BLUEBELL RAILWAY PRESS RELEASES

Updated: 29th January 2024

4 VEP 3417 'Gordon Pettitt' Returns To London Waterloo!

29th January 2024

The Southern Electric Traction Group & and The Bluebell Railway are proud to have brought No. 3417 ‘Gordon Pettitt’ back to the mainline, alongside GB Railfreight, South Western Railway & Network Rail, to take part in a very special event at London Waterloo on Saturday 27th January 2024. Since the Bluebell Railway purchased this unique EMU in 2009, the SETG has been undertaking a steady and thorough mechanical and cosmetic restoration to bring this piece of Southern Region history back to its former glory.

The return, marking the completion of 3417’s restoration to passenger carrying standards, marks the next stage in its preservation career and the start of the next phase of its restoration: mainline passenger service. We were also honoured to welcome Gordon Pettitt and his family, along with various guests of the railway industry, press, supporters and friends to London Waterloo to witness 3417’s mainline return. Without the driving force of Gordon’s passion, determination, and invaluable advice and knowledge (along with the help and support of many of Gordon’s former work colleagues and associates) this project would have not reached the point where we are today.

The SETG & Bluebell Railway intend to see passengers ride aboard 3417 in 2024 – whilst not in mainline service (yet), the unit will once again be able to transit via the national network to visit preserved lines.

Steve Upton, SETG Spokesman:

“This is a day we’ve worked patiently towards for years. The SETG is a small group, working on a niche project that has gone largely unnoticed by the wider enthusiast community – after all, an electric unit doesn’t have the glamour of a Deltic, The Flying Scotsman or even a rake of Pullman coaches. We are restoring a small part of the working railway that went unremarked and unsung for decades. The efforts that our team have put in are beyond heroic and the project still has a massive amount yet to achieve. This is just the start for 3417’s second career.”

Paul Churchman, Chairman Of The Bluebell Railway:

“It is a great day that we are seeing 3417 return to the mainline. The years of restoration undertaken by the SETG are amazing and the effort and dedication of the team is something that everyone should be proud of. There is no better way to celebrate this than by also having Gordon and his family at Waterloo on the 27th of January. Gordon’s passion and commitment to the Bluebell is still as strong as ever and his role as President provides guidance and assists in many areas.”

Claire Mann, Managing Director Of South Western Railway:

“Together with our colleagues from across the railway family, we’re so pleased to welcome Gordon and his family to London Waterloo and to see this wonderful train back on the mainline for this special event. “It has taken a huge amount of effort to get to this moment, and the volunteers of the SETG and Bluebell Railway must be very proud of their achievements.”

The Class 423 VEP (or “4-VEP”) is an electric multiple unit (EMU) that operated on the British railway network. The “4” in its designation represents the number of coaches and “VEP” stands for “Vestibule Electric Pneumatic” due to its pneumatic brakes. These trains were primarily used in the Southern Region of British Railways and were a part of the Mark 1 family of EMUs. 4 VEP No. 3417 (originally numbered 7717) was ordered by British Rail in 1965, as part of an initial order of 20 units to replace steam traction on the Southern Region. In total, 194 units were built between 1967 to 1975.

These units would operate throughout the Southern Region until being finally withdrawn from mainline services in 2005. These units served various commuter routes, particularly around London and the Southeast of England. The Class 423 trains were known for their distinctive design, featuring compartment-style seating and being used for suburban and regional services.

3417 was named ‘Gordon Pettitt’ after the former General Manager of the Southern Region of British Rail before it was transferred to the ownership of The Bluebell Railway in 2009. Since then, 3417 has been under the stewardship and restored by the dedicated SETG team (Southern Electric Traction Group), led by Chief Engineer Chris Buckland, who has overseen the effort to return the unit to service.

The unit is currently stabled at Strawberry Hill Depot in South West London. 3417 will become the only surviving Class 423 VEP to be mainline certified. A unique part of railway history and railway preservation.

The SETG launched an ongoing appeal to raise funds for the next stage of the unit’s restoration in December 2023: details can be found online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/Returning-3417-to-the-Mainline

The Bluebell Railway Passes Out Youngest Ever Steam Locomotive Driver

4th January 2024

The Bluebell Railway played host to an extra special occasion during the festive period in 2023, where Ben Gray, aged twenty-one, became the youngest driver to be passed out to drive steam locomotives in the heritage railway’s sixty-four-year history.

Ben, son of the Bluebell Railway’s Locomotive Engineering Director, Tim Gray, began his career at the railway at the age of nine, although railways were firmly in his blood from an even younger age. His first ever drive of a steam locomotive was at the Evesham Vale Light Railway (at the end of a day and when the railway was closed) at the ripe old age of five!

His progression at The Bluebell Railway was rapid. Having excelled and obtained his necessary badges being part of ‘The 9F Club’, Ben joined the locomotive department as a cleaner at sixteen. From there, he continued his journey, becoming a passed fireman in late 2020 a year later. During this time, Ben worked on various turns on different locomotive types at the railway, as well as visiting gala engines such as Cheltenham, Clan Line & Flying Scotsman for example.

After several years honing his skills as a fireman, Ben was then recommended to be added to the Bluebell Railway’s driver training programme in early 2023, with a view to an assessment later in the year. The assessment is spread out over several days, giving those assessing to look at various aspects of locomotive working, practical handling, and footplate knowledge of those who wish to progress and pass for driving.

Being broken down into different steps, Ben first took an exam on shunting duties and smaller locomotives handling in October, this being carried out on SECR No. 65 (O1). The latter exam was undertaken on December 30th, on his twenty-first birthday, working on a larger locomotive- 6989 ‘Wightwick Hall’ – on a regular Bluebell Railway passenger working along the full length of the line, which Ben successfully completed.

At the end of the exam, he was officially passed out by Bluebell Railway Inspector Chris Suitters at Sheffield Park. This shows The Bluebell Railway’s vision and drive to encourage more younger volunteers to follow in his footsteps so that they too can reach their full potential like Ben has in becoming the railway’s youngest ever passed driver. The railway is extremely lucky to have a range of younger volunteers who like Ben, wish to keep steam alive. To ensure that The Bluebell Railway continues to bring enjoyment for future generations to pass on.

Everyone at the railway congratulates Ben on passing his exams and we wish him the very best driving on The Bluebell Railway for many years to come.

If you wish to find out more information regarding this release, please contact our PR team at PR@bluebell-railway.com

Bluebell Railway Trio To Steam Again!

6th October 2023

The Bluebell Railway are delighted to announce that three historic locomotives are to return to working order. Following discussions and an agreement by the Bluebell Railway PLC Board and BRPS Society Board, it has been decided that LSWR Adams Radial Tank No. 30583, LSWR Adams B4 No. 96 ‘Normandy’ and SECR Wainwright P Class No. 323 ‘Bluebell’ will all receive overhauls and will steam again at The Bluebell Railway.

 

The Adams Radial & B4 will both be restored by the dedicated team at Atlantic House at Sheffield Park, the team responsible for their outstanding work making the new build LBSCR Marsh Atlantic 32424 ‘Beachy Head’ a reality.

 

323 ‘Bluebell’ is planned to go into the workshop at Sheffield Park in early 2024, with a view for the locomotive to be available in the Summer of 2024, giving us an exciting prospect of seeing our flagship locomotive once again in steam and working Bluebell service trains.

 

Paul Churchman- Chairman of The Bluebell Railway

 

“I am really pleased that we have been able to achieve this, with 323 coming back so quickly and to then have Normandy and then the Adams Radial will be so exciting and shows the amazing collection of locomotives that the Bluebell has. It also shows the magnificent skill set of our paid and volunteer workforce.”

 

Vernon Blackburn- Chairman Of The Bluebell Railway Trust.

 

“It will be marvellous to see these three vintage locomotives, on average already more than 125 years old, in steam again.  They are popular with the public and favourites of many of our supporters.  They look fantastic with our historic carriages of the same era and are economical to operate”.

 

Adams Radial No. 30583 was outshopped as No. 488 and built at Neilson & Co. in Glasgow in 1885. The locomotive ran with the LSWR until it was sold to the Ministry for Munitions for the war effort in 1917. After WWI, the locomotive ran on the East Kent Railway from 1919 to 1946- where the locomotive was then brought by the Southern Railway to operate on the Lyme Regis branch in Devon. It would remain there until withdrawal from BR in 1961, from there the locomotive then made its way to The Bluebell Railway and into preservation. The locomotive would become a firm favourite with crews and enthusiasts and would operate until 1990. Since then, the locomotive has remained on static display. 30583 is the sole survivor of its class and is owned by The Bluebell Railway

 

Adams B4 Tank No 96 ‘Normandy’ was built in 1893 at Nine Elms by the LSWR as a class of 25 locomotives, designed to work in shunting duties, it would be renowned for its role played at Southampton Docks- one that it would provide sterling work until being displaced by American ‘USA’ dock tanks after WWII. The locomotive was then transferred to Winchester for shunting duties there until withdrawal from BR service in 1963. Sold to the industrial sector after withdrawal, the locomotive was saved by The Bluebell Railway in 1972. ‘Normandy’ returned to steam at the railway in 1986 and would prove to be an extremely useful and popular locomotive during its time in traffic. The B4 last steamed in 2006 and is currently on display at Steamworks at Sheffield Park. ‘Normandy’ is one of two of its class to have been preserved and is owned by the B4 Loco Group, which is part of The Bulleid Society.

 

No. 323 ‘Bluebell’ is one of a class of eight ‘P Class’ tank engines, designed by Wainwright for the SECR. Built-in 1910 at Ashford Works, the locomotive was initially designed for suburban passenger work, although they were quickly superseded and relegated to shunting duties. Finishing off as 31323, the locomotive was withdrawn from BR in 1960 and was one of the first locomotives to be saved by The Bluebell Railway in that year. The loco was then named ‘Bluebell’ and became one of four of the class to have survived into preservation. 323 became the flagship locomotive of The Bluebell Railway and played a key role in establishing the line as a major tourist attraction, especially in the earlier years from 1960 onwards. ‘Bluebell’ last ran on the railway in 2019 and was withdrawn from service, requiring an overhaul. 323 is currently on static display at Steamworks at Sheffield Park and is owned by The Bluebell Railway.

 

If you wish to find out more information regarding this release and these locomotives, please contact our PR team at PR@bluebell-railway.com

Q Class 541 To Undergo ‘Priority’ Overhaul At Leaky Finders

10th July 2023

Q class 541 left the Bluebell Railway on Thursday 6th July to undergo a ‘Priority’ overhaul at Leaky Finders in Devon.  The overhaul is being funded by the Bluebell Railway Trust and the Maunsell Locomotive Society who own the locomotive; the locomotive being the subject of a long-term operating agreement with the Bluebell Railway.

 

The Q class was R.E.L Maunsell’s last loco design, 20 were constructed at Eastleigh works in 1939. 541 was the 54th loco to depart Barry Scrapyard back in 1974 and some restoration work was undertaken at Ashchurch, Gloucestershire, prior to the then-owning group merging with the Maunsell Locomotive Society in 1978 and the loco moving to the Bluebell Railway for the conclusion of the restoration project. It first ran in service at the Bluebell between 1983 and 1992. After a major overhaul, it re-entered traffic in 2015 but had to be withdrawn in December 2022, in need of boiler repairs, attention to the tyres and a new tender tank.  In its two periods of service at the Bluebell Railway it has covered over 70,000 miles in traffic and proved to be a strong, reliable, and economical loco to operate. On a visit to the Great Central Railway, it was described as like ‘a Midland 4F on steroids’ by one of their loco crews.

 

The loco underwent a full piston and valve exam and repair in early 2022 and the bottom half of the loco is reported to be in good condition, other than the need for attention to the tyres. he tender will remain at the Bluebell Railway for overhaul.  The tender tank will need to be replaced and the tyres will require attention.

 

Maunsell Locomotive Society Chairman, Ben Coughlan, said.

 

The Maunsell Locomotive Society is very pleased that agreement has been reached for the Bluebell Railway Trust to fund the overhaul of this popular and useful locomotive.  541 is a unique survivor of the Q class, Maunsell’s essay in designing a simple to maintain, medium power, go anywhere loco”.

 

Bluebell Railway Trust Chairman, Vernon Blackburn, said.

 

“The Trust is pleased to be able to support the overhaul of 541, which will help provide Bluebell with an economical, medium-sized loco, in a short timescale”.

 

The Bluebell Railway Trust and Maunsell Locomotive Society are keen to raise funds to help overhaul the locomotive.  Online payments to the appeal can be made by clicking the DONATE button on the Bluebell website and following the online payment instructions.  Select Q Class 541 Overhaul in the drop-down box.     Otherwise please send a cheque, made payable to the ‘Bluebell Railway Trust’ (and a Gift Aid Form – if appropriate – downloaded from the Bluebell Railway website) to the Bluebell Railway Trust, Sheffield Park Station, Near Uckfield TN22 3QL.  Please add a note to say it is for the 541-overhaul appeal.

The Southern Six Meets Again!

24th May 2023

Last week, saw the second meeting of ‘The Southern Six’ at the Kent & East Sussex Railway at Tenterden.

 

“The Southern Six” are working on promoting cooperation and solidarity between their respective railways, becoming a strong and united group. At a time of economic change and ever-increasing demands on the heritage industry, the idea of this alliance is to generate solutions and put those ideas into action. The alliance hopes to adopt a united approach, with the overall aim to produce the best possible results for all parties concerned.

 

The second meeting was again very positive and constructive. It has once more produced much debate and discussion on the direction that each railway takes as a collective; with the intention formed to execute strategies and methods designed to meet the challenges which all railways are facing at this time and those we face in the future.

 

The group will continue to meet every two months. The positive feedback and outcome of the last two meetings have given this alliance further strength to grow. It is providing the platform required for support, guidance, and debate that each railway can benefit from and take forward with the current demands the industry is facing.

 

The group consists of:

 

The Bluebell Railway, The Kent & East Sussex Railway, The Mid Hants Railway, The Spa Valley Railway, The Isle of Wight Steam Railway & The Swanage Railway

 

Photographed here at Tenderden after the first meeting (L to R)

 

Steve Backhouse (IOWSR) Alison Houghton (Mid Hants) Robert Patterson (Swanage Railway) Rebecca Dalley (Mid Hants) Lisa Boyle (Bluebell Railway) Robin Coombes (KESR) Jonnie Pay (Spa Valley)

E6040 Renamed “The Bluebell Railway” At Eastleigh Works

7th April 2023

The culmination of four months of effort at Eastleigh Works saw the loco carrying the as-built livery of early BR Blue with half-yellow warning ends and being re-named the “The Bluebell Railway” by Bluebell Railway Preservation Society Vice President, Roy Watts.

Paul Auckland, Project leader said, “This is a key milestone on the journey for having “The Bluebell Railway” loco operating at its namesake railway. As a long-standing Bluebell volunteer on steam and diesel locos, I’m excited that the Bluebell has been so welcoming of this Heritage Loco and look forward to it operating trouble-free for many years at its new home.

Roy Watts, Bluebell Railway Preservation Society Vice President, said “The Bluebell Railway continues to move with the times, and we’ve now had diesels for many years, starting with diesels operating the tip trains as part of us getting to East Grinstead more than ten years ago. I’m delighted E6040 is coming to the Bluebell Railway as it will be a highly versatile and economical locomotive allowing us to enhance our timetable alongside steam locos, I’m confident it’ll find a number of uses, including giving us the option to keep operating during high fire risk periods”.

The loco will shortly be moving to the Bluebell Railway to be commissioned and take up its first duties. Further events to launch the loco are all in the pipeline. Keep an eye on the loco’s Facebook group 73133 “The Bluebell Railway” | Facebook and Bluebell Railway website for more information as it becomes available.

If you’d like to get involved in the group doing practical work to support the operation of the locomotive then contact the project leader, Paul at paulchillout@aol.com or you can still donate, including setting up a regular donation, to support via 73133 “The Bluebell Railway” Restoration – a Heritage crowdfunding project in Uckfield by Paul Auckland (crowdfunder.co.uk).

Basing the loco and operating it at the Bluebell Railway now allows us to move as a project to further goals of establishing a group to work on the loco to ensure it continues to be reliable and in good condition as well as fundraising for the inevitable work that will be needed going forward.

E6040 / 73133 was designed by Southern Region engineers who set about building a prototype batch of six new “electro-diesel” locomotives at Eastleigh Carriage and Wagon Works during 1961–2. The new locomotives had a respectable 1,600 hp on electric power, and an English Electric 600 hp diesel engine similar to those used in the Southern Region’s diesel-electric multiple Unit (DEMU) fleet. The success of these prototype locomotives resulted in British Railways ordering a production batch of a further 43 locomotives, including E6040 from English Electric at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows. The “electro-diesels” proved extremely versatile, to the point where many are still in service after a life of over 61 years.

The Bluebell Railway www.bluebell-railway.com was one of the first preserved heritage lines in the country, resulting in one of the finest collections of vintage steam locomotives and carriages – many of which were preserved straight out of service from British Railways. The Bluebell Railway commenced train services in August 1960 and now runs steam trains between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead, stopping at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote.

The Bluebell Railway run various events throughout the year including visiting engines, family fun days and Santa Specials. For a full list please visit our event pages. Dining trains are also in operation on selected dates throughout the year, including services for Afternoon Tea and Silver Service dining, Supper Specials and Rail Ale evenings.

Contact Paulchillout@aol.com for more info on the 73133 The Bluebell Railway project or phone 07970 406353

FLYING SCOTSMAN RETURNS TO THE BLUEBELL RAILWAY!

13th March 2023

Extra dates and more services added for Flying Scotsman’s trip to ‘fly south’ to the Bluebell Railway this August in its centenary year. 

 

Tickets are now on sale for the visit by the world-famous locomotive Flying Scotsman to the Bluebell Railway this summer. 

 

It was originally scheduled to be at the Sussex attraction in August 2022. Now the Bluebell Railway and its caretakers the National Railway Museum can announce the 2023 visit has been extended. 

The Flying Scotsman will be running non-stop return services between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead for seven days from 23 – 29 August. All tickets must be pre-booked. 

 

Visitors will also be able to see the locomotive on static display at Sheffield Park from 30 August – 3 September. Tickets for footplate viewings will be available to book online.  

Tickets are now on sale at www.bluebell-railway.com/flying-scotsman-2023/

 

Bluebell Railway chairman Paul Churchman said: “After a lot of work on the part of The Bluebell Railway, and the locomotive’s caretakers, The NRM we are thrilled to confirm the world-famous Flying Scotsman is to visit us once again, notably in its centenary year.  

The visit to the Bluebell Railway will be one of the chances to see the famous engine during its centenary year. We look forward to seeing you later in the year, if not before.

 

Flying Scotsman last visited the Bluebell Railway in 2017. The visit was a huge success, with people travelling from far and wide to glimpse the famous loco on Bluebell rails. As you would expect we have some exciting plans for this year’s visit, Flying Scotsman will be running on regular services and special dining trains. We will be looking for extra volunteers across the railway in pretty much nearly all roles and departments to cover the increase in visitor numbers expected. 

 

Flying Scotsman was the first locomotive of the newly formed London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and entered service in February 1923. The locomotive (previously numbered 1472) was renumbered 4472 in 1924 and given the name ‘Flying Scotsman’ after the daily 10.00 London to Edinburgh rail service. 

 

It was numbered No. 60103 after British Railways was formed and rail travel was nationalised in 1948. The locomotive would be withdrawn from BR service in 1963, before being saved by Alan Pegler and embarking on its new life in preservation. 

 

The locomotive underwent an overhaul in April 2022, prior to the locomotive’s centenary celebrations in 2023.  As part of the overhaul, Riley & Son (E) Ltd restored the locomotive to the same standard as the last overhaul in 2016, with work focusing on the boiler and the required retube and recertification. There will not be any changes to the locomotive’s livery, numbering, or chimney configuration. The visit to the Bluebell Railway will be one of the limited chances to see the famous engine during its centenary year. 

 

The Flying Scotsman will be running non-stop return services between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead for seven days from 23 – 29 August. All seats must be pre-booked in advance. 

Visitors will also be able to see the locomotive on static display at Sheffield Park from 30 August – 3 September. Tickets for footplate viewings will be available to book online.  

Tickets are on sale now: www.bluebell-railway.com/flying-scotsman-2023/

 

This rare visit is an opportunity for all staff to enjoy and make this the stand-out event of 2023 for our visitors at The Bluebell Railway. 

 

As ever for more information, please visit www.bluebell-railway.com, our social media channels or sign up for our newsletter here.

 

Paul Churchman – Chairman 

For more details, please contact PR@bluebell-railway.com 

New Infrastructure Director for The Bluebell Railway

1st March 2023

The board of the Bluebell Railway has co-opted Tony Astor to be Infrastructure Director.

Tony replaces Barry Luck who has stood down after three years in the role. Barry had indicated when he took on the Infrastructure Director’s position in 2020 that he wished to serve for no more than three years.

Tony spent nearly 40 years in the airport business with almost 20 years in BAA culminating at senior management level at Heathrow. He had many varied roles but for much of my time in BAA he concentrated on jet fuel infrastructure projects which included major contract negotiations and the development of new jet fuel related facilities at Heathrow Terminal 5.  

In 2008 he set up his own airport consultancy business and worked at a number of high-profile airports in the Middle East, focusing on the development of jet fuel infrastructure.

Following partial retirement in 2019, he became a volunteer project manager at the Bluebell Railway, initially in the Carriage & Wagon department before moving to Infrastructure to oversee the power upgrade project at Horsted Keynes station.

Tony said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to join the board of the Bluebell Railway. Many businesses are facing unprecedented challenges at the moment, and I hope to be able to bring my business experience in project management and infrastructure development to ensure the Railway’s projects are delivered in the most cost effective and timely manner.

“Knowing that the volunteers are the backbone of the Railway, I am looking forward to helping them achieve great results as we deliver the future works programme.

Bluebell Railway plc chairman Paul Churchman said: “We welcome Tony Astor to the board and know he will work tirelessly to build on the great work of Barry Luck in delivering a range of complex infrastructure projects across the Railway. We thank Barry for his service since 2020 and wish him well as he continues with his various volunteer roles at the Bluebell Railway.”

Tony took up his post on 1 March.

'THE SOUTHERN SIX'- ALLIANCE OF SOUTHERN PRESERVED RAILWAYS

28th February 2023

Yesterday, we saw a very special meeting at The Bluebell Railway between various leading members from six preserved railways based in the South of England.

“The Southern Six” are promoting cooperation and solidarity between their different railways to become a strong and united group. At a time of economic change and ever-increasing demands on the heritage industry, the idea of this alliance is to generate solutions and put those ideas into action. As a collective, the alliance hopes to adopt a uniform approach where, as a group, it can produce the best possible results for all parties concerned.

The first meeting was very positive and produced much thought and discussion on how to move forward; with ideas shared and the intention formed to create strategies to cope with various areas of need for this year and beyond for each railway within the alliance.

The group will meet every two months. This is a positive step forward in utilising the skills, communication, and resources of all the railways involved. It will provide a strong and much-needed platform for discussion and support whilst meeting the current demands that our industry faces.

The group will consist of:

The Bluebell Railway, The Kent & East Sussex Railway, The Mid Hants Railway, The Spa Valley Railway, The Isle of Wight Steam Railway & The Swanage Railway

Photographed here at Sheffield Park after the first meeting (L to R)

Robert Patterson (Swanage Railway) Jonnie Pay (Spa Valley Railway) Steve Backhouse (Isle of Wight Steam Railway) Lisa Boyle (Bluebell Railway) Chris Knibbs (Bluebell Railway)  Robin Coombes (Kent & East Sussex Railway)

Amanda Squires (The Mid Hants Railway) was, unfortunately, unable to attend the first meeting due to work commitments.

The Bluebell Railway Acquires Heritage Southern Region DEMU

16th January 2023

The Bluebell Railway is pleased to announce the purchase of former Southern Region DEMU No. 1305, which will become part of the Bluebell Railway fleet. No. 1305 has been owned and cared for by the Coulsdon Old Vehicle & Engineering Society, whose dedicated team have themselves worked hard to restore this unit to working order before being purchased by The Bluebell Railway. The unit will move to the railway in due course.

This class of unit, introduced in 1962 after the success of the Hastings and Hampshire units, was built for use on the Southern Region, specifically for use along the Oxted Line to East Grinstead and Tunbridge Wells West. Built as No. 1305, its allocation in BR days was at St Leonards and Eastleigh, ending its days at Selhurst, before being passed into preservation. Amongst its many passenger duties, this class of DEMU used to regularly work out of London Bridge or London Victoria to East Grinstead passenger services and may well have ventured on to Imberhorne Viaduct prior to Bluebell ownership.

Paul Russell, Locomotive Engineering Director

“I am pleased that we have been able to acquire this DEMU which completes another part of the jigsaw that will allow us to depict the Southern Region scene in the sixties and seventies and these units were synonymous with commuter services to and from East Grinstead. It will form a useful and economic means of bringing passengers to our railway earlier than is currently possible and allowing them to spend a full day exploring the line and experiencing the sight and sound of steam and for some the nostalgia of the daily commute.”

DEMU No. 1305 is unique in being the very first and currently only Bluebell-owned passenger hauling diesel on The Bluebell Railway, with all other diesel locomotives based on the railway being privately owned. 1305 will be restored and maintained by the 1305 Thumper Group (running in a similar structure to that of the very successful Bluebell Railway Goods Division) saving time and personnel being taken away from the Bluebell Railway Carriage & Wagon department.

A date for the unit’s arrival at The Bluebell Railway is still being finalised with all parties concerned. A donations page is being created by The Bluebell Railway Trust and will be made available soon for those interested in donating to the group.

To find out more about 1305 and if you wish to get involved, contact Ben Wetherall at ben.wetherall@bluebell-railway.com or please visit the 1305 Oxted Thumper Gang Facebook Page

For further information, please contact The Bluebell Railway PR team at pr@bluebell-railway.com or contact us on 01825 720800.

Bluebell Railway Gives Away Compartments On Its Spectacular SteamLights Service To Special Guests.

17th November 2022

As we approach the season of goodwill, the Bluebell Railway has marked the occasion by giving away selected compartments on the very special SteamLights service which began running on Friday 11th November 2022 and will run through to Sunday 8th January 2023.

SteamLights is a very special after dark experience at the famous heritage railway in Sussex. After an atmospheric lighting-up ceremony, passengers get on board the extraordinary steam train of lights which then sparkles its way through the Sussex countryside passing beautiful line side displays full of colour and light.

We were pleased to be in a position to offer some space on Sunday 13th of November and Friday 18th of November to individuals and families who might not be in a position to otherwise enjoy our fabulous SteamLights train.

Working with West Sussex County Council representatives, Ukrainian refugee hosts from local villages and a wonderful charity called Reaching Families which empowers families of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, we have filled three trains. To be able to see the pleasure and excitement of those children and adults and to give them such a wonderful start to the festive period has been an absolute honour”.

Lisa Boyle, Chief Operating Officer , The Bluebell Railway

The railway has given away 77 compartments seating either 6 or 8 people, tables for 4 people and various spaces in the wheelchair accessible carriage on three specific services with a value well in excess of £12,000.

During such difficult times with rising costs affecting all businesses and individuals, the railway is setting an example of how a local business can make the most of opportunities to support the Sussex community.

Adult and child residents of local West Sussex residential homes and approximately 70 Ukrainian refugees currently residing in the villages of Horsted Keynes, Highbrook, Newick and Chailey were among the invited guests. All free spaces were quickly booked up, and, unsurprisingly, demand outstripped supply.

SteamLights is a beautiful. magical experience lighting up the night sky, lifting spirits and brightening hearts. We are extremely grateful to the Bluebell Railway for inviting many local Ukrainian families who are sheltering from the extreme horrors of war to enjoy this amazing event. The evening was very special for them and they loved every minute. Thank you so much for your kindness and hospitality.”

Kay Yeowart MBE, Host

For the general public, discover the magic for yourself. There are still some spaces left to book on the SteamLights service which begins and ends at Sheffield Park Station located between Haywards Heath and Uckfield. Find out more about SteamLights and how to book, click here.

 

BLUEBELL RAILWAY APPOINTS FIRST DIRECTOR OF PEOPLE SERVICES

1st November 2022

The Bluebell Railway has appointed Chris Barber as its first Director of People Services. 

Chris comes from a railway family – his grandfather was a signalman on the East Coast Main Line and his father worked on the engineering side of signalling. He has a background in Human Resources and is currently Head of Business Change for Thales UK. 

He brings experience at Director level of transactional HR including recruitment and selection, policy, discipline and grievance procedures. He has applied HR skills including change management, organisational design and development, learning and development, succession planning and talent management. 

He has been HR director, director of music and latterly chairman of the Musical Museum at Brentford in London. Chris has a passion for the heritage movement generally and steam in particular – for many years he was involved in the preservation and running of the Burrell Scenic Steam Road Loco “Dragon”. 

Chris said: “Just like any organisation, the people at the Bluebell Railway are vital to its future success. We have a dedicated team of paid staff and volunteers who make the Railway such a great place for people to work at and visit.  

“I want to build on this by looking at the life cycle for paid staff and volunteers to ensure this is fully aligned to the strategic business and preservation aims of the Railway. I look forward to liaising with – and listening to – people in all parts of the organisation to consider improvements to make the Railway an even better place to work and visit”    

Bluebell Railway plc chairman Geoff Mee said: “Chris Barber’s appointment reflects the importance we place as a business on our people. The Bluebell Railway relies on the dedication of its paid staff and volunteers to provide our passengers with a first-rate experience. This new addition to the board indicates our recognition of the work of all our people. I am sure Chris’s experience will help us all in our efforts to continue to be the premier heritage railway in the UK.” 

 

BLUEBELL RAILWAY APPOINTS NEW FINANCE DIRECTOR

1st November 2022

The Bluebell Railway has appointed Steve Trigg as its new finance director. 

Steve has been a finance director for various companies covering different sectors including housebuilding, recruitment, oil and gas, and most recently mergers and acquisitions. He is now semi-retired. 

He grew up around railways as his father was a rail enthusiast and he spent many hours at GWR’s Didcot centre. 

Steve said: “The Bluebell Railway, like all other businesses, is in a difficult financial position because of the general economic situation. I look forward to meeting the staff and volunteers to see how we can best work together to tackle the economic headwinds and put the Railway on a firmer financial footing.” 

Steve replaces David Burch who has stood down from the board because of work commitments. 

Bluebell Railway plc chairman Geoff Mee said: “We thank David for steering us through the difficult phase of the pandemic and ensuring our survival. He provided us with a path towards better times. We know Steve will build on his work and see us through to a more prosperous railway even though we face more economic challenges in the short-term.” 

The appointment was confirmed at the Bluebell Railway’s board meeting on 27 October. 

Bluebell Railway Welcomes Council Funding Over East Grinstead Housing Access

3rd October 2022

The Bluebell Railway has welcomed a council payment for allowing access to the new housing development at East Grinstead.

Mid Sussex District Council has agreed a one-off payment of £692,500 to the Railway that will enable the creation of a new Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) at Hill Place Farm in East Grinstead.

Councillor Robert Salisbury, MSDC Cabinet Member for Planning, said: “Natural England has advised the council that one of the best ways to protect Ashdown Forest from increasing visitor numbers is to provide alternative areas for people to visit. That’s why, whenever developers want to build new homes within 7km of Ashdown Forest, they are required to provide Suitable Alternative Natural Green space or funding towards the improvement of an existing one. “The new SANG at Hill Place Farm is a wonderful place for local people to relax, exercise and enjoy the natural surroundings. It’s fantastic for people to have such beautiful green spaces right on our doorstep, and it will only get better over the years as more improvements are made. “We’re grateful to the Bluebell Railway for supporting public access throughout the SANG site and I hope this funding helps the railway in its efforts to switch to more sustainable energy sources. The Bluebell Railway is one of the foremost tourist attractions in our District and plays a vital role in preserving our heritage. “The council has provided funding to the Bluebell Railway in advance, so they aren’t required to wait for developer funding to come through and are able to progress immediately with their plans to improve the railway. The council will then retain the financial contributions made by developers until the advance has been repaid.” Geoff Mee, chairman of Bluebell Railway plc, said: “We have always prided ourselves on looking after the environment along the line in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We will use this money to improve our environmental credentials by placing solar panels on top of some of our buildings in order to reduce our rapidly increasing business energy costs.”

In Mid Sussex, developers seeking to build new homes within 7km of Ashdown Forest must pay towards the creation and maintenance of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspaces. Those developer payments will then gradually repay the council’s investment in the Hill Place Farm SANG. The policy, which is supported by Natural England, helps residents to access green spaces that are close to their homes and protects Ashdown Forest from excessive visitor numbers, which could affect the protected bird species that nest in the forest. The new SANG, which is just off Turners Hill Road in East Grinstead, has been provided by

Developers Taylor Wimpey and Vistry as part of plans for 200 new homes at Hill Place Farm. The SANG is divided into two parts, with the Bluebell Railway line running through the middle of the site. Mid Sussex District Council is providing the Bluebell Railway with a funding advance of £692,500 to provide safe access to the SANG and to support the development of the line. Visitors will be able to access all areas of the SANG by using a tunnel underneath the Bluebell Railway to cross the line. The Hill Place Farm SANG features grassland habitats, natural woodlands, and benefits from stunning views of the historic Imberhorne Lane viaduct. The SANG has been enhanced by a programme of planting that, will complement the existing natural environment as it matures and a new walking route around the edge of the site makes it easier for people of all abilities to enjoy the space.