Kent and East Sussex Railway goes ‘Back to the Future’ for 50th Anniversary

The Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) has unveiled the first details of exciting plans for its 50th Anniversary Gala, taking place on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd June 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*

K&ESR has also confirmed that the Robertsbridge Junction shuttle will be hauled by a special guest locomotive: BR Standard Class 7 Locomotive No 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.