The Ramsgate Tunnel Railway, also known as the Ramsgate Cliff Railway, Tunnel Railway, Ramsgate Underground Railway and World Scenic Railway was opened to passengers on 31st July 1936.
After the Ramsgate Harbour and Ramsgate Town stations closed in 1926, the tunnel was sealed and the harbour station sold to Thanet Amusements who turned it into a zoo and funfair and called it Merrie England. The new stations of Ramsgate and Dumpton Park were quite a distance from the seaside attractions and so day trippers were more attracted to Margate where the town station was almost next to the beach.
By 1933 Merrie England, now under the ownership of Ramsgate Olympia, had become extremely popular, and Ramsgate Olympia began to lobby the Southern Railway to reopen the line through the tunnel, with a new junction station between Dumpton Park and Broadstairs. This was dismissed as too costly.
Eventually a scheme was agreed to use 780 yards of the old railway tunnel at the beach end and then branch off for a new 364 yard tunnel to emerge at Hereson Road, approximately 250 yards from Dumpton Park station. As the new railway would not be carrying heavy loads and would be travelling only a short distance, it was built as a narrow gauge railway, with a track gauge of 2 feet. This allowed the new branch tunnel to be built to far smaller dimensions than the existing tunnel, at just 8 feet high and 6 feet wide. Ramsgate Olympia also planned the construction of a large-scale housing estate, charabanc parking facilities, and a 10,000-seat stadium at Dumpton Park to increase passenger numbers and encourage people to use the new rail line.
Construction work began on 2 May 1936. The company hoped to have the line open in time to serve the large crowds expected on the August Bank Holiday, leading to a very tight construction deadline of three months. To try to meet the deadline, construction work was carried out both day and night. As the journey would take place entirely underground it was decided to line the wider, original tunnel with illuminated displays showing scenes from around the world. Scenes included Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Egypt and The Netherlands. This led to the line becoming semi-officially known as the "World Scenic Railway”.
Initially it was suggested that the system should be cable hauled but Ramsgate Olympia wanted an electrified line. As it would be too dangerous to use the third rail system, the locomotives ran with a single overhead 400 volt DC line using trolley poles to connect to the power.
The line opened to passengers on 31 July 1936, less than 12 weeks after construction began. It proved very popular and over the bank holiday weekend, the line carried 20,000 passengers. As the tourist trade was its main source of income, the line closed at the end of September. Throughout the 1937, 1938 and 1939 seasons, the line operated between Whitsun and the end of September each year, closing for the autumn & winter.
In 1938 with war seeming more likely, the towns’ borough engineer and surveyor, R. D. Brimmell, devised a scheme in 1938 for a network of tunnels beneath the town, to serve as a vast deep-level air-raid shelter for the town's inhabitants. A 3.25-mile semi-circular network of tunnels was dug beneath northern Ramsgate, connecting to the existing railway tunnel. It was opened by the Duke of Kent on 1 June 1939, three months before the outbreak of war. The network was capable of sheltering 60,000 people, although Ramsgate's civilian population at the time was approximately 33,000.
After the war, The Tunnel Railway reopened for the 1946 season. The illuminated tableaus had been removed for the war but were replaced. These were again removed in 1955 and the station signage changed from World Scenic Railway to Tunnel Railway.
Part of the chalk cliff near the lower terminus collapsed in 1957, forcing the railway's closure while a strengthening concrete wall was built. The new wall reduced the lower terminus to a single length of track. The second track at Hereson Road was closed at the same time, and removed to build a short siding near the bottom of the tunnel for stabling the trains. The wooden station platforms were replaced by modern concrete structures.
At 2:15 pm on 1 July 1965, one of the two-car yellow trains lost control while approaching the lower terminus and ran off the end of the rails before smashing into a building. The driver, 74-year-old Ernest Brown, was trapped in the cab and suffered pelvic injuries, while a number of passengers suffered minor injuries. Although the station was repaired and services were resumed, Pleasurama decided to close the line at the end of the 1965 holiday season. Services stopped on 26 September 1965.
The tunnel was sealed and still remains intact. This is now being considered for re-opening as part of the tunnel project. http://ramsgatetunnels.org
Four of the original cars were sold to the Hollycombe steam collection and remain in use to this day. The remaining three were given to the Hampshire Narrow Gauge Railway Society. Most of the sleepers & rails were sold to the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway.
On a personal note, the first train journey that I can remember was with my parents & sister and went from Minster to Dumpton Park. We then walked to the Tunnel Railway station in Hereson Road where we went down the steps to a small platform and caught a yellow train to the seafront. As I remember, there were scenes on the walls depicting nursery rhyme characters. I don’t remember the journey back. The train from Minster to Dumpton Park was steam hauled and my dad knew the driver as he spoke to him before we got on.