20 years of Hayling Light Railway Shows How Locals Can Really Connect the Community

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Islander train Hayling Light Railway, image by A.Howse
Islander train Hayling Light Railway, Hampshire, UK. image by A.Howse
Mengham cafe and beach huts, Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse
Mengham cafe and beach huts, Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse

Volunteer groups can really impact how vibrant and successful an area is and also how tempting a location is to national and international visitors. A good example of this phenomenon is the friendly team of likeminded locals that painstakingly built and updated the Hayling Light Railway. The smart, traditional light railway engine and its many carriages forms the “cherry on top of the cake” along Hayling Islands picturesque beachfront, which overlooks the Solent and across to the Isle of Wight.

Hayling Light Railway Trust is situated on the south coast of Hayling Island which is reached via the car bridge across Langstone harbour in the southern Hampshire, England. The Hayling Light Railway line consists of three stations; Beachlands, Mengham and Eastoke. The line runs ‘east, west’ along the seafront. (2)

Beachlands railway station postcode is PO11 0AG which is handy information for those traveling by motor vehicle. There is a £3.50 for the day car park which is also adjacent to a funfair, visitor information centre, café and accessible toilet facilities.

Mengham features a memorial to the C.O.P.P. or Combined Operations Pilotage Parties who were heroes of World War II. The C.O.P.P. were based on Hayling Island from 1943 under the leadership of Lord Mountbatten and members of this group carried out covert beach operations to assist the war effort prior to the Allied Landings. There are also refreshments available at Mengham and accessible toilets.

C.O.P.P. Memorial and windswept trees, Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse
C.O.P.P. Memorial and windswept trees, Hayling Island, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse

Eastoke is the location of the HLRT’s Eastoke Railway Souvenir and Gift Shop which is open during train running hours. The shop stocks a wide range of Thomas the Tank Engine, railway merchandise, toys, metal wall signs, jigsaws and other gifts. Eastoke has a play park for children with shops and cafes. There are accessible toilets.

Eastoke view from cafe, Hayling island Light Railway, image by A.Howse
Eastoke view from cafe, Hayling island Light Railway, image by A.Howse

Hayling Island is served by the Stagecoach 30 and 31 bus routes, both buses have stops by all the three stations along the Hayling Light railway route. The nearest main railway station is Havant which is near to the Havant bus station.

Until 1963 there was a railway line called ‘The Hayling Billy Line’ that was a branch that connected Hayling Island to the mainline Havant station which has regular train services to London, Brighton, Portsmouth and Weymouth.

‘The Islander’ as the Hayling Light railway is called is a nostalgic new version of old ‘Billy Line’ steam trains that would have served residents and tourists visiting the picturesque island from 1867 to 1963. Run entirely from volunteers this characteristic and rather splendid burgundy steam train replica runs on a track formed of hundreds of iron rails.

The trains operate Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year and daily through Hampshire school holidays. Ten trips carry enthusiastic tourists and locals along the route on specific times roughly every 50 minutes from 10am until 5pm. The fares are a reasonable £5 return for adults and £3 for children / concessions.

The first train departed Beachlands of Saturday 5th July 2003 and many of the original band of volunteers are still at the controls today. Over the past two decades the line has been developed including a new main shed location. There have been several ‘locos’ and the current ‘home fleet’ consists of blue ‘Alan B’, red ‘Jack’ yellow ‘Edwin’ and a rather smart green loco named ‘Alan Keef 11’.

Beachlands train shed, Hayling Island Light railway, image by A.Howse
Beachlands train shed, Hayling Island Light railway, image by A.Howse

In 1988 Bob Haddock opened his ‘East Hayling Light Railway’ within the popular Mill Rythe holiday village. In 2001 Bob Haddock moved the railway and opened the ‘East Hayling Light Railway’ along the seafront. When Bob retired the East Hayling Light Railway society purchased the railway and the renamed ‘Hayling Light Railway Trust’ has continued to be developed and celebrated by this local team of rail enthusiasts operating as a charity.

The famous Thorpe Park resort has kindly contributed to the success of the railway working with the dedication of the volunteers in the Hayling Light Railway Trust. “The first project of this newly established charity was to recover rails, sleepers and an old locomotive from Thorpe Park Resort. A member of the HLRT heard about Thorpe Park’s plans to build a new rollercoaster and remembered the railways of old that the theme park hosted.

Hayling Light Railway carriages and beachuts, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse
Hayling Light Railway carriages and beachuts, Hampshire, England. Image by A. Howse

Not only were all the track materials still on the site, but AK11 of the old Treasure Island Railway was still on site and free to us as long as we could recover it. After a few works parties, the volunteers had recovered 2000 feet of rail, 70 sleepers, clips and, of course, AK11.” explains the HLRT official website. (3)

On the 26th July 2023 the Hayling Light Railway Trust celebrated the long-anticipated arrival of the recently reconditioned Alan Keef 11 locomotive. “Spectators gazed in awe as the 0-4-0 diesel hydraulic loco was raised in the air before being placed onto the Hayling rails.” (3)

This 23 and 24th September a 20th Anniversary Gala will be held accompanied by the ‘Hayling hot rods’, visiting steam loco ‘Peter Pan’ and a model railway exhibition and trader stalls at the community centre. A free bus service will ferry customers between the buildings in the show.  (4)

Although the beach line railway was initially objected to by the council who were unable to find a way of reviving the original Hayling Billy Line, the Hayling Light Railway has proved to attract and delight visitors from all over the United Kingdom and beyond. The upcoming Gala event this weekend puts Hayling Island on the map for train fans.

This Autumn event is in addition to the existing festivals on the island that are ideal for water sports and kite surfing fanatics, which are the other exciting leisure activities for which the golden sandy beachfront is well-known.

Our next article is all about Light Railway visitor attractions to visit all over England this season.

(1)    Based in Portsmouth Hampshire, The News recently shared a wonderful photo of Horndean Light railway which was a tram car like system which transported passengers down Portsdown Hill to the town of Cosham, a few minutes’ drive north of Hayling Island.

‘Throwback photos of Portsdown Hill from over the years’ Steve Deeks, The News, Portsmouth, Hampshire, 23 June 2023 Portsdown Hill from over the years’ Steve Deeks, The News

(2) Hayling Light Railway Trust, official website, 20th September 2023

https://haylinglightrailway.wixsite.com/ehlr

(3) ‘The Hayling Light Railway Trust’ official website, 20th September 2023

‘The Hayling Light Railway Trust’ official website

(4) ‘The Hayling Light Railway Trust’ facebook page, 20th September 2023

https://www.facebook.com/haylingrailway