The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
© December 09, 2012
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Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
No.8 Hurricane photo copyright www.rhdr.org.uk
Written by Philip Schram
As with most of the articles published about the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway, I could describe at length the founder of the line and how the line was built. But a quick google search will find several well written articles about the railway if you're interested in those details.
I want to tell you about my experience with this wonderful little railway. This article is an abstract of my live steam diary, photo album and memories, specifically the emotions of a young teenager discovering these locomotives as tall as him. The train dimensions, close to your body height, make the “amusement-size” train friendly, compared to a real locomotive which is massive, almost scary.
#8 Hurricane at New Romney, at the top of the carriage roads (where all points meet nowadays). Click image to enlarge.
Opened in 1927
15 inch gauge
13.75 miles long
Located 66 miles South of London, UK along the Channel, close to the straights of Dover
Classified as “Light Railway”, this is no “amusement” train. It's a public service route between small towns and villages and is under contract to transport children to and from The Marsh Academy in New Romney.
Nickname: “the smallest public railway in the world”
In the past, has had branch and side lines for industrial purposes.
60 rail cars with mainly 16 seating capacity
11 steam locomotives, all built before 1937
2 diesel locomotives
My story begins in 1978. I'm French and my English was not good. My parents decided to send me to England to really learn my first foreign language. Earlier that year, I had subscribed to the British live steam magazine Model Engineer. I remember attempting the painful translations word by word. Eventually, came the gratification of understanding all these new concepts, one page at a time. I love railways and I was excited to have the opportunity to visit train tracks while staying in the European Mecca for live steam models!
No 7 at Dymchurch (the roof is now gone)
click image to enlarge
For one of the weekends, my host family planned a surprise visit. I had no idea where we were going, but was certain it would be train related. We enter a long parking lot. The Hythe train station appeared. I could not believe what I was seeing, a miniature 1/3 scale railway. We headed towards the counter and ordered old fashioned thick paper train tickets. Then I discovered at the far end the platform was a full train waiting for boarding. We walked towards the locomotive and inspected it. The smell of the coal was overwhelming. This smell is like a drug. It is so deeply associated with the live steam railway hobby, that I find it delicious. The engineer was inspecting his engine and oiling various mechanical oil points, as well as checking oil levels. The engine was shiny, perfectly clean, in the typical tradition of British Railway. Then the engineer slid into the cabin, like a foot would slide into a tight shoe. He checked the injectors and the fire. I was wondering if this man shares the same passion that I do? How hard was this job to drive this train every day, no matter the weather, even late into the night? Was it only passionate employees who got their personal motivation from driving these wonderful locomotives on this outstanding track?
The whistle blew a couple of times, it was time to board the train! We rushed inside one of the closed cars.
Unfortunately, inside the rail car, we lost sight of the magnificent engine. We could just see the side of the track and the landscape. In the same manner that cows in the field watch a passing train without interest, the train enthusiasts watched the “landscape” with less interest. We could hear the noise of the clattering wheels on the rail joints.
Did I tell you that the during the railway's early "pioneer era", there was a real fear of trains in Europe? The farmers were afraid that the milk would spoil in the cows due to cows’ heads turning from one side to another while watching trains. It's funny now.
The train started slowly and then gained some momentum. First we saw the backyards of the houses in the small town of Hythe. Finally, a speed of 25 miles per hour was reached, which for a full size locomotive equates to 75 miles per hour. We could see many campgrounds in this remote vacation spot.
The driver is cramped in the small cabin open to the weather. click image to enlarge
Now, when I think of that engineer cramped into the locomotive while trying to shovel coal in his tight space, I think that as much as I would love to own a “sit-in” locomotive, I also enjoy the more comfortable position of my ride-on train.
No 7 Typhoon at Dymchurch
The speed started to slow down as we entered Dymchurch. Some passengers got off the train before the final stop. After the train halted, more passengers got off while others would board. When the station master blew his whistle, in a slow motion, the rail car started to move again. The next stop was New Romney where we visited the museum displaying a large O gauge train layout. Sadly, this layout is now gone..
I headed back to the platform with my family. We boarded the returning train. This first day at the RH&DR would fuel my dreams for the remainder of my days.
No 5 Hercules 4-8-2 in New Romney
Every year after that, I returned to England. In 1980, my host family drove me back for another visit to RH&DR. This time we rode the entire line, all the way to Dungeness. From New Romney and on, it is a single track. Trains can cross each other at the Romney Sands station. The track is closer to the shore. Dungeness is a surprising landscape with a nuclear power station and a bathing beach.
The locomotive enters a large reverse loop at the end of the line. The train stops there and vacationers can picnic or get their feet wet in the sea. There is also a small hill with a nature preserve for bird watching and…. train watching. This is a remote area that the RH&DR allows visitors to reach.
The presentation of the train is very important. The locomotives are cleaned and stored overnight under a tarp, inside the locomotive depot.
An enthusiast of RH&DR has shared the heavy maintenance roster with me. Every year, one engine receives some major overhaul, such as cylinders or boiler work. Recently, the locomotives have been receiving new tenders at the rate of 2 per year. Besides the obvious benefit of new "tight" tenders, these new tenders allow more space for the conductor while also making space for communications equipment.
No 9 Winston Churchill under overhaul in the workshop. Click image.
Green Goddess and Hercules inside the shed. Click image.
Captain Howey, Hercules and John Southland at New Romney. Click image.
Safety is a key concern at the RH&DR as it is with all railways. The problems that arise and their solutions are closer to real trains than amusement trains. The double track between Hythe and New Romney uses the absolute “block system”. The single track uses a “tablet” or button system. There is only one tablet for a given section and the driver must have the tablet to drive on that section. Over time, most of the 13 railroad crossings have been equipped with automatic barriers.
Gala Sunday in 2012. The multiple headed special leaves Dungeness. Click image.
No 6 Samson at Dungeness. Bar car behind is in Courage Belle livery (a sponsor livery), Samson also has a small Greenly tender and has no smoke deflectors
The RH&DR performed its military duty during WWII!
Most of us might have graduated from 3/4" or 1" to 1-1/2" scale trains, moving from the pull-behind to the ride-on. The next logical step is the ride-in, and not barely in, completely in. 15” gauge is the closest thing to driving a full scale train!
All sepia rectangular photos taken by the author in 1978 with a Kodak 110 film.
All square photos taken by the author in 1980 with a Kodak 126 film.
All 2012 photos taken by Tom Robinson.
Other credits mentioned as due.
Other articles by Philip Schram can be seen at http://www.lezebre.eu/hobby.htm
Previous articles published at www.discoverlivesteam.com:
Written by Philip Schram
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