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By train - The RH&DR can be accessed from London St Pancras via the new high speed
1 route to Folkestone, then by bus. Stagecoach buses serve the railway from Ashford,
Canterbury, Hastings, Rye, Folkestone and Dover.
By Car - The stations at New Romney, Dungeness and Hythe are all on or near the A259.
Hythe Station is only 3 miles from the M20 junction 11, New Romney and Dungeness
are 30 minutes from the M20 junction 10 via the A2070 and A259. Most routes are signposted
with brown tourist signs, all the major stations have car parks (see below).
It has been several years since I have visited the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
but from what I have seen on TV, videos and photos it has not changed dramatically.
For a 15” gauge railway, 13½ miles is a lengthy route, the journey from Hythe to
Dungeness takes 65 to 70 minutes. There’s loads to see and do along the way so you
can easily spend all day or even longer.
The flat and almost straight route gives the locomotives a chance to stretch their
legs, just watching the little trains at full speed from the lineside is entertainment
in itself. The RH&DR is a stark contrast to the next longest 15” gauge line in Britain,
the 7 mile Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway which threads through the Lake District
with sharp curves and steep gradients.
The shingle peninsular at Dungeness is a fabulous place to visit. Rather than being
eroded as much of the British coastline is, the peninsular is actually getting bigger.
Everything there seems to be extreme in size, the sky and the power station are very
big and they dwarf the fisherman’s houses, roads and trains which are all very small.
Before I visited the RH&DR, I had not heard of the school train. I happened to be
on New Romney Station when the horde of children invaded the platform and boarded
the train. On this occasion traction was provided by a steam locomotive which I assumed
was normal but I have found out since that it is usually diesel hauled.
The railway has a fascinating history and the company’s objective to restore, maintain
and develop the railway in line with Howey’s and Zborowski’s original vision keeps
that history alive. Even the new diesels, one of which is named Captain Howey is
in keeping with the vision as Howey himself experimented with alternatives to steam
for the winter season.
I am not a fan of narrow gauge mainline diesels, the two at the RH&DR were built
in the 1980s so there is nothing ‘heritage’ about them. One of them will usually
be on the roster each day for the school train and some timetabled services but most
trains are steam hauled which, after all, is what most of us want to see.
It is remarkable that all of the original steam locomotives are still in use today
including The Bug, having been rescued from the bottom of a scrap heap! I would like
to see the vision taken a step further with the Dungeness extension being doubled
again but there appear to be no plans to do it.
If you are interested in railway history or just like little steam trains, then a
visit to the Romney Marsh is a must. Despite being a quiet corner of Kent, access
is easy with the M20 and HS1 line nearby.
The longest 15” gauge railway in the world.
The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway is a 15” gauge light railway in Kent, the 13½
mile line runs along the coast from Hythe to the shingle headland of Dungeness. The
railway was the dream of two millionaire racing drivers and was built in the 1920s
as a one third scale main line.
Trains run every day from the end of March to the beginning of November and every
weekend in the winter. Santa specials run at weekends and some weekdays in December
but there is no service on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Refer to the Romney, Hythe
and Dymchurch Railway website for the timetable (see link below). There is also a
school train which runs every day during the school term.
The railway has 10 mainline steam engines and 2 mainline diesels as follows:
3 Greenly 4-6-2 Pacifics to Gresley LNER outline built by Davey Paxman in 1925/26
2 Greenly 2-8-2 Mountains to Gresley LNER outline built by Davey Paxman in 1927
2 Greenly 4-6-2 Pacifics to Gresley LNER outline built by Davey Paxman in 1927 as
3 cylinder locomotives but converted to 2 cylinder in 1935-1937.
2 Greenly 4-6-2 Pacifics to Canadian outline built by Yorkshire Engine Co. in 1931
1 Martens 4-6-2 Pacific to German outline built by Krupp. in 1937
2 B-B Diesel locomotives built by TMA Engineering in 1983 and 1989.
The diesels are used on school trains, maintenance trains and some passenger trains.
In addition to the mainline engines is The Bug, an 0-4-0TT (tender tank) locomotive
adapted from a standard Krauss design and built in 1926 specifically for the building
of the railway. She was sold in 1933, scrapped in 1950 but not cut up, and rescued
in 1972 by the RH&DR where she was restored in 1974.
The railway also has three 0-4-0 diesel and petrol shunters.
Most coaches are built to a standard RH&DR design, with aluminium bodies, as either
closed saloons or open coaches in 16 and 20 seat configurations, as well as 6 seater
saloon/luggage composite vans.
Special coaches include:
Gladys, the licensed observation/bar car, built in 1977 to an original RH&DR design.
At 32 feet, it is one of the longest 15" gauge vehicles in existence.
The Royal Saloon, which is available for private hire, is an 8 seater vehicle with
luxurious fittings. This coach was used by Her Majesty The Queen at the opening of
the Liverpool Garden Festival Railway.
The Clayton Pullman, originally built and delivered in 1927 to a Henry Greenly design
and withdrawn in 1973. This coach has been restored in red and cream livery.
The map below shows the location of all the stations on the Romey, Hythe and Dymchurch
Railway, click on any of the markers to see the station name and postcode. Use the
zoom and pan tools to explore the map.
There are seven stations on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway from which you
can board a train and travel across the Romney Marsh.
Hythe - Attractive town with shops, antique shops and antiques market, Souvenir shop,
refreshments, toilets including disabled access and baby changing facilities, car
Dymchurch - Seaside town with sandy beaches, fun fair, pubs, shops and cafes, Picnic
area, Souvenir shop, refreshments, toilets including disabled access and baby changing
facilities, car park.
St Mary's Bay - 10 minutes walk from the sandy beaches, local shops, pub etc.
Romney Warren Halt - New small halt serving the Romney Marsh Visitors Centre. Shuttle
service operates on specific dates.
New Romney - Headquarters of the RH&DR with offices, workshops, engine shed, Toy
and Model Museum, Heywood Buffet, town with shops, cafes & parks, Picnic area, Souvenir
shop, refreshments, toilets including disabled access and baby changing facilities,
Dungeness - shingle headland renowned for its plants, wildlife, fishermans cottages,
boats, lighthouses and power station, Light Railway Cafe, Old Ticket Office Gallery,
souvenir and gift shop, picnic area, toilets including disabled access and baby changing
facilities, car park.
The idea of building a 15” gauge miniature main line with double track was the brainchild
of Count Louis Zborowski, a millionaire of Polish and American decent, educated at
Eton and deeply interested in all things mechanical. He was one of the founders of
the Aston martin Motor Company and had his own well-staffed workshop where he built
and maintained his own racing cars which he also drove.
1921 - Zborowski met fellow Etonian, Captain J. E. P. Howey, another millionaire
racing driver. The two men became close friends and discovered that they had a mutual
fascination for 15” gauge railways.
1924 - Zborowski and Howey visited the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in Cumbria,
which had been running as a 15” gauge line since 1917. Their first thought was to
try to buy the line, improve it and extend it but that was not possible.
1924 - Zborowski was building a 15” gauge line on his estate at Bridge, near Canterbury
and was determined to have the biggest and best miniature locomotive for his railway.
Henry Greenly had designed the successful 2-8-2 River Esk for the R&ER and was the
obvious man to consult. Following discussions between Zborowski, Howey and Greenly
a specification was drawn up for a one third scale 15” gauge locomotive resembling
a Gresley Pacific of the London and North Eastern Railway. Zborowski ordered Two
locomotives from Davey Paxman of Colchester, who had built River Esk.
Later that same year everything was cast into doubt when Zborowski was killed while
driving in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. However, Howey’s father had died a few
months earlier and he was now his own master financially. Encouraged by his mother
and friends, he decided to continue with the vision as a memorial to Zborowski.
1925 - Greenly was commissioned to find a site for the railway, it had to be the
best in the world, a difficult task with most of the country already served by branch
lines. Out of the big four companies, only the Southern Railway was willing to help
and suggested the Romney Marshes where a line had been proposed between New Romney
and Hythe but never built. The locals were still in favour of a railway but a standard
gauge line would never pay so this seemed the ideal location.
The line would be 8 miles long, flat and with no important obstacles, When Howey
visited the site he gave his approval right away and Greenly commenced the survey.
By the end of 1925 the application for a Light Railway Order was made and after protracted
discussions with all parties concerned, was granted six months later.
1927 - The double track line between New Romney and Hythe was completed. Further
locomotives had been ordered during the line’s construction and it opened with a
fleet of 7 main line engines and one 0-4-0 tender tank engine.
1928 - The line was extended to Dungeness, again with double track which gave a total
length of 13½ miles, by far the longest 15” gauge railway in the world.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway quickly became famous and people came to
ride on what was referred to as the 'Smallest Public Railway in the World'. The railway
prospered until the outbreak of the Second World War when most of the civilian population
was evacuated from the area.
1940 - The line was requisitioned by the Somerset Light Infantry who dispatched Hercules
and two bogie ballast wagons to the Southern Railway works at Ashford to convert
them to the only miniature armoured train in the world. It was rumoured to have caused
one Luftwaffe pilot to crash by flying too low as he didn’t know it was one third
the size of a normal train. The line was used extensively during the building of
PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fuelled the Allied invasion force.
1945 - The war had taken it’s toll on the railway and repair work had to be carried
out before it could be opened for the 1946 season.
1946 The line was re-opened from New Romney to Hythe.
1947 The Dungeness extension was re-opened. This section was badly damaged and new
rail could not be obtained so Howey had to reluctantly accept that it would be rebuilt
as a single line. In the same year, the line held it’s official 21st birthday celebration,
Laurel and Hardy were in England at the time and agreed to preside at the event.
There followed a boom period when tourism in the south of England became very popular
but as overseas holidays became more affordable, passenger numbers fell.
1963 - Captain Howey died and his widow, Gladys moved back to London putting the
railway and their house in New Romney up for sale. Investment had been sparse for
some time and the railway passed from one owner to another, each looking for a return
on their capital.
1972 - A consortium led by Sir William McAlpine came to the rescue. The fundamental
objective since then has been to restore, maintain and develop the railway in line
with Howey’s and Zborowski’s original vision. To achieve this, in addition to the
full time and seasonal employees, fully trained volunteers help with the operation
and maintenance of the railway.