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Folkestone Harbour Railway Ltd

The Trains

Most people now think of the harbour branch as being the domain of large sleek express train engines but this is far from the truth.   Until the closure threat it was a branch that was operated by relatively small tank locomotives pulling and pushing the heaviest of express trains.

Although the business objective was to operate international passenger services the first trains were short freight transfers from the mainline to jetties on which traders' horse drawn wagons could transfer loads for local delivery.

1st August 1843 saw the first international services but at this time passengers were transferred between Folkestone Junction and Folkestone Harbour by road.

27 March 1844 and the stock return showed one Sharpe 2-2-2T locomotive handling these services.

1848 the Board of Trade passed the branch for passenger services.

1 January 1849 Folkestone Harbour station opened and for the first time passengers were able to walk the few yards between trains and ferries.   At this time three "Bury" 0-4-0T locomotives were in use.

1851 and five specially constructed locomotives were provided by Stephenson & Co with 0-4-0 wheel arrangement.   Known as “Bulldogs” they were later changed to 0-6-0.   All were scrapped between 1870 and 1876.

1876 provided deep water berths for ferries and boat trains ran to the pier platform. “Bulldogs” replaced by three K Class locomotives.   Some say that they were the last designs of Cudworth others that they were by Sir Edward Watkins’ son and they lasted until 1892.

1881 saw the SECR’s smallest ever locomotive – Manning-Wardle 0-4-0T was used at the harbour for freight shunting.

1892 was the year the James Stirling’s R Class 0-6-0T locomotives started work on the branch.

1893 the year that the Folkestone Harbour branch caught up with "health and safety" requirements.   In 1876 all passenger trains should have been fitted with vacuum braked passenger coaches but over the seventeen intervening years boat trains on the Harbour Branch continued to be worked with the special brake vehicles - until the Board of Trade issued an ultimatum.   The image above shows a train descending the gradient with two brake vehicles.

1899 previously competing companies for boat train business merged to form the South Eastern & Chatham Railway.   Very little changed to operations on the branch.

1904 produced a new shunting locomotive on the branch when an LB&SCR “Terrier” tank loco was acquired.   This stayed until 1925.

1910 produced the motive power that everyone associates with the Folkestone Harbour Branch.   The original R Class locomotives had been modified to R1 and started work that lasted nearly 50 years.

15 October 1914 the branch had its first involvement in WWI when 1,000 wounded troops arrived unexpectedly on a ferry and 900 of them were dispatched by trains to Ramsgate, Margate, Canterbury, Bromley and Bickley.

15 November 1914 saw all Dover continental services re-routed via Folkestone and this remained through the war.

1914 - 1918 saw the Folkestone Harbour Branch having to cope with an extraordinary amount of war-time traffic. John Charles Carlile’s book “Folkestone During The War 1914-1919” quotes 9,253,652 British officers and men as being processed together with 537,523 allied troops and 846,919 Red Cross and other workers.   102,641 tons of military and Red Cross freight was handled together with 383,098 tons of mail and parcels and 63,985 tons of Expeditionary Force Canteens.   Finally 402,968 tons of coal was handled to power the vessels using the port.

Approximately 7,000 trains were handled for the military and 8,500 trains were operated by South Eastern for its commercial service.   Throughout the war the railway kept operating its regular services as events in the Channel allowed.

April 1918 is a date that marks a unique use of railway locomotives when the "SS Onward" caught fire and was scuttled.   Five locomotives were used to help bring her upright.

3 February 1919 marked the return to normal boat train operation after WWI.

1 January 1923 saw the South Eastern & Chatham Railway become part of the Southern Railway.

1930 The SR tested the use of ‘’W’’ Class 2-6-4T and ‘’Z’’ Class 0-8-0T engines on the harbour branch.   Restricted clearances, however, put paid to their continued use and the R1 locomotives remained.

1940 Evacuation of Dunkerque and the Branch again played its part in the movement of troops when some of the British Expeditionary Force passed through the port during the evacuation from Dunkirk and Boulogne - 35,000 troops and 9,000 refugees departed on 64 special trains over 9 days between 27th May and 4th June.

27 October 1945 saw the restarting of boat train services.

1 January 1948 and the Folkestone Harbour Branch became part of British Railways Southern Region, working closely with its new Shipping and International Services Department.

1960 - 1962 marked the end for the R1 tank locomotives as Western Region "Pannier Tanks" were brought in whilst Phase 2 of the Kent Coast electrification was completed.

18 July 1962 saw the introduction of electric boat trains taking just 80 minutes between London Victoria and Folkestone Harbour, including the reversal at Folkestone Junction.

17 August 1968 Freight services to Folkestone Harbour ceased.

Summer 1978 was, apart from wartime, the busiest period for passenger trains when scheduled services from London via Folkestone departed at 09.00 (Boulogne, Paris), 10.30 (Calais, Paris), 11.00 (Boulogne, Roma, Rimini), 14.00 (Calais, Innsbruck, Ventimiglia, Milano), 19.00 (Calais, Basel, Interlaken), 21.44 (Oostende, Bruxelles, Köln).

1982 and boat train services became part of Network South East.

31 December 1991 saw termination of boat trains via Folkestone Harbour when Stena Line closed its service with Boulogne.

11 April 1992 and boat trains started again when Hoverspeed started fast ferry services to Boulogne.

1994 The opening of the Channel Tunnel and start of Eurostar services.

1996 services were involved in rail privatisation as Connex were awarded the franchise.

September 2000 saw Folkestone Harbour boat trains cease although the Venice Simplon Orient Express (VSOE) train still used the branch on Thursdays and Sundays during the summer.

13 November 2008 saw the final VSOE service use the branch.

Since the above date some charter services have run to Folkestone Harbour.

14 March 2009 The final charter service to date was operated.