The little railway on track for a big extension in 1988

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There’s something special about the Bluebell Railway.

It’s like stepping back in time to what is often perceived as a gentler age.

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Or, if you are under the age of 10, it’s like stepping into the world of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

Either is good!

These pictures were published in the Mid Sussex Times in 1988 and show the building of the railway’s £2million extension north to East Grinstead.

The report detailed the visit of then transport minister Paul Channon to inspect the work.

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It read: “History turned full circle as a vintage steam train hauled Mr Channon to the spot near Leamland Bridge, Horsted Keynes, where he ceremonially laid the first length of track.

“For the irony is that it was Mr Channon’s predecessor three decades ago, who sanctioned the closure of the Bluebell Line. It was a twist of fate not lost on the hundreds of enthusiasts who lined the railway cutting.”

Mr Channon screwed a ‘gold’ bolt into place and even got to explore the gigantic 1943 Ransomes and Rapier steam crane which was on site.

The report stated British Rail had reserved a platform at East Grinstead station for the steam trains to use and predicted it would be 2000 before the first locomotives puffed back into town.

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It took a lot longer than that.

British Rail donated Imberhorne Viaduct to the Bluebell Railway Society in 1992, but it took until 2003 for the society to buy all the pieces of track bed – many of which were by then in private hands.

There was also the small matter of having to raise another £1,250,000 to fund the work.

Life has never been particularly easy for the team behind the railway.

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Describing its early history, an article on www.bluebell-railway.co.uk stated: “The original intention of the founders of the Bluebell Railway – then known as The Lewes & East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society – back in the spring of 1959 was to re-open the line in its entirety from East Grinstead through to Lewes and to run a commercial service using an ex-GWR ‘Flying Banana’ diesel railcar, to be augmented with a two-car DMU when funds permitted.

“These plans soon fell through however when they a) failed to acquire the whole line and b) not surprisingly found no enthusiasm for the idea amongst the local population.

“So, the idea to re-open the Sheffield Park to Horsted Keynes section as a steam ‘museum’ railway was proposed and adopted.”

The museum’s first train, locomotive BR number 32655, was formerly designated LBSCR number 55, Stepney – an identity she was to regain once more under Bluebell ownership.

She arrived under her own steam on May 17 1960, travelling via Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes and onto Bluebell metals to Sheffield Park.

After 50 years in isolation, the railway gained a link to the national rail network when it started running to East Grinstead on March 23 2013.

The Bluebell Railway, is based at Sheffield Park Station, East Sussex TN22 3QL. For general enquiries call 01825 720800 or email

info@bluebell-railway.co.uk .

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