The Alderney Railway opened in 1847 (22 years after the first commercial railway in the world) as the first nationalised railway in Britain, it was operated by the Admiralty and carried its first passengers in April 1854, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a horse drawn tender.
Its original purpose was to bring stone from the quarries for the construction of the breakwater. For the next 130 years the railway carried the stone for the necessary programme of continuous repair.
In the winter of 1911/1912 a train overshot the end of the breakwater, the crew were unharmed, the engine was recovered from the sea and repaired, Engines then carried lifebelts, word reached the Rev Wilbert Awdry, who incorporated the incident in one of his Thomas the Tank Engine stories.
In 1921 the line and quarry rights were leased to ‘Brookes Limited’ and crushed quarried stone was shipped ‘off Island’ for Road construction. This continued until the Islands evacuation in 1940.
During the Second World War no maintenance was carried out on the breakwater and a lot of track was replaced with German 60cm gauge track and was used for munitions transport, the original sent off for scrap.
After the war the Ministry of Defence re-laid the track at standard gauge (56½” – 1.435m) with concrete sleepers in panels and used ‘Molly’ a four wheeled Sentinel vertical boiler engine and rolling stock of 24 side tipping wagons (‘Yankees’) to tip Granite chippings into the sea from the Breakwater for maintenance of the mound.
In the mid 1970’s The British Home Office who were responsible for maintenance and operation, (there being only a minimal use of the track at this time), were approached to see if the line could be used for Passenger transport and after several years permission was obtained. Alderney Railway Society was established in 1978.
The Alderney Railway Society needed to be protected from liability when the trains started to run, so in 1979 the Society advisedly formed the Alderney Railway Company Ltd., to operate the line and to hold the Home Office lease and pay all insurances and running expenses.
On 5th March 1980 (Easter Saturday) the Alderney Railway Society opened the railway for regular passengers. ‘Shirley’ led the ex-British Railways Wickham now called ‘Cadenza’, backed up by ‘George’ which was packed with invited V.I.P.’s and some members of the society.