AFTER years of uncertainty, volunteers are confident the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway (SKLR) will reopen in a matter of weeks, in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Since former paper mill owner M-Real announced in 2006 that it was selling the land, the SKLR's future has been under threat.
However, as the Gazette revealed in June, new owner Essential Land saved the day by agreeing to allow the preserved railway to run pleasure trips for passengers.
Railway press officer Paul Best said: "It is likely that we will be able to open at the October half term, which is going to be brilliant.
"It's the 40th anniversary of public trains being run on this line, so it was pretty important to get it open this year."
Railway volunteers and members of the public spent the bank holiday weekend painting, weeding and readying the trackside and stations for the first trains since the Boxing Day run in 2008.
October's four-day stint, assuming it goes ahead, will run between Kemsley Down Station and the Milton Regis Halt, next to Asda's car park in Mill Way. A damaged viaduct means the Sittingbourne station will be out of action until next year.
Mr Best has high hopes that, after £20,000-worth of repairs are carried out during the winter, trains will be serving all three stations again next year.
He added: "Next April we will hopefully reopen the whole line and everything will return to normal."
Fans of the SKLR's Santa Special will have to wait a bit longer, as Sittingbourne Viaduct station is the only one large enough to accommodate the popular Christmas service.
Mr Best and the SKLR volunteers wished to extend a massive thank-you to superstore Asda, which is not only allowing visitors to the railway to use its car park, but has also donated £15,000 towards the rebuilding of Milton Regis station, which had been vandalised.
The railway, now more than 100 years old, was originally used to transport paper, and the raw materials needed to make it, between Sittingbourne's mill buildings.
In 1969, when former owner Bowater decided it would be easier to transport goods by road, the railway was handed to a group of volunteers. It later became the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway, and passenger trips have run on the preserved line since.
Anyone who wishes to help prepare the railway for its reopening by painting, weeding or offering any other skills should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for details of the next volunteers' day. For information about the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway and updates on its progress, visit www.sklr.net