The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is a 15" (0.381 metre) gauge miniature railway of nearly fourteen miles in length running from Hythe to Dungeness in Kent (southern England), and passing through New Romney and Dymchurch, of course. It's one of the two best known miniature railways in the world (the other being Cumbria's Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway) and rather the larger of the two, with about a 50% longer run and many more locomotives.
Two rich men with a passion for trains and miniature railways - Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski - wanted to build a miniature railway on a grander scale than hitherto attempted. Having been thwarted in attempts to buy the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, they decided to start from scratch. The Count ordered two Henry Greenly-designed 15" gauge Pacifics (4-6-2s) from Davey, Paxman and Co. before a site for their proposed railway was decided. Unfortunately, he died in a fatal accident at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza before the locomotives were even delivered; Howey decided to continue the plans with Henry Greenly's help and soon found a good site in the form of the Romney Marsh.
When the line opened to the public on July 16, 1927 it comprised eight miles of double-track main line, built more to the standards of full-size standard gauge railways than had before been the case for a miniature railway, and stretching from Hythe (the easternmost point on the line) to New Romney, the line's main station and depot. The following year, the line was extended a further five and a half miles to Dungeness, all of it being double-track. More locomotives were ordered, a total of nine soon being in service, and business was brisk, the area being a popular tourist destination.
With the advent of World War II, the railway was taken over by the War Department for transportation purposes (the PLUTO project was being built in the area, among other things) and the railway had, for a short time, the only miniature armored train in the world. Peacetime brought reopening in 1946, with the stretch from New Romney to Dungeness reduced to single track on account of the postwar cost of raw materials, which it's remained ever since. The railway did well immediately postwar, with a surge of tourism as people made up for the dreary war years, but the 1960s brought with them a newfound ease of travel to more exotic destinations than the Kent coast, and the tourist trade dried up. J.E.P. Howey died in 1963 and it looked for a while that the railway might join him.
New ownership took over in 1973 and with a large amount of volunteer work by enthusiasts, it's run ever since, with everything by now restored to pretty much its former prewar glory. Trains run daily for the warmer six months of the year, and some weekends and holidays outside that period.
Eleven steam locomotives and two diesel locomotives form the RHDR's fleet. All of the steam locomotives are of prewar vintage, the youngest having been built in 1937. In addition, locomotives regularly visit from other miniature railways.
The British Pacifics - these locomotives, of the 4-6-2 'Pacific' arrangement, are one-third size replicas of the London and North Eastern Railway's A1 class locomotives, of which the famous Flying Scotsman is the only survivor (although radically altered and upgraded).
- No.1 'Green Goddess' - one of the two original locomotives, this one is finished in LNER-style apple green.
- No.2 'Northern Chief' - the other original, fitted with smoke deflectors and finished in British Railways-style lined Brunswick Green.
- No.3 'Southern Maid' - Ordered in 1926 and delivered in 1927, this locomotive is nowadays finished in mid-green with white lining and red frames and detailing.
- No.7 'Typhoon' - originally built in 1927 as a 3-cylinder locomotive but converted into the easier-maintained two cylinder configuration to match the others in the 1930s, and nowadays painted in Southern Railway-style dark green and carrying a whistle from a Southern Railway 'West Country'-class Pacific.
- No.8 'Hurricane' - like 'Typhoon' originally a three-cylinder locomotive, 'Hurricane' is finished in bright blue and carries a whistle gifted to the railway by the famous railway engineer Sir Nigel Gresley.
The Mountains - these are the only Mountain (4-8-2) type locomotives to ever see service with a British railway. They're not too far from the British Pacifics in style, but have eight smaller driving wheels instead of the six larger the Pacifics have. They were built for anticipated freight work, especially ballast trains, and were extensively used in wartime.
- No.5 'Hercules' - Unpopular during the pre-war years, postwar track improvements restored 'Hercules' to favor. It's now a popular and much-used locomotive, and bears a maroon livery reminiscent of that used by London's Metropolitan Railway.
- No.6 'Samson' - Even more out of favor than 'Hercules' originally, 'Samson' lay unused between 1931 and 1946, and was raided for spares. Restored postwar, when track improvements relieved the derailing problems that had plagued them, the Mountains gave fine service. 'Samson' these days wears a dark blue livery with smoke deflectors and an American 'Crosby' chime whistle.
The Canadian Pacifics - under the skin these are almost identical to the 'British Pacifics' but the cabs and fittings and general 'look' follow Canadian practice. The main reason for the change was the more enclosed Canadian style cabs provide more weather protection for the crew, but also because Howey was an admirer of Canadian railways.
- No.9 'Winston Churchill' - completed in 1931 with a German-built boiler from Krauss in Munich, this locomotive was originally named 'Doctor Syn' after the fictional and local (Dymchurch) smuggling vicar created by Richard Thorndyke, but was renamed patriotically postwar for an exhibition in Canada. The current livery is LMS-style red.
- No.10 'Dr Syn' - originally named 'Black Prince' but when No.9 became 'Winston Churchill', No.10 took this name. Recently given a cosmetic overhaul to make it look more American in style, and painted black with white fittings.
The German Locomotives - more recent arrivals, although No.4 'The Bug' was used to help build the railway.
- No.4 'The Bug' - this industrial 0-4-0 tender tank locomotive was ordered from Krauss in Munich as a workhorse during the railway's building, No.4 was little used thereafter and was sold. Ending up in a scrapyard, No.4 lay for twenty-two years hidden under other scrap and was rescued in 1972. No.4 is not used for regular service but is used for special trains including 'Santa Specials' during December, as well as being taken to shows and exhibitions. The current livery is LBSCR Stroudley's Improved Engine Green (which is not green at all, but a yellow ochre color; it's believed Stroudley may have suffered a variety of color-blindness).
- No.11 'Black Prince' - this German Pacific (4-6-2) was built for a trade fair in Dusseldorf in 1937 and made its way to the RHDR in 1976. Painted in the typical German steam locomotive livery of black uppers with red frames, bogies and wheels, 'Black Prince' has proved popular, and has also travelled to a number of other miniature railways (including one in Japan).
The Diesels - used for the RH&DR's daily school service, maintenance trains and as relief for the steam fleet.
- No.12 'John Southland' - named for the founder of the school to which the railway delivers children every schoolday, this B-B diesel was built in 1983 and currently bears a black livery with yellow 'tiger stripes' reminiscent of the livery of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.
- No.14 'Captain Howey' - named after the founder of the railway, this one was delivered in 1989 in Union Pacific yellow and grey livery, but is now in a royal blue and silver 'Millenium' design.
The railway operates a large fleet of stock, mostly passenger carriages, mostly recently built aluminium-bodied cars in both open and closed configurations as well as luggage vans, but also a number of older pieces of equipment. A fair number of prewar teak-bodied cars still exist and are being restored at a slow pace; three are currently complete. In addition, there is a single Clayton Pullman car available for hire, as well as the Royal Saloon. Cars that can carry wheelchairs are available by prior arrangement. A bar/observation car completes the fleet, serving the railway's own brand of ale.
Although originally the founders had hopes for freight work, the only freight cars that survive are in internal use for maintenance.
With help from the official RHDR site at http://www.rhdr.demon.co.uk.