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Major plans for railway's 50th Anniversary Gala announced


19 March 2024

K&ESR goes ‘Back to the Future' for 50thAnniversary Gala 

  • Three guest locos to lead Gala services between Tenterden and Bodiam
  • Original opening ceremony to be recreated before first train departure
  • Heritage bus service to link Bodiam and Robertsbridge
  • Line between Robertsbridge Junction to Northbridge Street to open for first time in 11 years
  • Locomotive‘Britannia' to operate shuttle between Robertsbridge Junction & Northbridge Street 

The Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) has unveiled the first details of exciting plans for its 50thAnniversary Gala, taking place on Saturday 1stand Sunday 2ndJune 2024.

Three guest locos are expected at Tenterden for the weekend spectacular, to lead an augmented timetable of passenger services. As agreements are still being finalised details are still under wraps, but their identities will be announced in the coming weeks.

The original official opening ceremony, undertaken in June 1974 by the then MP for Ashford, RH William (later Lord) Deedes, will also be recreated before the departure of the first train on the opening day of the Gala by current Ashford MP, Damian Green.

In addition to lots of action on the rails, areas of the K&ESR not normally accessible to the public will be open for tours and there will be a full programme of on-station entertainment, representing the last five decades.

Connecting to Robertsbridge

The Gala weekend will not only celebrate the achievements of the last 50 years of the railway but also look forward to its next chapter, in collaborative activity with the Rother Valley Railway (RVR) which is preparing to start the groundwork for the line between Robertsbridge and Bodiam.

Gala tickets will entitle passengers to travel to and from Robertsbridge, via a heritage bus service. Using the same ticket, passengers can then ride a special shuttle train service operating between Robertsbridge Junction and Northbridge Street station: a stretch of line that has not been in operation since 2013.

‘Britannia' to join the celebrations*

Britannia70000 by Robin Coombes

K&ESR has also confirmed that
the Robertsbridge Junction shuttle will be hauled by a special guest locomotive: BR Standard Class 7LocomotiveNo 70000 Britannia, which will be stationed at Robertsbridge throughout the weekend. Whilst the famous steam locomotive has passed nearby on her travels around the country, this will be her first two day ‘stop-over' in the Weald.

In another first, local Robertsbridge residents will also be able to purchase Gala tickets at Robertsbridge to ride on the K&ESR from Bodiam to Tenterden and back.

Meanwhile, at Robertsbridge Junction passengers can view displays about the plans to rebuild the line and ticket office and see the restored iconic turntable in action.

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding

The Gala weekend will also see representatives of the K&ESR and RVR sign an official Memorandum of Understanding. This will pave the way for the K&ESR to eventually run regular services through to Robertsbridge Junction once the line has been rebuilt and the station recommissioned.

K&ESR General Manager Robin Coombes said: "Our Anniversary Gala will be the biggest and best yet: an opportunity to celebrate all that we have achieved as a heritage railway and to look forward to a promising future.

"The prospect of reconnection to the main rail network at Robertsbridge - accessing services to and from Central London and Hastings - is within reach. It will be a game changer for us as a business, a tourist destination and an educational charity, one that we must grab with both hands."

Further details about the Gala will be announced in due course via the website, including timetables, ticket packages and prices.



Photo of Britannia by Robin Coombes 

For further information please contact:

Alison Miles, Press Officer, K&ESR 07900 691116

Notes to Editors:

* In the event that Britannia is unable to travel to the Gala for some reason, another locomotivde will visit in her place.

About Britannia:Britannia was the first British Railways standard locomotive to be built in 1951 and the first of 55 locomotives of her class. She saw15 years of mainline service, until her withdrawal in 1966, including the historic duty of pulling the funeral train of King George VI from Norfolk to London, following his death at Sandringham in February 1952.

About the Kent & East Sussex Railway:The Kent & East Sussex Railway is a renowned heritage railway based in Tenterden, Kent, UK and operates as an educational charity. Built by Holman F Stephens, it was the first light passenger railway in Britain in the early 20thcentury and is today one of Britain's most loved and original heritage lines which celebrates the 50thanniversary of reopening in 2024. With a rich history spanning over 120 years, the K&ESR offers visitors an authentic steam and diesel-powered railway experience through 10½ miles of Wealden countryside in the beautiful Rother Valley, a designated National Landscape (formerly known as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, the railway prides itself on preserving railway heritage, operating a diverse range of locomotives, and providing a unique glimpse into the golden age of rail travel.

About the Rother Valley Railway:The Rother Valley Railway is a registered charity restoring the historic railway between Robertsbridge and Bodiam. Retaining where possible the original features of the line and using recovered equipment and materials, RVR will re-create a rural light railway to modern standards of operation. Funded by charitable donations, when complete, it will be handed over to K&ESR to run the trains.