STEAM TRAIN DRIVING KENT
Take the controls of a majestic steam locomotive in Kent with our friends at the Kent & East Sussex Railway. With so much history and character to immerse yourself in, this truly is the making of a dream come true…
We are currently updating our website – please check the details on the Into The Blue page for the latest prices and experience details.
Take a glorious step back in time! During this steam engine experience day, you will get up close and personal with all of the controls, systems and joys of driving a full size steam locomotive.
You’ll learn how to ease your loco into motion, and importantly how to pull it to a halt! You’ll cruise the Kent countryside with brilliant white steam signalling that the elegance of the past is passing by and you’ll even undertake some tricky precision ‘buffering up’ maneuvers!
You’ll be treated to breakfast and lunch, as well as a guided tour of other parts of the heritage railway such as the signal box and locomotive yard.
This full day experience (8 hours) includes breakfast, lunch and refreshments.
The hands on sessions includes:
- Safety briefing
- Working around locos
- Getting the engine moving
- Bringing the loco to a controlled stop
- Buffering Up
- General track driving
- Tour of the signal box
- Visit to the loco yard
- Tour of the repair shed
- Certificate of Achievement
- Commemorative t-shirt
- Commemorative mug
- Unforgettable memories
This is an eight hour experience that commences at 9am and runs through to around 5pm. You can drive one of our steam trains in Kent on selected weekdays between April and October, excluding August.
To find us and your railway experience day, you’ll need to make your way to Rolvenden Station, which is located between Ashford and Royal Tunbridge Wells (see map lower on the page).
Once you’ve decided that our Kent location is the perfect choice for your steam train adventure, simply hit the ‘Make A Booking’ button which will take you to our booking partner.
When you make a booking you will receive a voucher for your train driving day, which you will have a full 12 months to use – particularly handy if you’re buying this as a gift for someone else.
You can choose to either have the voucher delivered online as an eVoucher, or if you prefer a free luxury gift box can be sent under plain packaging (you can personalise both). Whichever method you prefer, you’ll find booking your train driving day with us is fast, easy and painless.
Our steam engine driving days are suitable for anyone over the age of 18. The only physical requirement is the agility to be able to climb up into the cab via the ladder.
With regards to clothing, we strongly recommend some sturdy footwear, long sleeves and trousers and preferably something you don’t mind getting a little dirty as this very much a hands on experience!
Your friends and family are welcome to join you on your visit, although obvioulsy only guest drivers can actually be in the cab. If you bring someone along with you, they are most welcome to enjoy the surrounding attractions such as the Rolvenden loco yard.
During their visit to the heritage railway, they will have access to meals and refreshments if needed.
Relive the Glory Days of Rail!
Let the utter romance of yesteryear’s charismatic steam era capture your heart and imagination for an unforgettable day at the controls of a vintage locomotive. Commencing your experience at Rolvenden Station near Ashford in Kent, the scene will be set with a tasty breakfast bap and a cup or two of tea; after which the informative and important safety briefing will make sure your day is safe and enjoyable.
Time then for you to head to the platform. Your anticipation will not be disappointed as you cast your eyes upon your stunning vintage loco, waiting elegantly for your arrival – and she’s yours for the day!
Heading out from the station, our expert instructors will teach you how to ease this majestic beauty from a standstill into motion and then to gently pull her up to a dignified stop. All completed with the gorgeous Kent countryside as your perfect backdrop. Once you’ve mastered these maneuvers, it’s back to Rolvenden for a well earned lunch break.
Refreshed and refuelled, it’s back into the cab and time to introduce some serious technical driving skills as you ‘buffer up’ to a 20 ton brake van. Prior to the introduction of air brakes on carriages, brake vans (also known as guard’s vans) were commonplace and were fitted with handbrakes so that the driver could call upon the assistance of the guard to help with braking on steep sections of track along the route. All very exciting and an experience you won’t forget in a hurry!
With the buffering up complete, it will be time to meander back along the track, steam billowing up into the open skies and a feeling of real accomplishment keeping your wistful thoughts company as you head back to the station.
To complete your day you will be treated to a guided tour of the signal box and locomotive yard. You will also meet our wonderful volunteers and staff who work tirelessly to keep the golden age of steam alive!
Meet Our Locos!
Let us introduce you to No.14, Charwelton. Rolling off the Manning Wardle production line back in 1917 as works No. 1955, she has certainly earned her keep over the years! Originally purchased by the Parkgate Iron and Steel Company, she was delivered as a ’15” Special’, even though she is actually considered the last of the Manning Wardle’s Class O in existence.
No. 14’s name reflects her first place of abode – Charwelton in Northamptonshire. Working the ironstone quarry lines for over quarter of a century, she bore virtually sole responsibility for the transportation of the raw extractions from the quarries. This labour intensive lifestyle took its toll and by the outbreak of the Second World War, Charwelton was in need of some serious rest and recuperation.
It was in the early forties that Parkgate made the decision to transfer her across to their Lincolnshire quarry in Sproxton; there she was relieved of duties for two years so that she could undergo a major overhaul to ease and repair the wear and tear that the previous 25 years had taken.
Upon the closure of the Sproxton quarry in 1964 she made her move to her new home at the Kent & East Sussex Railway. It is here that she has spent the majority of the last 50 years of her life – save for some time away for refurbishments in private hands and a short stint with the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire.
April 1998 saw her flaunt her beauty with a short visit to the Baye de Somme Railway in the North of France before returning home to the matching beauty of the Kent countryside and it is here with us that you can enjoy the magic that is driving a classic steam train as the undulating scenery eases by.
Meet Bodiam, one of our two Terriers that we have at Rolvenden. She is one of only ten such surviving locos built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway. Only 50 of these AIX Class 0-6-T’s were manufactured over an eight year period between 1872 and 1880 and although they became known to the general public as ‘Terriers’ due to their tenacious work efforts, to the railwaymen of the day they were ‘Rooters’.
Bodiam was built as No. 70 Popular as a suburban train working the lines in the London area for best part of three decades from her service introduction on the 4th December 1872. Despite their reputation as hard workers, the Terriers were too small for the growing commuter capacity and the decision was made to scrap the model. Fortunately for Bodiam the company discovered that her class had great resale potential and she was instead sold to the Rother Valley Railway (which would later become our very own Kent & East Sussex Railway) in 1901 having served the public to the tune of 664,108 miles!
Now known as No.2 Bodiam and sporting a new blue livery and vacuum brakes she worked the Kent railways for 30 years. Following a period of uncertainty and neglect, Bodiam was given a new home with British Rail Southern Region and given the stock number of No. 32670 along with new black livery. She would go on to work out of Rolvenden before moving to St. Leonards and finally onto the Hayling Island Branch. In November 1963 No. 32670 was withdrawn from service and for a second time destined for scrap. By her good fortune she was saved again when she was purchased for use on the preserved Kent & East Sussex Railway.
Entering a period that saw her in and out of service until 1977 when she was relieved of her duties due to a wasted tube plate. She would spend the next six years on static display before undergoing long need repairs. After some extensive work she once again was back in service in her BR black livery and still carrying her old 32670 running number. With more health issues discovered in 1986 she found herself back out of service and once again in storage.
However, Bodiam’s story has a happy ending. Following a couple more change of hands she is now a fully time member of the K&ESR family and can be seen in her BR black livery charming guests on a regular basis.
The Norwegian, also known as No. 19 was built by the Swedish locomotive manufacturer Nydquist & Holm as works No. 1163 in Trollhattan, to the north of Gothenburg, way back in 1919 on behalf of the Norwegian State Railway. Only eight such examples were designated as Class 21c, which were derivatives of earlier 2-6-0 Moguls.
Awarded the running number 376 she and her sisters were destined for work on the Kongsvingar Line running just north of Oslo. It was on that line that she spent the majority of her working life, before being relocated to provide the power for snow ploughing the Grong and Nordland line, running through the striking landscape of central Norway. Fitted with a headlamp and an enclosed cab, she fitted her role perfectly in the cold conditions.
In 1974 No. 19 made her way to the warmer climes of Kent were she was in regular service. Three years later saw the start of multiple changes of hands before finding a home with the Norwegian Locomotive Trust (NLT) in 1984. Sadly between leaving the care of the Kent & East Sussex Railway and being taken in by the NLT her health had deteriorated badly to the extent that her tender had to be virtually rebuilt due to the condition it was in. Extensive restoration followed including the replacing of major boiler parts, all tubing and heating elements along with a new ashpan, smokebox and valve gear. Some 12 years later and her makeover was complete and a revitalised No. 19 was recommissioned amid great fanfare by His Excellency the Norwegian Ambassador who was the patron of the NLT. In honour of her work and story she was officially named ‘Norwegian’.
Now back in service in Kent, it is here that you can admire all 60 tons of her loco and tender glory as she graces the lines of the Kent & East Sussex Railway at a much more gentler pace of life.
The second of our Brighton Terriers, Knowle represents a lifetime of public service. A classmate of Bodiam, she was built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, emerging from their Brighton Works in July 1880. Given the works number No. 78, she sported Westinghouse air brakes rather than the wooden brake blocks used on earlier locomotives.
She would first earn her keep working the commuter lines of the London region but around fifteen years later she was on the move down the south coast to Portsmouth, from where she would work the Hayling Island and East Southsea branches.
At 27 years of age she was renumbered as No. 678 and that same year, 1907, she was modified to become a push-pull motor train, which allowed the drivers to control the loco from their position in a trailer carriage. By doing this it alleviated the need for locos to have to run around its carriages at the conclusion of each trip.
In 1912 she would find herself once again on the move, this time heading to Horsham for four years before progressing onto Littlehampton. Her continuing career included another stint in London before heading for the rural lines in Horsham.
No. 678 entered a dangerous patch in May 1936 when she was earmarked for scrapping; fortunately she was spared and instead given an overhaul and a new number! Twelve months later in May 1937, now as No. 2678 she would return to her old haunt on the Hayling Island line. In 1940 she was loaned to the Kent and East Sussex Railway to help with the shortage of loco power there. She would remain on at Rolvenden for 18 years.
In 1949, now renumbered as No. 32678 and sporting her very own British Rail black livery she would work the K& ESR lines in partnership with her sister Terrier No. 32655 – each taking responsibility of either end of a rake of carriages. Her working life would continue on, including stints at St. Leonards, Fratton and Newhaven. Her public service days came to an end on the 5th October 1963. She had given 1,411,436 miles to her duties.
Entering into her phase of private ownership she was sold to Butlins and was located to their Minehead holiday park where she was put on display. From there she found a home with the West Somerset Railway, before being bought by Resco (Railways) and moving back to Kent. One further owner interluded her being brought back into the K&ESR family, with whom she now resides. Having had extensive restoration and bestowed the more approachable name of Knowle, she now works the Kent and East Sussex lines to the delight of passengers and those lucky enough to get to drive her.