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Steaming around Britain on vintage trains.

"We were introduced to the little engine which was to drag us along the rails. She (for they make these curious little firehorses all mares) consisted of a boiler, a stove, a small platform, a bench, and behind the bench a barrel containing enough water to prevent her being thirsty for 15 miles." Such was actress Fanny Kemble's impression, in August 1830, of one of England's first steam trains, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The British public has been train-spotting ever since. Thanks to the efforts of preservation societies, there are now 93 steam and scenic railway lines in Great Britain.

London is a convenient base for sampling the railway romance of earlier eras. Two museums are here, two luxury excursions on vintage trains begin here, and many period railways are within a few hours' drive; we found several in the close-in southeastern counties of Sussex and Kent. Two museums for a historical overview

The London Transport Museum, occupying the former flower market at Covent Garden, looks at the railways' effect on London itself. The story of the building of the Underground is illustrated by antique cars, full-scale models of a tunnel and the system's braking system, and huge photo murals. Reproductions of posters that advertised the Underground early inthis century are for sale in the reception area; bright colors, strog designs, and clever manipulations of the word "underground" make them first-rate poster art. Hours are 10 to 6 daily, and admission is about $2.75 for adults, $1.40 for children, students, and senior citizens.

The Science Museum, in South Kensington on Exhibition Road adjacent to the Victoria and Albert Museum, has a vast hall filled with steam and diesel locomotives, models, and exhibits describing the history of the steam engine. Hours are 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays, 2:30 to 6 Sundays; admission is free. Two luxury excursions into the past

The Kyle of Lochalsh. Named for the straits between western Scotland and the Isle of Skye, this luxurious 20-day journey in special Pullman coaches consists of a loop around Great Britain, with overnight or longer stops in York, Edinburgh, Inverness, Gleneagles, and the Lake District. A steam locomotive like the Kind George V (shown on page 56) pulls the train between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh. Departures are in May, June, July, and September; tour price of $3,699 from San Francisco or Los Angeles includes air fare, double-occupancy accommodations, and most meals. Write to Club Universe, Box 57929, 1671 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90057,or call (800) 252-0682 in California, 421-0231 elsewhere.

Venice Simplon Orient-Express. This glamorous line has a luncheon trip to or from Folkestone, part of a "Pullman Tour" day trip that also includes a guided tour of either Leeds or Hever Castle. Its beautifully restored Pullman coaches date from the 1910s and '20s and have features such as elaborate marquetry and terrazzo floors. On the Leeds Castle tour, you board at Victoria Station for the 1-1/2-hour journey to Folkstone; from here a bus takes you on to the castle, then back to London. Champagne, white linens, and flowers accompany lunch on the train. Cost of the day is $125 to $145 per person. Write Venice Simplon Orient-Express, 1 World Trade Center, Suite 2847, New York 10048, or call (800) 223-1588. Steam railways in Sussex and Kent

With good maps--from the British Tourist Authority, 612 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90017; (213) 623-8196--you can easily drive to several steam railways near London and along the way visit historic sites such as the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and Canterbury Cathedral. Prices for rides on the trains listed below are only a few dollars each way. Numbers correspond to ones on the map on page 56.

An excellent guide is Railways for Pleasure, The Complete Guide to Steam and Scenic Lines in Great Britain and Ireland, by Kenneth Westcott Jones (Lutterworth Press, London, 1980; $12.95).

1. The Bluebell Railway, Sheffield Park Station, near Uckfield, East Sussex. This 4-1/2-mile steam railway has engines from all over Britain, two built in the 1870s.

2. Volks Electric Railway, 285 Madeira Drive, Brighton. Started in 1883, this was Britain's first electric railway. It runs along the beach at Brighton, not far from the onion-domed pavilion built in 1815 for the Prince Regent, later King George IV.

3. Romney, Hythe and Dymchruch Railway, New Romney, Kent. An exceptionally delightful miniature-gauge line, this was built to run over the marshy land near the coast. The engines, which are replicas of big main-line locomotives, make you think you are traveling in Lilliput.

4. Kent and East Sussex Railway, Tenterden Town Station, Tenterden, Kent. Recently restored, this steam railway now offers a 4-mile ride. A grade makes the engine puff vigorously.

5. Sittingbourne and Kelmsley Light Railway, The Wall, Milton Regis, Sittingbourne, Kent. This narrow-gauge, 2-mile railway was once an industrial line.
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Date:Feb 1, 1984
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