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March 2021

The UK experienced an unusually wide range of weather in February. Freezing cold, unseasonably warm and very wet – though not all at the same time! Spare a thought for the railway’s track team. They have been out in all weathers, carrying out maintenance and improvement ready for the new running season. Access and the smaller physical size of our infrastructure mean that we still rely heavily on manual methods, as you can see from these photos of recent work.

In line with our ambition to keep improving the railway we are seeking a university engineering student to join us this summer for a year’s placement. They will work closely with the Head of Engineering, helping to put together the track maintenance and renewal plan for the coming winter. It will be a great partnership. The student will gain skills and be involved in making a real, visible contribution. We will gain from their enthusiasm and willingness to learn and to challenge.

Our retail facilities have undergone big changes as we prepare for another season in which Covid will play a role. We have been able to reflect on what went well during 2020 and adjust our offer to take that on board. Although the government is hoping to remove all restrictions in June, we recognise that some of our customers may still have concerns. Our catering will have a stronger focus on ‘grab and go’ products, enabling visitors to take their purchases to outdoor seating areas if they prefer.

Operationally, we are anticipating a start in April along with other outdoor attractions. That means March is a month of preparation. Our successful start-up from the 2020 lockdown gives us confidence in our plans. We are expecting to launch with a full timetable because schools in Kent are still on holiday if we can run from April 12th, as currently anticipated. It will be so good to be able to welcome customers back. It has felt very strange, the railway lacking its usual buzz. However, the leisure and tourism industry is expecting high demand this year, though capacity will be constrained, quite rightly, by continuing Covid precautions. Many people are just itching to get out again and we are looking forward to welcoming them.

David Packer Chair of the RH&DR Board www.rhdr.org.uk

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