Published 17th September 2012
UK - The Bluebell Railway is on the final part of its journey to reconnect to the national network again, well over half a century after the line from East Grinstead to Lewes was closed.
The railway was an early pioneer in the preservation era operating well before main line steam ended in 1968. After closure, Imberhorne Cutting between East Grinstead and Kingscote was filled in with domestic refuse and everyone thought that the line would never be re-opened.
The volunteers had a different view and after four decades of perseverance, the link will see its first through train on March 28 next year, Maundy Thursday, run by GBRF, promoted by UK Railtours. On arrival at Horsted Keynes the leading loco, one of the GB Railfreight Class 66 locos that hauled some of the heavy rubbish trains, will be specially named to mark the completion of the mammoth task and the arrival of the first train from London for over half a century.
This has only been made possible by 524 lorry loads of spoil being removed weighing 10,386 tons in November and December 2008 plus 80,595 tons being taken out by 83 trains using1584 wagons between July 2010 and December 2011.
The clay not removed will be taken to Horsted Keynes and used to infill some land between the Sheffield Park and Ardingly tracks.
The costs to be met before trains can run are estimated to be £570,000 and this will provide the track, a new alignment with a 1 in 60 gradient and ducting for cables.
When the line was closed over half a century ago, East Grinstead became a terminus station 30 miles from London boasting basic facilities only. Fifteen years ago it was decided to include it with the Thameslink project providing direct links with many stations north of London.
Part of this scheme has seen a new station building built to open in a few months. But as the preserved railway has dug its way north, it needed to build its own station with a run-round loop. A Sainsbury development jeopardised this for several years as they had bought the land around the former trackbed.
Following pressure from many sides an accommodation was reached and the preserved railway has now built its new northern terminus, crucially with a direct link to the national network. The platforms and track are now complete but a booking office, canopy, station building including a buffet needs to be built when funds permit.
A visit by public transport involves planning at the moment either by bus or taxi from Haywards Heath or East Grinstead. The bus connection is variable and taxis expensive so a direct rail connection will revolutionise the preserved line.
They are promising connecting services at East Grinstead where passengers will have to walk the couple of hundred metres along a path linking the two stations.
The railway is offering a one-off chance to walk the route between Kingscote and East Grinstead on September 30. Walkers should get sponsorship for this and all funds raised will go towards the project’s completion.
The railway’s stations were built in 1882 by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway but today have been restored to depict different eras in railway history. Sheffield Park has been restored back to a Victorian station while Horsted Keynes reflects the 1920s Southern Railway era. Kingscote has been put into a 1950s British Railways style station.. Once East Grinstead opens, the modern but preserved station will complete the set!
Reflecting all the stations is the Sussex Branchline weekend on October 20 and 21 where they will recreate railway history from 1880 to the diesel days of the 60s. The line runs for about nine miles through the countryside.
The railway offers several dining options reflecting various railway eras from modern fish and chips to full Golden Arrow Pullman trains. The final fish and chip trains are on September 21 and 28 departing at 6.30pm from Sheffield Park for a 90 minute round trip of the line.
The Mid Hants Railway (MHR) arranges an annual sponsored walk along its 10 mile line between Alresford and Alton. The line is steeply graded and is the highest railway line in the south of England reaching over 600 feet at Medstead and Four Marks station.
The line was known as ‘going over The Alps by enginemen in steam days because of the challenging gradients, cuttings and curves. This year’s November 10 ‘Over The Alps’ track walk is the 23rd year it has taken place and walkers will be expected to raise money to go towards restoring the Railway’s Standard Four locomotive No. 75079.
There are also two easier walks on offer, ‘The Downhill’ covering the six miles from Medstead to Alresford or the ‘Family Stroll’ between Ropley and Alresford, which is downhill or level.
Sponsorship can be in the form of a donation or the more traditional format of cajoling others to pay up!