Oldest roller coaster in the country rides again

Dreamland Margate’s Scenic Railway reopened this morning to the press after a devastating fire tore apart its structure in 2008.

The iconic wooden roller coaster originally opened in 1920, carrying over one million passengers in its first year of operation.

Known to residents of Margate as “the heart of Dreamland”, the ride was severely damaged during a major arson attack in April 2008.

Despite the damage, the Grade II* listed structure was painstakingly restored by talented craftsmen, made possible by National Lottery players, as well as a grant of almost £36 million by the Heritage Lottery fund.

After restoration setbacks meant the ride would not debut alongside the rest of the renovated park in the summer, the roller coaster was able to take the press and annual pass holders on a voyage down memory lane earlier this morning.

Painstaking: The detailed carriage climbs the first lift hill.
Painstaking detail: The restored carriage climbs the first lift hill.

Dreamland CEO, Eddie Kemsley, commented: “We are absolutely thrilled to be announcing the launch of the Scenic Railway. The opening of the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster is another fantastic reason for people to come to Margate to visit Dreamland”.

“This historic milestone comes after the enormous success of the opening of the park, which contributed to a 55% increase in hotel stays in Margate, and is expected to do so year on year. We want to thank everyone for their patience and support of Dreamland, especially our supportive members”.

Standing proud: Dreamland’s Head of Technical, Andrew Gall standing in front of his restoration achievement.

Over 320 tonnes of timber and 100,000 screws had to come together to form the new mile-long track that the three upcycled carriages run upon. The ride is ran using the traditional methods, featuring the original haulage wheel that powers the lift hills chains, as well as using an on-board brake man to apply braking to the carriages.

However in order to accommodate modern health and safety standards, additional methods had to be implemented. Dreamland’s Head of Technical, Andrew Gall commented: “We have done our best to ensure the ride remains as true to its former self as possible during the restoration”.

“By adding the additional trellis around the carriages, we’re ensuring the brand new generation of Scenic Railway riders are as safe as possible, whilst still able to enjoy the ride as guests would have done when it first opened. We were also advised to install several trim brake mechanisms around the track to assist the brake man, however these will be used only on the very rare occasion to achieve the true feeling that of riding this iconic roller coaster”.

Andrew went on to say: “For me, this is one of the greatest achievements in my life. Being a part of restoring not only one of Margate’s crown jewels, but a national treasure, is a privilege. Overcoming the challenge of transforming this site from housing estate potential, and returning it to a former glory is magical”.

On track to a successful relaunch: A pair of seagulls perch themselves atop the Scenic Railway’s structure

Work began on restoring the ride in September 2014, with the ride’s track structure fully completed in time for the park’s grand reopening in June. The restoration process alongside the entire Dreamland redevelopment saw the project’s budget soar from £10 million to £15 million. Despite this however, the local Thanet District Council remain happy with the results.

Larissa Reed, Director of Community Services for the council told Airgates: “We’re delighted that the Scenic Railway is open for the public to ride once again”.

“Breathing new life into Britain’s oldest surviving roller coaster has been an immense challenge, but the time, dedication and attention to detail taken by our contractors to replicate an authentic heritage experience has been worth the wait”.

“I’m sure the sights and sounds of the iconic Scenic Railway will evoke many happy memories from the community who have been so passionate and patient with this journey”.

GALLERY: Then and now. The Scenic Railway across the years:

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