The Bluebell Railway, a steam powered heritage line that has, until now, run for nine miles along the border of East and West Sussex in England, has extended its line to join the national rail network.
The extension of service marks the first time in 55 years that the steam trains can operate as far as the town of East Grinstead in West Sussex, with the Grinstead Belle locomotive making the inaugural journey yesterday. The line between Sheffield Park, the locomotive’s previous terminus, and East Grinstead was closed in 1958, but the culmination of an £11 million project that saw the two miles of connecting track completed just last month, has realised a dream for the many volunteers involved in the work. The Grinstead Belle, an E4 Class locomotive, arrived at its destination with a retinue of carriages that were first in service in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Roger Kelly, the Bluebell Railway’s fund-raising director, was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘I have a feeling of elation and emotion, partly because lots of people who should have been here aren’t here. We are so grateful to all the people who helped with the fund-raising. Without all the donations that they made, today simply wouldn’t have been made possible.’
The locomotive was cheered on by hundreds of steam fans and well-wishers, while a brass band serenaded the trains first group of passengers, who were served a celebratory champagne breakfast on board. The next fortnight will be given over to a festival in celebration of the project, which began as far back as 1974.