Narrow Gauge Pleasure

The Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway

The Railway Today

Triumph built by Bagnall in 1934
Photo Andy Veitch
Kemsley shed
Photo Andy Veitch
Kemsley Down Station
Photo Andy Veitch

Today's railway is around 1.5 miles of 2'6" gauge track linking Sittingbourne station to Kemsley Down station which is on the edge of the salt marsh of the Thames Estuary and is not accessible by road. Sittingbourne station is where most travellers begin there journey and the site, which is perched high on an embankment beside the paper mill, houses the permanent way department's headquarters.

Sittingbourne Station is readily accessible with its own 100 plus space car park and is only a short walk from either the town centre or main line station. From Sittingbourne the railway departs across a concrete viaduct of 118 spans, this viaduct has been a thorn in the side of the railway from an engineering point of view as it has suffered from structural problems so severe that there were doubts that trains could cross it in 1999. Fortunately the required funding was forthcoming and essential work completed so trains are running over the full length of the line for the 1999 season.

The one intermediate station on the route is Milton Regis Halt (Unofficially Asda Halt, for obvious reasons, another railway of this gauge is known as 'The Farmers Line' perhaps this could be 'The Shoppers Line'?) and trains stop here on request.

The train reaches the current terminus at Kemsley Down although the railway hope to extend the line towards Ridham dock which was the terminus in the lines working days. Kemsley Down is an attractive spot on the Thames estuary which teems with wild life although those who do not regard mud flats as their thing might prefer to visit at high tide!

Kemsley Down also houses the locomotive and engineering department where the railways seven narrow gauge steam locomotives are kept. Steam engines constructed by both Bagnall and Kerr Stuart are on Shed at Kemsley and examples from each maker are currently in service, construction of these machines covers the years from 1905 to 1940 .

The land the railway runs on is owned by a Finnish paper company but there appears to be a good relationship between the company and the railway management which should secure the future of the line.

History and Origins

Bowaters Paper Mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley used materials imported via the river Thames and transported much of their product by the same route. The last link in the chain of transport was a 2'6" gauge railway, built in 1909, which linked the two works to each other and to the River at Ridham dock.

The railway served the company well over the years but, as happened in so many other industries, road haulage began to encroach on the business of the railway. In 1969 the line was to be closed and the disappearance of what was already one of Britain's last industrial narrow gauge railways seemed inevitable. Fortunately a group of enthusiasts formed the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway with the aim of taking over the line, this was achieved with the assistance of the Locomotive Club of Great Britain although to this day the land belongs to the Paper Mills which are now owned by Netsa Serla of Finland.

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