I have to begin this blog post with a huge thank you to the staff and volunteers of the Kent and East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) and in particular Bradley Bottomley for sparing the time to show me around the railway’s facilities at Rolvenden. The tour was fascinating and everyone was very friendly.
Rolvenden has always been the historical home to the K&ESR steam locomotive fleet, but very little, save the water tank is original at the current works. In fact the works were located on the opposite side of the current sheds, on what is now a timber yard. In pre-preservation days, traffic was lighter than it is now. Bradley explained that there would be one train running from Headcorn to Robertsbridge, usually consisting of one carriage and a few wagons. It took over four hours to get from one end to the other – in fact it was quicker to use the mainline to run from one end to the other. Not surprisingly, the railway always suffered from low revenue, that would eventually lead to closure.
The modern K&ESR runs far heavier passenger train services, typically of four to five mark one carriages. However, the railway makes many efforts to be true to its past. The railway is home to two ex-LBSCR Terrier tank engines that both were used on the line pre-preservation. Full honours in this respect go to 32670, or 3 Bodiam, a locomotive that moved to the K&ESR in 1901. Bradley did point out that it is a “triggers broom” with very little original surviving. But then, what can you expect from a locomotive that is some 144 years old?!
The railway has quite a collection of motive power. Also in working order is the charismatic expertly hand painted umber saddle tank no.14 Charwelton. This is the ideal machine for a modern revenue earner – Driver experience days. This is down to its large cab.
Further up the power scale in operational condition is USA Dock Tank 30065, that looked perfectly at home, painted in BR black with a late crest alongside the similarly liveried Terriers.
One of the final pieces in the K&ESR operational fleet jigsaw is no 376 Norwegian – the line’s only tender locomotive. On this occasion I missed seeing 376, but I’ve been fortunate to see her before (click here for more). 376 isn’t ideal for the light railway in some ways, simply because she has big driving wheels that can make Tenterden Bank a struggle.
More suited to the railway is the unique survivor of Hawksworth’s 16xx pannier tank class, no 1638. This is the only locomotive owned by the railway and has recently been overhauled in 18 months – which is a remarkable feat, especially given that much of it was done by one person.
1638 sat in the works alongside steam locomotives in different stages of overhaul, but we’ll save that for another night.
Thanks for reading folks!