The Hayling Seaside Railway, with its narrow gauge rails and small locomotives, creates a sense of childish delight as it heads along the island’s seafront, ferrying visitors of all ages from the Beachlands Funfair to Eastoke Corner.
It seems the old fashioned charm of a railway trip has lost none of its appeal.
For Bob Haddock (pictured right), railway operator at Hayling Seaside Railway, the excitement over all things locomotive began at a young age.
‘I’ve always been interested in trains, and my father used to love them too,’ says Bob.
‘We didn’t just enjoy the numbers but the beauty of them – a big loco always looks great.’
Bob even managed to ride on the old Hayling Billy on the last day of its operation and became part of a group which tried to restore the old trainline during the 1980s.
Sadly the dream of having a full-sized railway on the island again was not realised. But instead Bob set about constructing a narrow gauge railway in 1988.
He explains: ‘If there’s a problem I like to fix it, or if there’s an opportunity I take it. So three of us decided to try to build a narrow gauge railway.
‘I bought my first locomotive in 1988 for £25,000. It was a big investment – I could have bought a house for that money back then and I still had to buy the rails!
‘We started that year at Mill Rythe Holiday Village and the train ran for one mile and back. Then in 2003 we moved to the seafront – it’s much better here.
‘The railway is a decent attraction for Hayling. Since we have been on the seafront we must have carried a quarter-of-a-million people because we take around 25,000 people a year and have been running for 10 years.’
Bob and his team’s proactive attitude also led to them building many of the carriages and engines that run on the Seaside Railway.
He says: ‘We built the carriages ourselves. We bought the undercarriages from Alton Towers and most of the wood is recycled. We get wood from all sorts of places. Some of it is part of old mast boxes from Opal Marine and one of the windows is from an old telephone box!
‘There’s a coach called Marilyn, which is my wife’s name – got myself some Brownie points there! Mavis is named after my mother-in-law and Michelle is my wife’s sister. We call them the M – Class, that’s M for magnificent – I think I got away with that one!
‘It’s challenging building a locomotive, it can take about six months, but it’s great fun.
‘We’ve got three locomotives, Edwin, which is named after my son, Alan B, named after one of our volunteers, and Jack, which was my father’s name. He died when I was about 15.
‘The first day that locomotive worked was the eighth of the eighth, 1988. That’s the birthday of Princess Beatrice, so we were going to name it after her but then I found out how much it cost to make a plate and I remembered it was my dad’s birthday too.
‘I told my mum that I’d named the train after dad and she said “Why did you call it Jack? His birthday was the sixth!” At least the thought was there!’
The Seaside Railway relies completely on volunteers and Bob is always happy to welcome new members who share his passion.
‘We’ve got a great group of volunteers here – we couldn’t run the railway without them. Some come three or four days a week and we try to give everyone a go at everything.
‘We also have some youngsters who come on the weekends. It gives them a chance to get some practical, hands-on skills.
‘We are always looking for volunteers. All it takes is enthusiasm, and we will help you get the skills. You can’t make someone enthusiastic but you can teach them skills.’
The railway has helped to support numerous charities over the years such as Help for Heroes, the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and the RNLI, by donating daily takings from charity events. However the volunteer-run attraction does not receive donations itself.
Bob says: ‘The railway runs itself and I hope it will continue to give lots of people pleasure even after I’m gone.
‘There are plenty of people who are passionate and will continue the work,’
WHERE: Beachlands Station, Beachlands, Hayling Island, PO11 0AG.
WHEN: Weekends, market day Wednesdays, bank holidays and daily during school holidays (except Christmas Day) and daily between the end of June and the middle of September.
CALL: 07775 696912
ADMISSION: Adult: £3.50 return, £2 single. Child/OAP: £2 return, £1.50 single. Family Return: £7.