The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway


The following article appeared in the June 1990 issue of 'The Link', the in-house journal for TML employees. Written by a chap going under the pen-name 'Invicta', so I can't credit him by name.

PARALLEL LINES - The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway
Industrial railways have always been overlooked by the general public since by their very nature they were hidden away from view, located in mines, quarries, construction sites and factories. They were normally linked to the mainline railways with interchange sidings. Their role in industry was very important before the competition from road transport killed them off. Classified as Light Railways, many were built with narrow gauge track since this was cheaper to lay. Sharp curves and steep gradients could he used where necessary and they did not need the expensive cuttings and embankments required by the mainline railways. The locomotives were very powerful, their power output, (size for size), being equal to that of their mainline cousins.

Only a handful of these lines survive today, run as tourist attractions by volunteer workers. The majority are in Wales, known collectively as "The Great Little Trains of Wales", but here in Kent we have two industrial narrow gauge railways, the first being on our own site at Lower Shakespeare, helping with the building of the Channel Tunnel and the second the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway, which survives as a preserved railway.

In 1877 Edward Lloyd, owner of the 'Daily Chronicle' newspaper, opened a paper mill in Sittingbourne. In its early days most of the raw materials and finished paper were shipped by Thames barges from nearby Milton Creek. A horse drawn tramway of 2ft 6inches (760mm) linked the creek with the mill. Steam traction replaced horses in 1906. In 1913 the company decided to build a dock for ocean going ships of up to 3,500 tons at Ridham on the Swale, and at the same time extend and improve the railway to serve the new dock, which was 3.5 miles from the mill.

In 1924 Lloyds opened a new paper mill at Kemsley, a village situated half way between Sittingbourne and Ridham Dock. This mill was rail connected to the standard gauge Sheerness branch line and the narrow gauge lines, where the interchange sidings were provided with overhead gantry cranes. Freight traffic increased and a passenger service was operated for the workforce which ran to a published timetable with trains running around the dock - the only instance of a narrow gauge railway running passenger trains at night in the whole of England.

In 1969 Bowaters, who by now owned the mills and the railway, decided to use road transport and to close down the railway line. Fortunately Bowaters management wished to preserve some of the line so in October of that year it was handed over to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain to operate it as a preservation line between Sittingbourne and Kemsley Downs. The seven steam locomotives are beautiful machines built by two companies, Kerr Stewart & Co, who built "PREMIER". "LEADER" and "MELLOR" and W.G. Bagnall who built "ALPHA", "TRIUMPH", "SUPERB" - and the fireless loco, aptly called "UNIQUE". This was charged with steam from the mill's high pressure steam supply and could operate for a maximum of eight hours. There were also two diesel mechanical locos, one of which, named "EDWARD LLOYD" is similar to the locos working down at Shakespeare Lower Site today.


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