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Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch in Britain : World's Smallest Public Railway

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (RH& DR) is a 15 in (381 mm) gauge light railway in Kent, England, operating steam and internal combustion locomotives. The 13 3⁄4-mile (22.1 km) line runs from the Cinque Port of Hythe via Dymchurch, St. Mary's Bay, New Romney and Romney Sands to Dungeness, close to Dungeness nuclear power station and Dungeness Lighthouse.

Construction began in late 1925 and the railway opened on 16 July 1927. It was the dream of millionaire racing drivers Captain John Edwards Presgrave ("Jack") Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. The latter had constructed a railway at Higham Park, his home at Bridge, Kent, and agreed to donate the rolling stock and infrastructure to the project. However, he was killed on 19 October 1924 in a motor racing accident at the Monza Grand Prix before the Romney Marsh site was chosen, and Howey continued the project alone. After Howey had unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway and extend it, investigated a greenfield site between Burnham-on-Sea and Weston-super-Mare in Somerset and offered to buy the Hundred of Manhood & Selsey Tramway in Sussex, Henry Greenly drew Howey's attention to the potential for a 15-inch gauge line between New Romney and Hythe. Howey first visited New Romney on 8 September 1925 and decided there and then that it was an ideal location for his proposed railway  Because it involved crossing public highways and acquiring land from a number of different owners a Light Railway Order made under the Light Railways Act 1896 was necessary and application for this was made in November 1925. 

A Public Inquiry was held by the Light Railway Commissioners in the Assembly Rooms at New Romney on 15 and 16 January 1926. The Minister of Transport indicated his intention to approve the application on 19 February 1926 and The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway Order 1926 was made on 26 May. This incorporated the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway Company as a statutory public utility undertaking, gave it powers to construct and work the proposed railway and also included compulsory purchase powers over the land required (which ultimately had to be used to acquire six plots of land on the proposed route).[1] The locomotives were designed by Henry Greenly who was commissioned by Howey to work on the construction of the entire railway  and became the railway's first chief engineer until his abrupt resignation in March 1929. Mountain Class Hercules hauled the inaugural train from Hythe to New Romney on 16 July 1927, with guests including the mayors of the two towns and General Sir Ivor Maxse. Howey was not satisfied with just 8 1⁄4 miles (13.3 km) of track from Hythe to New Romney and plans were in hand for an extension even before the original section had opened. The line was to be extended 5 1⁄2 miles (9 km) from New Romney to Dungeness, double-tracked throughout apart from a balloon loop on which the station at Dungeness was sited. A Light Railway Order for this extension was applied for and, following a Public Inquiry on 18 April 1928, the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway (Extension) Order was granted on 12 July 1928. 

Ahead of this the line between New Romney and The Pilot had actually opened on 24 May 1928 and the rest of the line through to Dungeness opened in early August 1928. Since it was laid directly onto the shingle forming the Dungeness peninsula it has been suggested that the extension was the most cheaply constructed railway in the world. The railway was taken over by the military during World War II, and a miniature armoured train was used on the line. It was also used by the Department of Petroleum Warfare in the construction of PLUTO ("Pipe Line Under The Ocean") intended to supply fuel to the Allied forces after the D-Day Normandy landings. During the latter stages of the construction of PLUTO considerable damage was caused to the track on the extension when, to speed up the work, lengths of pipe were dragged along the trackbed by bulldozers, resulting in its reduction to a single track after the war. The line re-opened between Hythe and New Romney in 1946, the New Romney to Dungeness section following with an opening by Laurel and Hardy on 28 March 1947. From 7 September 1977 until 24 July 2015, the railway provided school trains to transport children to and from the Marsh Academy in New Romney. The service was finally withdrawn due to falling usage. The railway's role as part of the local public transport network was extended when Warren Halt re-opened in 2009, providing a link to the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre. Further discussions with local councils took place regarding the possible expansion of Burmarsh Road and the provision of a new station at the gravel pits in West Hythe, in connection with both the proposed extensive new housing construction and the need to provide alternative transport to the A259 coast road. The railway, which carries over 150,000 passengers each year, celebrated its 80th birthday in 2007 with a week of celebrations including reconstructions of scenes on the railway from the previous eight decades.

Smallest public Railway in the world 
From 1926 to 1978, the RH & DR held the title of the "Smallest public railway in the world" (in terms of track gauge). The title was lost to the 12 1⁄4 in (311 mm) gauge Réseau Guerlédan in France in 1978 and regained in 1979 when that line closed. It was lost again in 1982 when the 10 1⁄4 in (260 mm) gauge Wells and Walsingham Light Railway opened. The railway has featured in several television and radio shows including an episode of the BBC series The Inspector Lynley Mysteries in 2006,  Harry Secombe's Highway on 8 September 1991, Michael Bentine's It's a Square World in 1964, BBC's Multicoloured Swapshop (filmed on 20 February 1978)  and children's show Rainbow.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway Association 
Formed in 1967 as a supporters association, and regarded with some suspicion by the railway's management of the time, the Association has become a significant contributor to the railway's continuance and refurbishment. It is now the largest single shareholder in the railway and its members provide a significant input of voluntary labour on both operating and maintenance work. It became a registered charity on 23 January 2009. At 31 December 2015 its membership stood at 3,355.

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