The longest-operating public pier railway on the globe chugs along a thin wooden strip on the English coast. It shuffles tourists and locals alike across an estuary, adding a nostalgic 20th-century twist to their modern-day commutes.
Once driven by hand, the rickety carriages of this 2,100-foot-long pier railroad are currently pulled by two miniature electric locomotives, which began their relentless rattlings along the wooden boardwalk in 1922.
Though endearing, these dinky narrow-gauge trains have a dark side to their history. They were built for a World War I mustard gas factory in 1917, then moved to the Hythe Pier when the war ended.
The pier, the country’s seventh longest, opened in 1881. Unlike many pleasure piers beloved of the British seaside scene, it still has a very practical purpose as the embarkation point for a short ferry service to Southampton. It protrudes over the muddy estuary shallows into deeper waters, allowing the boat to berth in all tidal conditions.
The railway was added to the precarious Victorian structure in 1909 as a convenient way to transport passengers and luggage to the ferry without the need to trudge along the long, exposed, and windswept pier.
Today, the Hythe Pier Railway delights tourists with a ride above the gently lapping waves of the estuary while continuing to serve the numerous villagers who routinely use this quaint railway and ferry service as part of their daily commute to the city.
Know Before You Go
Trains leave the shore-side station every half an hour to coincide with the ferry. Train-only tickets are available for those wishing to enjoy the train ride without taking the ferry. From Southampton, the Hythe Ferry Terminal is adjacent to the Red Funnel Isle-of-Wight Ferry terminal, which is signposted throughout the city.