Bluebell Railway set to reopen with events planned for 60th anniversary

The Bluebell Railway has set Thursday, May 20 as the day when it hopes to resume public services and welcome visitors back to enjoy the spectacle of steam-hauled trains.

Friday, 9th April 2021, 5:52 pm
The Bluebell Railway is planning to reopen next month. Picture: Mike Hopps

The provisional reopening date for the railway, based at Sheffield Park, is in line with the government’s roadmap for easing the lockdown restrictions.

Graham Flight, interim chairman of Bluebell Railway, said: “We have studied the government documents and believe we can open safely towards the end of May.

“We look forward to seeing families, train enthusiasts and groups of visitors back at the Bluebell.”

The railway has been awarded government grants. Picture: Peter Edwards

The railway is working on a timetable of regular trains and special dining services after it reopens.

Some Covid-19 measures will remain in place and initially all trains will have pre-booked compartments until there is a further easing of the rules on gatherings of people.

Government grant

The Bluebell Railway has been awarded a grant from the government to help it move towards reopening.

The total sum awarded to the not-for-profit heritage line in the second round of grants from the Culture Recovery Fund, announced on Friday, is £272,400.

The Culture Recovery Fund is part of the government rescue package ‘to safeguard cultural and heritage organisations across England from the economic impact of Covid-19’.

Paul Bromley, Bluebell Railway communications director, said: ”This money has enabled the railway to pay the salaries of its skilled heritage staff including those working in the locomotive workshops at Sheffield Park and the carriage and wagon workshop at Horsted Keynes.

“This has meant the staff have been able to continue to work in a Covid-safe way.

“Over the winter, the staff – with the help of a few volunteers – have been able to carry out the overhaul of the boiler of one the Bluebell’s main steam locomotives as well as varnishing and painting the interior of a Pullman car used for luxury dining.

“In addition, a section of track near Horsted Keynes station had been re-laid for a smoother ride and repair work has been undertaken to one of the bridges over the line.

Round two of the grants was designed ‘to support organisations to make the transition to full reopening’.

Vernon Blackburn, chairman of the Bluebell Railway Trust which is its charitable arm, and strategic adviser to board, said: “We are grateful to the Culture Recovery Fund for approving our round two application in full.

“The money will help us ensure we have the people and resources to reopen.”

It will pay for some of the railway’s costs, including salaries of skilled heritage staff like those working in the locomotive and carriage & wagon workshops.

Mr Flight said: “It is fantastic news that we have received this money from the Culture Recovery Fund which will mean we can continue to provide our customers with the high level of service for which the Bluebell is renowned.

“We can’t wait to welcome passengers back to the line.”

The heritage line was also given £727,200 by the culture recovery fund for heritage last autumn to help it survive over the winter.

Some of the money has been used on virtual tours which have helped the railway to maintain its online presence during closure.

Mr Bromley said: “Two tours have now gone live on the Bluebell Railway’s website and more are in the pipeline.

“The first tour showed people around the main areas of Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes stations with labels and audio to describe the various elements. The second tour covered the award-winning museum at Sheffield Park.”

Mr Blackburn said the money gave the railway a chance to modernise as a business and diversify by looking at new sources of income.

The money paid for some of the railway’s costs between October 2020 and March of this year.

That included heritage staff salaries, overheads, an improved online presence, some special events and financial assistance to generate additional revenue beyond steam train rides.

The Bluebell Railway is planning a series of events for the rest of this year including its delayed Diamond Anniversary celebrations.

The largely volunteer-run line had hoped to hold major celebrations in August 2020 but had to postpone its planned 60th birthday activities.

Paul Bromley, Bluebell Railway communications director, said: “The Bluebell postponed its major celebrations for its 60th birthday last August and now intends to hold a ‘60+1’ weekend from 6-8 August this year.

“Details of what will take place at each of its four stations are still being worked out and information will be put on its website and social media channels in due course.

“The Bluebell Railway was delighted with the popularity of the SteamLights service and so it is planning to run them again this year. Provisionally they will run throughout November and December.

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Full details of the Bluebell Railway’s services and ticket arrangements, as well as more information about its reopening, can be found on its website at www.bluebell-railway.com