VOLUNTEERS have embarked on a £222,000 project to restore a historic train that has been operating on a Hampshire pier for almost 100 years.

Hythe Pier Heritage Association has launched the ambitious scheme by starting to refurbish one of the wooden carriages that has been trundling along the jetty since 1922.

A consignment of hardwood has already arrived and will be used to repair the ravages of time.

The train takes passengers to and from the Hythe-Southampton passenger ferry, which moors at the end of the pier. It is the oldest electric train in the world and is described as a "national treasure" by its supporters.

The carriage being repaired is one of a pair that arrived a few weeks before the railway opened.

They were originally pulled along the pier by three tractor units that had been bought from the War Office by the General Estates Company, which owned the ferry and the pier.

The units, one of which was eventually cannabalised for spares, had previously been used at Avonmouth Mustard Gas Factory.

Hythe Pier Heritage Association is planning to restore both the pier and the railway. Work on the train is being carried out with the help of Hythe Shed using copies of the original drawings and, where possible, any original timber and fittings.

Hythe Shed was launched in January and now has 65 members with a wide variety of skills.

Founder Allan Fairhead said: “Our prime objective is to assist with the restoration of the historic pier train but we are also a community hub for other activities."

Once the first carriage has been restored it will return to the track, at which point another carriage will be withdrawn from service for similar repairs.

Alan Titheridge has written a book about the ferry and has just finished another about the railway.

He said: "Hythe Pier Railway is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the world’s oldest working pier train but at present it's in need of some TLC.

"Hythe Pier Heritage Association aims to return the train to its former glory. The pier railway is a jewel, not just in this community but in the much wider field. It's a national treasure."

The train was used to convey King George V1 when he visited the Southampton area shortly before the D-Day landings in 1944.