park railway and a Pacific for JEP Howey's Staughton Manor railway of
the same gauge. These two were firm friends and shared a dream of building a
main line in miniature, with double track, miniature express trains and proper
signalling. The idea in their minds was to combine the ultimate model railway
with a useful transport system. Tragically in October 1924 Zborowski was killed
in a motor race.
Both Howey and Zborowski were wealthy men and Howey, rather than let the dream
die with his friend, determined that the railway they had dreamed of together
would be built. Howey considered purchasing the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway
and extending it to Ambleside by driving tunnels under the Hardknot and Wrynose
passes, a formidable undertaking as anyone who has seen the areas massive
landscape built of unyielding rock would appreciate. Perhaps it is just as well
that the railway was not for sale, although had Howey succeeded this would
have been a spectacular railway indeed.
Ultimately Howey commissioned Henry Greenly, who was already a figure of some
stature in the tight knit miniature railway world, to find a suitable site. It
was Greenly who drew the attention of Howey to Romney Marsh. Reclaimed from the
sea over many centuries this area of rich agricultural land offered a coastline
littered with holiday camps and a potential route linking Hythe, Dymchurch and
New Romney. It was also flat and level and fairly featureless making for easy
operation and sustained high speeds.
Work commenced in 1926 (in spite of a flurry of opposition from local people)
and part of the line was completed in time for a visit from the Duke of York (Later
King George VI) which included a short train journey along the line. Among the
guests was Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of the famous LNER pacific locomotives on
which Howey's scale models were based.
During 1928 Howey extended the railway across a huge natural shingle bank
deposited over millennia by the sea, to Dungeness, an extension of 5 1/2 miles.
|This armoured train|
saw service during World War II
During the war the railway saw service in a number of ways. A special branch
was laid to the site of a number of concrete structures designed to focus the
sound of attacking aircraft and allow their early detection. Troops were
billeted at the holiday camps and special trains run for them. There was even
an armoured train, one of the locomotives (Hercules) was fitted with armour and
coupled to two solidly built and armoured steel bogie wagons built for mineral
haulage on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
Ultimately however the last military project the railway was involved in cost
it dearly, the PLUTO project (pipeline under the ocean) was devised to supply
an invading army in France with petrol and oil. Vast lengths of pipe were
welded together on the platforms at New Romney and Coaches were stripped to the
underframes to carry them. After many of the coaches were destroyed it was
found to be easier to drag the pipes across the shingle behind tracked
vehicles, these destroyed the permanent way as they went.
After the war most of the railway was found to be intact, if overgrown, and was
rapidly restored to service but the Dungeness extension needed substantial
rebuilding. Shortage of materials in this austere-post war period lead to the
use of the surviving equipment to restore a single track to Dungeness and this
situation remains today. After the war the locomotives were the centre of
attention and were always superbly maintained but Howey was niggardly in
funding the maintenance of almost everything else. So it was that when Howey
died in 1963 and the railway passed into new hands, bridges, permanent way and
coaches all needed urgent work.
The railway continued as a commercial business, but made the owners little
profit, until, in 1972, the threatened complete closure and sale for scrap
brought matters to a head. A group of local people raised finance from several
sources, W.H. McAlpine being a notable benefactor, and managed to purchase most
of the shares. The railway has seen many improvements over the years and still
thrives in this quiet corner of Kent as a monument to two men and their
Comments on this Railway
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jocky wilson 26 Sep 2012
first went on this amazing railway as a child in 1948 during a school visit to nearby broadstairs, i have visited it nearly every year since
apart from the years i was in the army, i still find it fasinating i now travel two round trips on my concession each time i visit, my children & their children also visit the railway on a yearly bassis
Ian 16 Sep 2011
Well worth a visit with the return trip amounting to 27 miles! Great model railway in the museum at New Romney Station and I can recommend the Fish and Chips at Dungeness. The third scale engines give a real impression of mainline speed operating on 15 inch guage track.