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Saturday, 1 September 2018

NGRUK Home Page

Snap of Prince and Blanche at Tan-y-Bwlch in the mid 1960s
I have been fascinated by narrow gauge railways for at least the past 50 years - since a family holiday in North Wales when I was a youngster and quite by chance we camped beside the Festiniog Railway. Over the years I have visited several preserved narrow gauge railways and tramped the trackbeds of many abandoned lines. Having just retired from full time work I decided it was time I catalogued more fully my interests and my various wanderings. This blog aims to encapsulate an accumulation of information, images and video clips.

Over the coming years I intend to visit (and re-visit) the sites of narrow gauge railways in the UK accessible to the public and record the outcome of my visits and researches. The outcome will no doubt be idiosyncratic and completely partial - I am, after all, only human!

The accepted definition of 'narrow gauge' includes railways with a gauge of less than 4' 8½". This should therefore include miniature railways. However, as there are nearly 500 railways in the UK which fit this description I have decided initially to concentrate on passenger carrying and commercial railways with a gauge between 12" and 4' 8½".

Below you will find a list of the railways which fit my parameters outlined above. I think I have listed the passenger carrying and commercial lines which have existed or do exist in the UK (with a gauge greater than 12") - however, I have found it is quite difficult to find a definitive list - railways seem to come and go at will. In addition, I have plotted all the railways on a Google Map, to help me plan my visits.

View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map

You will notice that this list has around fifty 'live' entries so far out of just over 200 possible railways. I am intending to start from scratch - visiting and revisiting each railway but, this time, being more systematic in the information, images and videos I collect.

 Narrow Gauge Railways in England
Narrow Gauge Railways Railways in Wales

Narrow Gauge Railways in Scotland
  • Alford Valley Railway (2')
  • Almond Valley Heritage Centre (2' 6")
  • Campbeltown and Machrihanish (2’3”)
  • Clyde Valley Railway (2')
  • Craigtoun Park Railway (15")
  • East Links Railway (2')
  • Glasgow Underground Railway (4')
  • Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway (2')
Narrow Gauge Railways in Ireland
  • Arigna Mines Experience (2')
  • Ballymena, Cushendall & Red Bay (3’)
  • Ballymena & Larne (3’)
  • Ballycastle  (3’)
  • Castlerigg & Victoria Bridge Tramway (3’)
  • Cavan & Leitrim Railway (3')
  • Clogher Valley tramway (3’)
  • Cork, Blackrock & Passage (3’ (originally 5’3”))
  • Cork & Muskerry Light Railway (3’)
  • County Donegal Railway (3’3”)
  • Difflin Lake Railway (15")
  • County Donegal  (3’) 
  • Fintown & Glenties Railway (3')
  • Giants Causeway & Bushmills Railway (3')
  • Irish Steam Preservation Society (3')
  • Lartigue Monorail and Museum (0')
  • Leisureland Funworld Express (2')
  • Londonderry & Lough Swilly (3’)
  • Peatlands Park (3')
  • Schull & Skibbereen (3’) 
  • Stradbally Railway  (Railway Preservation Society of Ireland) (3')
  • Sunshine Peat Co. (2' 6")
  • Tralee & Blennerville Railway (3')
  • Tralee & Dingle (3’)
  • Tramore Miniature Railway (15")
  • Waterford & Suir Valley Railway (3')
  • West Clare Railway (3')
  • West Clare  (3’)
  • Westport House (15")
Narrow Gauge Railways elsewhere
Isle of Man
Channel Islands
    • Jersey Railway (3’6”)
    • Pallot Steam Museum (2' ??)

      Background research
      To inform my visits I have been conducting more generalised background research on the history and development of narrow gauge railways in the UK and Ireland. From time to time I will share the outcome of my researches here:

      Progress Reports
      Over time I will keep posting general progress reports in addition to the postings on railways I have visited. These will be presented here in chronological order.

      You may also be interested in my other two blogs which are slightly interrelated:
      • Swiss Railway Tour - A ten day trip I organised in 2007 to travel on what I considered to be the most well known railways in Switzerland
      • Peckforton Garden Railway - My 15mm scale garden railway depicting a fictional three foot narrow gauge railway supposedly situated in the Cheshire countryside.

      Tuesday, 21 August 2018

      Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         2 ' 6" (756cm)

      Length:        2 miles (3.2km)

      Opened:       Originally opened 1904

                        Closed 1969
                        Re-opened 1970
                        Closed 2008
                        Re-opened 2010


      Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway Ltd.
      PO Box 300
      Kent ME10 2DZ

      Tel:         01795 424899

      Date of visit:     19 August 2018


      Key Facts

      • The railway was built originally to transport raw materials and paper to and from the paper mill in Sittingbourne and the wharves at Milton Creek
      • In 1913, the line was extended to the newly constructed Ridham Dock
      • In 1923 a new paper mill was constructed, about half way along the railway at Kemsley.  At the time, it was the largest paper mill in Europe
      • Passenger services were introduced at this time to transport workers to the mill from Sittingbourne
      • The line is unique in that for half a mile it is carried on a half mile long reinforced concrete viaduct
      • In 1965, it was decided that the railway was no longer commercially viable and so, in 1969, it was gifted to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB)
      • In 2010, the paper mill in Sittingbourne closed and was demolished. The site is now occupied by a large supermarket. The present Sittingbourne Viaduct Station became the new terminus for the railway.
      • In its heyday, the railway boasted 14 steam locomotives (including two articulated locos), two fireless steam locos, a battery electric loco and a petrol loco
      • The railway now has seven operational steam locos, plus several narrow gauge and standard gauge display locos in various states of repair. It also has three diesel locos.
      • Seven of the railway's original passenger coaches (converted from freight wagons) are still in service, together with four coaches from the now closed Chattenden & Upnor munitions factory railway
      • The railway has 42 freight wagons, mostly preserved from the original railway but a few from other sources
      • The railway generally runs on Sundays and Wednesday afternoons during the school holidays 



      My Impressions

      According to the SKLR website, their station is opposite the main railway station. It was close, but not that obvious initially. The entrance to the SKLR's Sittingbourne Viaduct station turned out to be just behind a Pizza Hut restaurant, between a drive-thru KFC and drive-thru MacDonalds. Handy if we were feeling peckish, but less so if we were late for the 12.00 train - which we were.

      However, once we tracked down the station and bought our modestly priced tickets, we had time to look around the station and chat with the volunteer staff, who gave us some interesting background information about the railway and its history.

      It turned out that the viaduct on which the station is presently located used to extend further, over the road to the paper mill which used to be situated beside the town's main railway station where the Morrison's Superstore and car park are presently located. The facilities at the SKLR station are somewhat basic as they have experienced a number of thefts of equipment and repeated bouts of vandalism which make them reluctant to develop the site beyond the bare minimum.

      What a sad indictment of the reality of the world in which we now find ourselves. Full credit to the dedicated band of volunteers who give up their time and energy to manage such important historical sites despite such adversities.

      Before long, there was a short toot announcing the arrival of the train of five miscellaneous coaches hauled by the line's very smartly attired 0-4-2 Kerr Stuart Brazil Loco Leader.

      After running around its train, the loco awaited the all clear before setting off, with a slightly irregular engine beat. It transpired that this was caused through the fitment of a non standard replacement eccentric driving the valve gear when there was no appropriate spare available.

      We slowly ventured out over the tight reverse curves of the first part of the concrete viaduct on which this end of the railway was built,

      ...... before picking up speed when we encountered the straight.

      Alongside the railway are the enormous pipes which once carried steam from the paper mill at Kemsley to the mill in Sittingbourne. At level crossings, the pipes arched their way over the roads.

      After passing underneath the Swale Way, the line passed through the marshes as it headed towards the paper mill at Kemsley.

      The train then slowed as it approached and entered Kemsley Down station.

      There was a 20 minute stop at the station while the loco ran around its train.

      There was plenty for a railway enthusiast to see at Kemsley Down station. In addition to various items of rolling stock from the days the railway served the paper mills ....

      ...... quite a number of the line's locomotives are on show in various states of repair.

      These include both the narrow gauge and standard gauge fireless steam locomotives, which were topped up from the paper mill's high pressure boilers.

      There is also a small museum (the green shed in the above photo), which includes some interesting facts and photos showing the history of the railway.

      There is also a tea room .......

      ...... and a small shop, where booklets and souvenirs can be purchased.

      Twenty minutes is insufficient time to do all the exhibits justice and so I would suggest waiting an hour for the next train back to Sittingbourne. The staff and volunteers are more than willing to explain and demonstrate to curious fellow enthusiasts.

      There was an announcement warning us that the train was about to depart ......

      ....... and before long we embarked on our fifteen minute return journey.

      With squealing wheel flanges we re-negotiated the reverse curves at the end of the viaduct .....

      ..... and slowly entered the station.

      We really enjoyed our visit to this historic and slightly quirky railway which holds great significance for narrow gauge railway enthusiasts. The staff are among the friendliest and most helpful on any of the preserved narrow gauge and miniature railways I have visited - this is number 76 in my quest to visit them all!

      I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway. It is only an hour from London by rail and so well within reach should you be planning a visit to the capital for a long weekend (which is what we did).


      Sunday, 27 May 2018

      Progress Report 6

      As can be seen, since my last Progress Report, I have made a trip to Yorkshire and visited:
      Although the Cliff Lift at Saltburn is actually standard gauge I have included it as:
      1. In is an interesting piece of railway technology with a significant history
      2. When doing my original research, I was under the impression that it had a gauge of 4' 6" - presumably owing to some misleading information on a website somewhere.
      The other two miniature railways have a fascinating history - both being established before the Second World War and both opting for steam outline, diesel powered locomotives. Although I would prefer to see live steam locos in action, I feel their history and origins so make these locos interesting in their own rights. They are certainly well engineered and with gauges of 20" and 15" are substantially built.
      Loco 1932 Triton - on the North Bay Railway in Scarborough
       As times goes by, I am having to travel greater distances from home to reach railways which are further than a day's travelling distance. Owing to family ill health, I have not been as mobile as previously and so my visitations are fewer and further between. However, I am planning to travel on the Snowdon Mountain Railway when we can be sure of decent weather, and also hoping to travel to the South East of England at some point before the end of the season to visit some of the railways located there.

      North Bay Railway (Scarborough)

      In a nutshell

      Gauge:         20"(508 mm)

      Length:       78 mile (1.4 km)

      Opened:     1931


      North Bay Railway
      North Yorkshire,
      YO12 6PF

      Tel:         01723 368791

      Date of visit:     22 July 2017


      Key Facts

      • The railway was planned as an integral part of the development of Northstead Park (formerly known as Hodgson's Slack)
      • The line was originally intended to be 18" gauge and then 15" gauge, the gauge promoted by Sir Arthur Heywood and Wenman Bassett Lowke as the 'Minimum Gauge' (see A short Chronology of the Minimum Gauge). Eeventually, Hudswell Clarke won the contract to supply the locomotives to a gauge of 20".
      • The plan for the original railway was a circular route but this was later modified into the present terminus to terminus route along the cliffs
      • At Scalby Mills, there was originally a balloon loop for reversing the locomotives, which included a short tunnel into the cliffs. This was replaced by a Y junction in 1962 and ultimately by the existing turntable in 1988.
      • The only time the railway has ceased running was between 1940 and 1945 during the Second World War.
      • The decision to use steam outline diesel locomotives instead of live steam locomotives was motivated by reduced operating and maintenance costs.
      • Neptune was the first locomotive to run on the railway and is still running today.
      • The original locomotives use torque converters to transfer power from the diesel engine to the driving wheels to provide a very smooth transmission and is akin to driving a steam locomotive with a single regulator and no gears. The torque converters have now been replaced by hydraulic pumps and motors.
      • The railway has four steam outline diesel locomotives - 1931 Neptune 4-6-2 (built in 1931), 1932 Triton 4-6-2 (built in 1932), 1933 Poseidon 4-6-2 (built in 1933) and 570 Robin Hood 4-6-4T (built 1932).
      • The coaching stock was originally built by Robert Hudson in Leeds. The bodies were replaced in the 1960s and again in 1991, 1998 and 2007.
      • The railway is open daily from April to October and then some weekends and school holidays during the winter (January excepted).


      Map by Svitapeneela at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

      My Impressions

      On arriving at Peasholm station, the first thing which struck me was the size of the locomotives. As the gauge is wider than most miniature railways (ie 20" v 7¼" - 15"), the locomotives are proportionately larger.

      Having paid for my ticket, I watched my loco (1931, Neptune) running around her train .....

      ..... making use of the balloon loop which circles the engine sheds and enables the loco to reverse direction without the need for a turntable. I am not aware of any other railways which use this clever approach, but I am willing to be corrected.

      After coupling-up, within a few minutes we were off, skirting the boating lake .......

      .... and passing beneath the rails of the water chute.

      After passing the outdoor concert arena, we reached the cliffs and the passing loop at the former Beach Station where we passed another train travelling in the opposite direction.

      Travelling on shelf cut into the cliff face ......

      ....... we reached Scalby Mills Station, where our loco was turned on the turntable......

      ...... and ran round our train ....

      ... ready for the return journey.

      We, once more, made our way back along the cliffs to Beach Station ......

      .... where we passed the returning train and the drivers exchanged tokens.

      We then retraced our steps into Northstead Park .....

      .... and returned to Peasholm Station.

      I now took the opportunity to walk beside the line, watching the train depart .....

      ..... and the boat on the water chute splashing into the lake, ......

       ...... before being hauled back up again.

      I gained a good view of trains as they passed by on the opposite side of the lake.

       At Beach Station, I watched loco 1932, Triton ......

      ...... passing Neptune.

       There are plenty of good vantage points for watching the trains pass by on the cliffs above the beach.

      As they had two trains in service (which I believe they do on most operational days), the services are very regular .......

      ...... and so the wait is not long between trains.

      And, of course, there are always the attractions of the beach, itself.

      What a fine little railway this is! Although the locomotives are not steam powered, they are distinctive and interesting in their own right. Their heritage is undeniable and their size and the quality of their construction gives them poise and elegance as they ply their trade back and forth through the park and across the cliff face.

      I spent a good 2-3 hours travelling on and watching the various train manoeuvres - being particularly fascinated by the balloon reversing loop at Peasholm Station. The staff were attentive and keen to discuss the railway and its locos. The railway gauge of 20" makes it fairly unique in the UK, Shipley Glen Tramway and the railway at Woburn being the only others (to my knowledge). A very interesting railway with an interesting history and heritage.

      There is a cafe adjacent to the station at Peasholm and plenty of other eateries within a short walk of the park. The ticket office sells a few mementoes and a guide to the railway which elaborates on the history and operation of the railway outlined above.