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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).


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