Business Profile: The Bluebell Railway
On August 7th, 1960, the first train ran on the newly refurbished Bluebell Railway. It was the culmination of three years of hard work and dedication (not to mention a little blood, sweat and tears) from the volunteers who had taken on the task of restoring part of the Lewes to East Grinstead line of the former London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
Although other railway lines have been restored in the past, and although other steam trains across the UK take visitors back and forth on short, historic journeys, the Bluebell Railway is different and that’s because it was the UK’s very first preserved, standard gauge railway. A labour of love it may have been, but volunteers back then knew that the public would be keen to experience steam trains from the past and, rightly, they persevered.
The difficulty then, they thought, would be in persuading the public to spend money on a train journey that, to all intents and purposes, had no reason behind it other than pleasure when they could make a similar train journey with a purpose elsewhere – don’t forget that it wasn’t until 1968 that the last steam passenger train ran on a commercial line. None of this seemed to matter, however; the excitement and passion of the volunteers ignited the same feelings in the visitors who were as fascinated to see the steam locomotives, coaches, signalling systems and stations up close for the very first time.
Today, visitors still flock to the Bluebell Railway in their thousands each year hoping to get a feeling of what steam train travel must have been like. Since it first opened in 1960, the Bluebell Railway has become one of Sussex’s best loved and most visited attractions, not least because of the wonderful events that take place each year.
The events at the Bluebell Railway are always well attended (booking in advance is advised), and they make for a great day out whether you are a lover of steam engines or not. Memorable excursion days include the ‘steam and cream’ train, during which guests can enjoy a cream tea while travelling through the gorgeous Sussex countryside crossing from East Sussex into West Sussex and back again. Another of the most popular Bluebell Railway events is the famous ‘fish and chip supper’ train. These depart from Sheffield Park Station and guests experience a one-hour-and-40-minute return journey to East Grinstead as they tuck into a traditional fish and chip supper including an indulgent dessert.
The three-day ‘Giants of Steam’ event, which this month runs from Friday 28th to Sunday 30th, is a hugely fun day out for the whole family and, besides the wonderful Father Christmas meet and greets that run throughout December, is probably the main event in the Bluebell Railway’s full calendar. The weekend includes an intensive train service across all three days and you’ll certainly be able to travel in style, whether you choose the steam trains, the vintage bus that will be available, or a combination of both.
During the ‘Giants of Steam’ event you will be able to visit the railway’s museums and locomotive sheds; see inside the Atlantic House – an area usually closed to the public; and examine age-old locomotives in the midst of refurbishment.
As for the railway’s future, there are many exciting plans in the pipeline including the presentation of West Hoathly station in the style of the 1940s; Kingscote, the 1950s; and East Grinstead, the swinging 1960s. Visitors will truly feel as though they are traveling through time! In the long term, the extension of the Bluebell Railway route southwards towards Lewes, taking in Newick, Chailey and Barcombe, is under consideration too.
The Bluebell Railway
Sheffield Park Station