Bluebell Railway reopens on its 60th birthday

Bluebell Railway - photo by Peter Edwards

Bluebell Railway - photo by Peter Edwards - Credit: Archant

Beloved Sussex attraction the Bluebell Railway will celebrate its 60th birthday on 7 August, with a re-opening ceremony marking the end of months of closure because of the coronavirus lockdown

The day began with a short blessing of the engine from the railway chaplain before the steam engine – the Pioneer – is on its way, marking exactly 60 years of steam on this heritage line.

Last year in an interview with Sussex Life, volunteer Charles Hudson MBE recalled the very first meeting of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society in 1959– where he became the proud owner of membership card 0001.

“Initially they were planning to preserve Lewes to East Grinstead, which of course, looking back now, was a bit of wishful thinking,” says Charles.

After the first meeting, the plan was quickly adjusted to reopen the line between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead – Sheffield Park was chosen because of the availability of water from the River Ouse to service the locomotives.

The Bluebell Railway – which was one of the first preserved heritage railway lines in the country – commenced train services in August 1960. The railway now runs trains across 11 miles between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead, with around 30 engines dating from the 1880s to the 1960s.

This spring supporters helped the railway exceed its fundraising target of £300,000 to cover costs and expenses which continued during the lockdown and to fund the necessary spending to reopen.

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After initially asking members and supporters to donate fundraisers, it then broadened the appeal to include public contributions.

The railway’s fundraising organiser Trevor Swainson said: “A thousand thanks – in fact, three-hundred thousand thanks – to everyone who has contributed to the appeal and helped the Bluebell Railway to survive. The money will be used to keep key heritage skills in Sussex and ensure we can reopen when it is safe to do so.”

The appeal eventually raised £350,000.

To book tickets on the Bluebell Railway this summer, visit the website and read more about this volunteer-run heritage line in the September issue of Sussex Life.

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