It is thirty years since Jim Haylock opened the popular Moors Valley Railway, the south's longest, fully signalled, narrow gauge seven-and-a-quarter steam railway, where the engines have the smallest gauge possible to enable drivers to sit in the cab, rather than astride the engine, adding to the real steam locomotive experience.

Jim's love of the steam engine started as a young boy when his grandparents' bungalow backed onto the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway in Kent. As a teenager, the carpet fitter turned steam railway owner did not want to mix business with pleasure by working with trains.

"I thought I don't want to do that, that would spoil my hobby", said Jim when he was interviewed by the Echo in 1995.

But after 20 years in the carpet and upholstery business Jim persuaded his partner to sell the shop in Croydon and set up a miniature railway at the Tucktonia miniature theme park in Christchurch, and in 1980 Jim moved down to run the railway.

His passion for seven-and-a-quarter gauge railways began when he joined the Malden and District Model Engineers Society and soon after purchased the Talos and Tinkerbell engines.

Five years later Jim decided to move the railway to a better location on the site of the 82-acre Kings Farm at Moors Valley, where East Dorset Council was creating a new country park.

Realising the huge potential for a fantastic railway he began developing the farm buildings and surroundings into the dream railway he had always wanted.

The old farm buildings became the main station, cattle stalls turned into a carriage shed, engine shed and shop, and the milking parlour was transformed into the engineering workshop. The building was faced in a traditional railway style, while a buffet, ticket office, waiting room and two signal boxes were added later.

The railway opened on July 26 1986, two years before the official opening of Moors Valley Country Park, with a single track to what was to become Lakeside Station and the first loop of the spiral around the children's play area.

The bottom part of the spiral was opened in 1988 and Lakeside Station opened the following year. Double track was added between Lakeside and Kings Junction in 1995 and in the winter of that year Lakeside platform was rebuilt so that all trains could stop at Lakeside, giving passengers a choice of return or single journeys.

The carriage shed was extended in 2007 to provide secure storage for the growing fleet of rolling stock and creating an extra siding, a line bypassing the station and associated signals.

The Moors Valley Railway has been very much a family affair. Mary Culver, Jim's partner of 29 years has been involved in the railway from the beginning when she 'got stuck in to track laying, painting or any other dirty job that needed doing at the time'.

Jim's nephew Tim Woron first drove a steam engine when he was three years old. He would travel down to Moors Valley on holidays and worked on the railway during the summer from the age of 15. In 2002 he moved to Dorset to join the family business and has built three engines for private customers in addition to rebuilding and overhauling the fleet when necessary. He is the driving force of the railway today.

"Over the last 30 years we have carried over 100,000 passengers per year through the beautiful Moors Valley Country Park, totalling three million passengers. Our success has been due to the vision of my uncle whose passion for narrow gauge steam engines has enthused hundreds of people over the years to get involved with railways", said Tim Woron, director of Moors Valley Railway.

His partner Lisa Flay, first came to the railway in 1995 with her father who was a volunteer driver and returned to work at Moors Valley in 2006. Their son Harry is hopefully the future of the railway.

Over 60 people are involved in running Moors Valley Railway, including many volunteers. Neil Henderson is the longest serving volunteer. Having started at the age of 13 he moved with the railway from Tucktonia to Moors Valley. The oldest volunteer is Ken Clay who is 91, and the oldest guard in the country.

Since the railway's first engine, 'Tinkerbell', built in 1968, the fleet has grown into a collection of 21 locomotives and much of what can be seen in and around the railway has been constructed on site, in the workshops. Today the team is busy maintaining the fleet of locomotives and rolling stock and taking commissioned projects for other railways, private and commercial, across the country.

A busy tourist attraction, Moors Valley Railway with its nostalgic and enthusiastic approach, is also a founder member of Britain's Great Little Railways.