By Phil Marsh

Bluebell Railway planning to head west towards Haywards Heath in next decade

Published: 5th November 2015

£400,000 needed to fund Planning bill for Bluebell Railway’s next extension

The Bluebell Railway is working on raising £400,000 to finance a planning application and transport & Works Act Order for its projected Ardingly extension.

The Western Extension Project Steering Group, formed some time ago to prepare the way towards achieving revival of the Horsted Keynes to Ardingly line, has thus far principally concentrated on asset protection and estate-type issues along the route. With most of this work now completed and remaining negotiations with landowners likely to take some time before coming to a conclusion the group has reached the stage where little further significant work can be done to progress the Western Extension Project (WEP) without substantial funding.

A strategy paper presented to Bluebell trustees and directors earlier this year has been approved. This sets out the costs of obtaining planning permission followed by a Transport and Works Act Order, (TWO) both of which are required before any serious work on design and construction issues can commence. The aim is to secure these key permissions within the next two years.

Tunnel lease dictates the pace

Lywood Tunnel is crucial to the western extension project and the timescale for achieving it. Bluebell Railway took a 10-year lease on the tunnel in 2013 in order to project the trackbed, this action being undertaken before closure of British Railways Property Board Residuary and transfer of its assets (including the tunnel) to the Highways Agency – a transfer which could have reduced the chances of leasing the tunnel for future railway use.

Having kept the option open, the railway now has to obtain (or have made significant progress towards obtaining) both planning permission and a TWO before the lease expires. Otherwise, there is a risk the lease will not be renewed and the option to purchase lost.

TWO to take five years

The calculation is that planning permission and a TWO will take about five years to secure, both being significant pieces of legislation involving equally significant professional fees. With eight years left on the lease the timeline from now is essentially two years to raise the necessary cash followed by five years for the legal process, plus a one year contingency – taking the project up to 2023.

Although having opened its northern extension to East Grinstead in March 2013 Bluebell Railway’s prime focus was confirmed as dealing with a backlog of infrastructure works south of Kinsgcote, the aforementioned timescales explain why active work on the WEP is essential. A survey is also being undertaken to determine public interest and passenger demand for a western extension to Ardingly.

Bluebell’s next big challenge

Construction of the western extension will represent a financial challenge comparable to the Northern Extension Project (Kingscote to East Grinstead). Bluebell Railway owns (purchased in 1997) or leases the trackbed from Horsted Keynes to Ardingly. The line between Ardingly and Haywards Heath remains as part of the national network owned by Network Rail and used by freight trains operated by Hanson Aggregates. Because of this use the proposed new Bluebell route will be different from the old Ardingly branch at that end of the line, use of the existing station at Ardingly not being possible.

The big civil engineering challenge will be replacing the route where the Ardingly line originally passed over Sheriff Mill viaduct, just outside Horsted Keynes station, which was demolished in 1968 leaving just a short stub of the old branch into Horsted Keynes station. The planned solution envisages extended embankments and a bridge. Two bridge spans, which carried the Malvern to Ashchurch branch over the M50 until removal in March 2012, were secured by the Bluebell for this purpose, arriving at the line in October 2013 to be stored until required. Lywood tunnel would also require refurbishment works.

Return of the Bluebell based Camelot

BR Standard 5MT 4-6-0 No. 73082 Camelot (owned by the 73082 Camelot Locomotive Society) has returned to service. Withdrawn for overhaul in June 2005, the newly overhauled locomotive worked a loaded test run to East Grinstead on October 24 - the first time it has run to the Bluebell’s ‘new’ northern terminus.

Michael Portillo shoots Great British Railway Journeys episode

Broadcaster and former Cabinet Minister, Michael Portillo, visited the Bluebell Railway on October 1 to film an episode for the new series of Great British Railway Journeys. Having arrived at East Grinstead by national network train, he proceeded to the heritage line to meet staff and talk with customers. BRPS chairman, Roy Watts, was interviewed during the journey to Hosted Keynes aboard a service train. Portillo then rode on the footplate of Maunsell Q Class 0-6-0 No. 541 to Sheffield Park interviewing driver Liz Groome, with her father Clive Groom firing for the occasion. After chatting with passengers Portillo was filmed participating in a locomotive boiler washout. The episode is expected to air in January 2016.

Coal Tank to visit 2016 Branch Line event

LNWR 0-6-2 Coal Tank No. 1054, owned by The National Trust and in the care of the Bahamas Locomotive Society, will visit the Bluebell Railway early next year.

The 1888-built locomotive will run at the Bluebell over two weekends in March 2016, the visit encompassing the March 19-20 Branch Line event. The visit presents the opportunity for No. 1054 to be paired with the Bluebell’s 1913-built LNWR Observation Car.

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