As some readers will be aware I have always had an interest in trains. Perhaps it comes from having been born in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of railways, who knows. In Australia, I am a card carrying member of the Brisbane Bayside Steam Railway (BBSR) – a 5” and 7¼” gauge railway so on the lookout to see what other railways are doing especially in the area of ballasting which I am involved in. I am hoping that the membership card will carry some weight when talking to or trying to gain access to non-public areas.
In the UK, there is a thriving heritage railway network. Across the country, around 100 groups have saved or restored railway lines closed as a result of the Beeching cuts in the mid 1960’s. Over the years we have visited a few when in the UK including the Swanage Railway, the Strathspey Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
While in the UK this time, I was lucky enough to be able to visit three steam railways, each on a different gauge, hence the title, and I decided to group the visits together in a single post for those interested in railways to read.
The Bluebell Railway in Sussex is one of the best known heritage railways in the UK. Thus while returning to Kent after riding Streak & Storm, I was able to plot a route close to Sheffield Park Station, the southern terminus of the railway. I had never visited the Bluebell Railway before and just wanted to see what was there. Fortuitously, the last train of the day was about to leave and just as had happened in October 2019 on the Strathspey Railway, they held the train while we purchased tickets. With the fire risk from summer heatwave, our train was pulled by a diesel locomotive, not steam. En-route to Horsted Keynes we passed a burnt out field believed to be caused by burning coals from a steam locomotive earlier in the week. As someone who volunteers on Brisbane Bayside Steam Railway (BBSR), we are familiar with the fire risk from coal and take appropriate precautions.
At Horsted Keynes we are able to see British Railways Class 5 loco in action pulling a wedding train! You get changing scenery while you celebrate the wedding reception. A great way to get additional income for the railway. They also let me onto the locomotive cab. A great experience.
My second outing, courtesy of my brother in law Jeremy, was to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR). Located on the south Kent coast, this 15” railway which opened in 1927 was the the brainchild of Captain J. E. P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski who wanted to run 1/3 size steam locomotives at mainline scale speeds. Sadly, the Count was killed in a motor racing accident before the railway opened but Captain Howey pushed ahead with the project. The locomotives were designed by Henry Greenly and built by Davy Paxman and Co. in Colchester.
The railway was designed to run at 25 mph and between Hythe and New Romney dual track helped facilitates this. During WW2 they even had an armoured train running on the line. At one time the RH&DR used to take children to school.
Jeremy had carefully planned the day to allow us time to a visit a number of locations. Our journey starts at Hythe Station with anticipation to see which of the dozen locomotives will be pulling our first train. It turns out to be No. 2 “Northern Chief”.
The day has been overcast with some rain but we bravely or foolishly take the open carriage. This way we get more of the steam train experience. The weather Gods are kind to us and our journey to New Romney sees no rain. At New Romney we are lucky enough to meet the Engineering Manager who gives us a tour of the engine shed. There is also a large HO gauge railway layout to see here as well.
Onward to Dungeness, which is the end of the line, this time with a different locomotive: No 1. “Green Goddess”. As the rain beat against the roof and windows of our enclosed carriage, we knew we had made the right choice. At Dungeness, the old lighthouse contracts with the now closed Nuclear Power Stations. “A” which consisted on two 250 MWe, opened in 1965 and reached their end of life in 2006. “B” which consisted of two 520 MWe, opened in the mid 1980’s and both units shut down in 2018. Interesting how the RH&DR railway has been in existence from long before the nuclear power stations and likely to continue long afterwards their closure.
Close to my sister’s home in Dorset is the Moors Valley Railway. Here the gauge is the same as the larger gauge on the BBSR namely 7 ¼”. I was able to spend some time with the works team looking at their maintenance equipment. Very jealous of their equipment and setup but too large to sneak into the overhead locker on the plane. Oh well back to buckets and shovels for me BBSR at home.
A common theme across heritage railways from what I have learned is problems accessing quality Welsh coal. Over the decades, steam engines have been using Welsh coal for its good burning qualities and engines have been tuned accordingly. Alternate coal and coal substitutes each have their own issues and are not the best answer. It seems a pity in our rush to go green that the heritage railways could suffer for what must be a very small amount of coal that they use.
Well that’s the train bug out of the way so back to normal blogging next.