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Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Hythe Pier Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         2' (610mm)

Length:       700 yards (640 m)

Opened:     1922



Blue Funnel Ferries Ltd,
Hythe Ferry Office,
Prospect Place,
SO45 6AU


Date of visit:     25 September 2018

Key Facts

  • The railway is the oldest continuously operating pier railway in the world
  • The pier was opened in 1881 and the first railway along it was constructed in 1909. However, the wagons on it, which were used carry passengers' luggage, were propelled by hand
  • The present railway was constructed in 1922. It was and always has been electrically powered. 
  • The 250v to power the line's two power cars is supplied via a third rail which runs alongside the track, on the seaward side.
  • The four-wheeled power cars were built by Brush in 1917
  • There are no passing loops but there is a non electrified siding at the landward end of the pier leading to the railway's workshops.
  • The line has four passenger carriages, two of which have a driving compartment at their seaward end. A train usually comprises two normal carriages plus one with a driving compartment. The power car is positioned at the landward end of the train.
  • A four wheeled luggage wagon is usually marshalled at the seaward end of the train.
  • The line also has a four wheeled tanker wagon used to carry fuel for the ferries.
  • The ferry carries passengers across Southampton water to Southampton. The journey takes ten minutes.



My Impressions

Hythe itself is a pleasant little town with a couple of good places to enjoy a decent cup of coffee or tea. After parking in the main car park, we wandered along the main street to the pier.

The entrance is quite unimposing, considering it houses the world's longest running pier railway. After purchasing a ticket, we made our way along the platform to one of the carriages.

We noted that one of the compartments included a small plaque to commemorate a journey made by King George VI.

Before taking our seats, I had took a quick look at the power car on our train.

It was certainly not built for comfort, the driver having to perch on a wooden seat above the electric motor which takes up most of the floor space.

The seating for the passengers is similarly Spartan - wooden slatted seats. But then the journey is fairly short and the rolling stock has been unaltered since it was built in the early 1920s. And authenticity is a watchword for this historic railway.

Before long, more passengers joined us and the train set off along the pier.

Trains are scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the ferry at the pierhead, but there was sufficient time to take stock of the station as one set of passengers disembarked and the new passengers boarded the ferry. The line's tanker wagon was parked at the end of the line, ready for refuelling the ferry boat.

The luggage wagon was also in view, in front of the driver's compartment at the end of the train.

The power car was also more readily accessible for scrutiny. There can't be many narrow gauge locomotives which are equipped with a life belt in case of emergencies.

Ere long, we commenced our return journey.......

.... and arrived back at the main station.

There was an opportunity to watch a couple more trains come and go, .......

...... clanking their way methodically up and down the pier.

Everything seemed so orderly and constrained. The rolling stock did appear to be slightly dog-eared and timeworn - but then, salt-sea air is not kind to ageing infrastructure and the railway is certainly nothing but utilitarian. It bears its place in history with a quiet and unassuming dignity - and left me with warm and abiding memories.

If you are in this part of the country, then a visit should surely be obligatory - your fare will help to keep this admirable piece of living history alive.


[In preparation] 

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