WORK has started on a £500,000 project to upgrade the track that forms part of the world's oldest pier railway.

Hythe Pier Heritage Association (HPHA) has embarked on a project to replace the narrow gauge line that runs the length of the Grade II-listed structure.

The track is used by the narrow gauge electric train that has been taking passengers to and from the Hythe-Southampton ferry for a hundred years.

A temporary platform has been built 43 metres from the ticket office to enable work to begin.

Daily Echo: The train that operates on the pier. Picture: Hythe Pier Heritage Association.The train that operates on the pier. Picture: Hythe Pier Heritage Association.

A HPHA spokesperson said: "A comprehensive survey and redesign of the existing points area has already been carried out, allowing procurement and fabrication of the new rails and the replacement timber for a new support system to get underway.

"The existing track, conductor rail and points will be lifted along with the existing timber supports.

"Once the replacement supports are in place, the installation of new track and points will follow. Work will conclude with the renovation/replacement of the present station platform before the commissioning of the new system and points.

"This work is essential to preserve and extend the life of the train, which first ran along the pier in July 1922."

HPHA has already restored one of the two locomotives, which began life at a munitions factory during the First World War, and one of the carriages that were built for the railway.

A second carriage is also being restored by HPHA with the help of volunteers from the Hythe Shed (at the Pier).

Daily Echo: One of the carriages has already been restored Picture: Nigel Plasted.One of the carriages has already been restored Picture: Nigel Plasted.

Funding has been provided by Hampshire County Council, Beaulieu Beaufort Foundation, Beaverbrook Foundation, Dibden Allotment Fund and the New Forest Park Authority. A major fundraising event, Rock the Pier, will take place on July 23.

The 700-yard pier was officially opened on January 1 1881.

A Historic England spokesperson said: "The pierhead buildings have good architectural detailing, and the pier’s well-surviving steel and cast-iron substructure, slender columns and cross bracing make it a strong example of a late 19th-century pier with a touch of elegance.

"The railway is believed to be the oldest continuously operating public pier train in the world."

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