The Scenic Railway

The Scenic Railway is a wooden double out-and-back scenic railway located at the site of the former Dreamland Amusement Park, Margate, UK. It was built at the park in 1919/1920 and opened in March 1920. The ride is now almost unique, as a brakeman is still required to travel with the train to control its speed, as there are no brakes on the track. It is the oldest roller coaster in the UK and one of only eight scenic railways in the world. It is also the only roller coaster to receive listed status; being Grade II* listed in 2002. It currently stands without operating due to a fire which destroyed approximately 25% of the ride in April 2008.

The Ride

The ride consists of a wooden-tracked railway with steel rails supported by a wooden structure. The ride occupies a space approximately 580 ft long (180 m) and 120 ft wide (37 m). The track is in a trough, and as such is often incorrectly referred to as a side-friction coaster. The train actually makes no contact with the trough walls; their presence simply to provide some lateral protection from derailment as the running wheels are flanged like those of railway vehicles. The layout of the track consists of a double-loop with two cable lift-hill sections. The drops off both of the lift hills are double-drops.

The trains of the ride were destroyed in the fire; but consisted of three cars mounted on bogies. The bodies and much of the chassis of the cars were wooden; and 28 riders could travel on each train. The brakeman rode between the first and second cars on the bogie and operated the brakes by a large lever.


In 1919, John Henry Iles bought the European usage rights to the scenic railway from LaMarcus Adna Thompson, who had patented the scenic railway design in 1884. Iles was a co-owner of Dreamland and had the Scenic Railway constructed at Dreamland from local timber and had mechanical parts for the ride shipped over from the US. The ride drew on ideas from several other designers, but was constructed by local carpenters within the area specified by Iles.

Fire destroyed part of the ride in 1949 and the structure required major repairs. Replacement timber for the ride was bought from the dismantled pier at Lowestoft and the ride re-opened in 1950. Fire again destroyed parts of the ride in 1957.

Some of the Margate trains were sold to Battersea fun fair in the 1960s where they were used on the Scenic Railway there (called the 'Big Dipper' at that site). It was one of the ex-Margate trains that was involved in the Battersea Big Dipper disaster of 1972 when 5 children were killed and several injured. It was during the aftermath of this accident that most of the wooden roller coasters in Britain’s amusement parks were removed; as irrespective of the actual standards of safety on the rides public confidence had been dented.

The Scenic Railway was successfully granted Grade II listed status in 2002, making it the first roller coaster to ever be given any form of protection against demolition. It continued operating until 2005 after Dreamland closed to the public in 2003; and on 7 April 2008 it was the target of an arson attack.


The Scenic Railway forms the focus of the rejuvenation of Dreamland as an amusement park of historic rides as overseen by the Dreamland Trust. This will see the Scenic Railway repaired and restored and new trains built or acquired. On 16 November 2009, the Dreamland Trust was awarded a grant by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport to restore the Scenic Railway and to develop the former Dreamland site as necessary for rejuvenation.


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