The Sittingbourne and Kemsley railway was a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge industrial railway built to serve the needs of two very large paper mills in south-east England. The mainline of the railway was 5.5 km long, and total length of track was over 16 km.

At its peak 12 conventional steam locomotives were in use, as well as two fireless locomotives, one battery-electric locomotive, and one oil-engined internal combustion locomotive.

The railway operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and a passenger service was provided for employees.

The Sittingbourne paper mill was built in 1867, and horse-hauled tramways were originally used. The first use of steam locomotives came in 1905 when two 0-4-2T locomotives were obtained from Kerr, Stuart, being their "Brazil" class. They were originally numbered 1 and 2, but later named Premier and Leader respectively. Both still exist.

The railway was replaced by road transport in 1969, but Bowaters, who owned the two paper mills at that time, made an arrangement with the Locomotive Club of Great Britain to take over and operate a two-mile section of the line. It became the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway (S&KLR) and has operated as a preserved tourist railway.

Some of the locomotives and rolling stock remained with the S&KLR, whilst others found homes at the Great Whispnade Railway and the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway.

My visit

I visited this railway in July 1968. The visit did not make a long term impression on my memory (probably because the railway lacked the sort of scenery that I associate with narrow gauge railways). Here are the notes I made after the trip. Unfortunately I do not even recall the ride on the train or the cab ride!

Wednesday, 10 July 1968:

Went to Sittingbourne, Kent to visit Bowaters paper mill. Went on 11:40 train (electric) which arrived about 12:37. At Sittingbourne was shown over the extensive 2 ft 6 in gauge rail network which serves Bowater Paper Mills. They have about 21 miles of track [sic?], about 400 items of rolling stock, about 12 steam locos, one fireless steam loco, 1 [oil-engined internal combustion loco] (which is held in reserve should a steam loco break down), one battery-electric (now unused), one standard-gauge 0-6-0T for shunting coal wagons, a long aerial ropeway for carrying pulpwood, and three spare boilers for the locos. The locos are mostly 0-4-2STs and 0-6-2Ts, all painted green and well kept. Most have diamond spark arrestors. Although overcast, a great day was had, before heavy rain set in. I had a ride on the works passenger train, and on the return journey rode on the footplate of the loco - an 0-6-2T named Alpha.

On return to Sittingbourne British Railways station a number of electric express trains went through at very high speed on the opposite track. It was very interesting to see the fireworks display put up by the third-rail current collectors on the wet rail. Very spectacular. Third-rail electrification is not quite as dull as I thought.

 

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Conqueror, a Bagnall 0-6-2T B/No. 2192 of 1922.

It looks as if Excelsior, a Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST B/No.1049 of 1908 was out of service on the date of my visit.

Leader is a Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST, B/No. 926 of 1905, and one of the first locomotives obtained for the railway.

Leader seen from the other side.

Premier is Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST B/No.886 of 1905, and was the railway's first locomotive.

Premier from the other side.

Superb is a Bagnall 0-6-2T B/No. 2624 of 1940.

Superior is a Kerr Stuart 0-6-2T, B/No.4034 of 1922.

Triumph is another Bagnall 0-6-2T, B/No.2511 of 1934.

Another view of Triumph

Unique is a Bagnall 2-4-0F, B/No.2216 of 1923 - a fireless locomotive. Narrow gauge fireless locomotives were quite rare. Steam was provided from an external source, and stored on the locomotive in a well insulated pressure vessel. Such locomotives were useful where working around inflammable materials. Note, the cylinders are at the rear of the locomotive.

Superior, Kerr Stuart 0-6-2T locomotive on a very short train.

Alpha, an 0-6-2T Bagnall locomotive (B/No.2472 of 1932) on a train which includes two passenger cars for the mills' employees.

Further information:

Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway Limited

and:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sittingbourne_and_Kemsley_Light_Railway


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All photographs Copyright Frank Stamford who may be contacted by email at: frank.stamford [at] bigpond.com

Last updated: 19 August 2009