Steam trains return as rail project takes a step closer

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ROBERTSBRIDGE Station is set to echo to the distinctive sights, sounds and smells of steam next month as the re-opening of the Rother Valley Railway between Robertsbridge and Bodiam takes a major step forward.

On September 21 and 22 the trains will be the first public steam-hauled passenger services to serve the station since 1961 and one of the locomotives that worked the very last train will again be in action over half-a-century later.

141 year-old locomotive No.32670, along with three Victorian carriages, will be working special shuttle services from a brand new RVR platform along around half-a-mile of newly re-laid line from Robertsbridge Station to Northbridge Street.

Steam shuttles will operate at Robertsbridge every 20 minutes from 10.30am to 4pm.

Souvenir Edmonson tickets will be issued to commemorate the event.

Ultimately the RVR will reinstate a total of three miles of line and link to the Kent & East Sussex Railway at Bodiam.

Passengers will then be able to travel from Tenterden to Robertsbridge by train.

Whilst that is still a few years away, the K&ESR is providing passengers with a chance to ride on more of the line than has been possible since 1961, as in addition to the shuttles at Robertsbridge for this special weekend, it will be operating trains over the 10-and-a-half miles between Tenterden and Bodiam.

One departure, the 11.05 from Tenterden, on each day will additionally work over the 200 yards of track north of Tenterden Town Station not usually used by passenger trains.

The trip, worked by the line’s Class 108 diesel observation train, will also run via the freight-only loop at Bodiam Station and along the rarely used RVR metals to Junction Road.

A free bus service will provide a link between the K&ESR and Robertsbridge.

K&ESR trains will connect with buses at Northiam Station.

In addition to this special trip, there are steam trains from Tenterden Town Station at 10.45, 1.15 and 3.30 while diesel-hauled trips will depart at 11.45 and 2.20 on both days.

Those wishing to arrive by public transport are advised to use Southeastern trains services on the Hastings to Charing Cross line. To celebrate this event, on Saturday September 21 all trains on this line will stop at Robertsbridge.

The weekend will be a particularly proud moment for Gardner Crawley, chairman of the Rother Valley Railway as he was one of three teenage schoolboys who met in a pub in 1961 and agreed that they should try and save the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

After battling officialdom, the line between Tenterden and Bodiam was secured but the section to Robertsbridge had to be abandoned.

The delays meant that on the portion that was rescued, the track had deteriorated badly and the line was re-opened in stages between 1974 and 2000.

When Northiam was reached in 1990, a small group decided to have another go at reinstating the line from Bodiam to Robertsbridge and formed the RVR and again Gardner was involved from an early stage.

Now, with sections of track re-laid at both ends of the missing link it seems that what was once an impossible dream is now within reach.

Further information on the Return to Robertsbridge weekend can be found at www.kesr.org.uk or by calling the Kent & East Sussex Railway on 01580 765155 while further details of the RVR rebuilding project are at www.rvr.org.uk.

Fares: adult £15, senior citizen £14, child (3-15 years) £10 and family (two adults and up to three children or one adult and up to four children) £42.

There will be an extra £5 payable for passengers wanting to take a return trip on the newly laid piece of track at Robertsbridge station.

Please see the timetable on the website for times of steam train operation.