My Journey in becoming a Steam Enthusiast, Part 2 – the Bluebell Railway

Continuing on my previous posts on the Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR), this is part two of a series of reflections and experiences on my journey of becoming interested in real and model steam trains.

Although the K&ESR was my local heritage railway, I was fortunate in being taken to other preserved lines in my youth.  The Bluebell Railway wasn’t too far away, but its remote location made the journey take long and for this reason visits were infrequent.  Despite this, or perhaps even because of this; visits to this line made a lasting impression on me.

The Bluebell Railway was the first standard gauge railway to be preserved.  It’s first train ran in 1960 the same year that British Railways built their last steam engine (92220 Evening Star.)  This is significant because it allowed the line to acquire locomotives of an older generation.  Therefore they could purchase older engines that were withdrawn and scrapped before many of the lines that preservation societies were to recreate had even closed.

The history of the line is comprehensively covered on the Bluebell Railway’s website (click here for more).  Needless to say however, the railway’s head-start gave it a stock-list of incredible depth and history.  Sheffield Park, the headquarters and engine sheds is a Mecca to the steam enthusiast.  Arguably the collection is second only to the National Railway Museum in York, but with a major advantage – it is a working railway.

The top picture of this post shows North London Railway tank engine tank 58850, running past Southern Railway Maunsell Q class 541 in the early 1990’s.  Both are unique survivors that are no longer in action, although the overhaul of the Q class is in progress.  The picture below shows U class 1618 with a goods train.  This U class is awaiting overhaul, but you’ll find its classmate in regular service now (1638.)

It is a small pity that the line does not have any major towns on its route.  Sheffield Park has a lovely National Trust stately home and gardens (the gardens are open to the public) but not much else.  Though, the engine sheds at Sheffield Park are a five star attraction in themselves.  The other stations of Horsted Keynes (pronounced Cains) and Kingscote are not of particular interest close to the villages they used to serve.  It is not surprising therefore that the line is desperate to reach the market town of East Grinstead, which will have the added bonus of providing a link to the rail network.  And I think it is only fair at this point to point you towards the “Funding for the Finish!” to help achieve this!

The picture above shows another regular performer – the unique C class 592 (picture taken in 1994).

Until recently, the Bluebell Railway was a 100% steam line.  This was the inspiration behind locoyard being 100% steam!  Even the shunting was performed by steam engines, such as the pair in the picture below (LSWR B4 class 96 Normandy and 3 Captain Baxter.)

The Bluebell Railway was also special for me in my youth, because it had big engines!  Bearing in mind I was used to the Kent & East Sussex light railway, the thrill of the Bluebell line was also seeing big steam engines!  The experience of walking through Sheffield Park engine shed makes this even better, as you get to stand at the foot of these Giants of Steam!  The BR standard 9F class 92240 (below) is one of the bigger locomotives.  Currently this locomotive is out of service, but the line has the Watercress Railway’s 9F 92212 on hire for the next few weeks.

Interestingly, the Bluebell Railway, famous for its older grouping and pre-grouping locomotives has the biggest single collection of British Railway standard locomotives in the country.  These include a project to recreate a standard class 2 tank engine from the remains of a tender version plus the only surviving “Standard Arthur” – one of the 5MT’s that replaced ex-LSWR N15’s that took on their names – in this case “Camelot” (below.)

The Bluebell Railway has a fantastic collection of rolling stock, with an obvious Southern emphasis.  It is an inspirational preserved railway and one that I can not recommend highly enough!

S15 class 847 at Sheffield Park in 1996.

The only surviving SECR H class 263 – click here for more pictures of the H class from a previous post.

I shall be publishing more pictures taken at the Bluebell Railway during the 1990’s in due course.  In the meantime, check out previous blog entries of two previous Bluebell Railway residents –

Merchant Navy Pacific 35027 Port Line

Q1 class C1

This blog thread continues – click here