The Kent and East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) was the first and is still one of the best known light railway’s in the UK. Built by Colonel Holman F. Stephens; the K&ESR is a standard gauge railway engineered to carry lighter loads to reduce costs. The full length of the K&ESR before it’s closure was from Headcorn in Kent; through Biddenden, High Halden Road, St Michaels to the small market town of Tenterden and then via Rolvenden, Wittersham road, into East Sussex – to Northiam, Bodiam and terminating at Robertsbridge. Today, the section between Tenterden and Bodiam is preserved in operation, whilst plans and work to connect back to Robertsbridge are made to join the Rother Valley Railway and national rail network.
In reality, even today the villages and towns the K&ESR passes through are small and by themselves would not generate enough traffic for a commercially viable rail operation. However, as a preserved line run by volunteers to haul visitors and tourists on a picturesque rural route, the railway is far more busy than it ever was as a commercial service. As a result, for some time the railway has depended on a fleet of powerful Hunslet Austerity Tank engines, two USA dock tank’s and (since the mid 1990’s) a 16xx pannier tank to haul the weight of a 4-5 carriage BR mark one train’s up Tenterden Bank – a gradient that is as steep as 1:35 in places. The LBSCR A1X terrier and SECR P class locomotive’s need to double-head to haul such trains on the line.
However, as the line has been gradually extended, the demands on these tank engine’s has grown. Once the link with Robertsbridge is complete; it is likely to generate more passenger numbers which means even more heavier trains. It is no surprise that the railway (that is no longer restricted by weight as it once was) is looking at having a few larger locomotives to cope with the demand. It is incredible to think that a line that struggled to not fall into bankruptcy in the early twentieth century is now got a very different problem – too many passengers!
The GWR 56xx class was built to haul heavy coal trains in Wales. In preservation, 6619 has worked for some time on the North York Moors Railway where it’s power was an asset but it’s short range not so. Having visited the K&ESR in the past, it has proved itself to be useful and powerful. It can cope with heavy full trains. It was purchased by a consortium of volunteers on the K&ESR; which is now it’s permanent home. Other larger locomotives are also finding their way onto the K&ESR, such as 42xx 4253, which is being restored at Rolvenden (see picture below and link to website).
These pictures were taken on a brief visit to the railway on the 18th May 2013. More pictures from this visit will be published in due course, but until then, please see below for more pictures of 6619 at Tenterden Town.
6619 is an old favourite of mine, so much so that I re-created her in 00 scale – click here to read more!