End of a line?

I visited the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway last Sunday, on what might have been their last weekend of regular operation. Unless their landlord has a change of heart, the railway will be forced to shut down after January 2009. It was the end-of-season Gala, and while there was a sombre mood in the air both days were very well attended and there was plenty to see and do. It seems as though the local council has now realised the asset they have in the SKLR, so there is a slim hope the situation can be turned around.

Kerr-Stuart Brazil class 'Melior' couples up
“Melior”, a Kerr Stuart ‘Brazil’ class 0-4-2T, couples up to a train at Kemsley Down

Although the Gala timetable had been drawn up to include demonstration freight trains, the sheer number of people visiting meant that during the Saturday the railway decided to stop these and run a passenger shuttle service as frequently as possible. This was the order of the day on Sunday as well, with steam locos ‘Melior’ and ‘Triumph’ running busily back and forth between Sittingbourne and Kemsley Down.

Kemsley yard
Bagnall 0-6-2T “Triumph” and Hunslet diesel “Barton Hall” at Kemsley Down

While the passenger trains shuttled along the line, open access was allowed to the loco shed and yard at Kemsley Down. This is the site of the railway’s maintenance facilities and open air storage, and there is no public road access so you can only visit by train.

'Melior' ready to depart
“Melior” waiting for a clear signal at Kemsley Down

A large part of the SKLR’s appeal is its slightly ramshackle nature. This is no slick tourist machine like the Ffestiniog, but an honest preservation of an industrial railway that still bears the hallmarks of its former purpose. The steam pipes that cross the line at the station throat run alongside its whole length, connecting the paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley, and were still in use until a few years ago.

Side discharge wagon
A well used side-discharge clay hopper wagon

Aside from the general atmosphere of the railway, there was plenty of inspiration around for modelling. I’ve had my eye on this design of clay hopper wagon for a while, and it was good to be able to take some detail photos with a view to building one (or more!) in the future.

Fully loaded
“Triumph” brings another heavily loaded train in to Kemsley Down station

Every available item of passenger stock seemed to be in service, and most trains were full to capacity. It was heartening to see so many people turn out in support of the railway and I do hope the campaign to save the line and continue operating in to 2009 and beyond is successful.

I’ve uploaded a full set of photos from the day to my Flickr account.

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