Bluebell loco – heavier then any Harley-Davidson

It was sometime difficult for the sun to beat the clouds, but last Sunday we had a great ride to the Bluebell Railway, located between London and the South Coast, in the beautiful Sussex Weald near the Ashdown Forest.

The Empress with her new Rear Comfort Guards

The line is nine miles long, from Sheffield Park to Kingscote. When the extension to East Grinstead is open, it will be 11 miles. The tunnel, with nearly half a mile in length it is the longest in use on any heritage line in the UK. It’s actually 731 yards long.

There are many locomotives, about 30 steam engines, accessible in the loco shed, or can be seen elsewhere at Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes. The locomotive workshops are not generally accessible, but this only accounts for usually three locos. A few others may be tucked away in out-of-the-way sidings, but the vast majority are there for our visitors to see.

Not all are in service, steam engines are expensive to maintain, and after an overhaul they can normally only run for another ten years before the insurance company insists to dismantle them again to inspect and overhaul the boiler.

Inside the Pullman

DO NOT CLIMB ON THE LOCO!!!

“Fenchurch” became famous in the late 1950’s and early 60’s as the oldest locomotive running on British Railways, built in 1872. Our other Stroudley Terrier, “Stepney” became famous after the Revd. Awdry wrote a book about him, which also featured “Baxter”. “Stowe” is one of the Southern Railway’s famous Schools class locomotives. SECR P-Class No.323 has become something of a celebrity, after 40 years painted in ‘Bluebell Blue’ and carrying the name “Bluebell”.

The signalling system in use is designed to prevent more than one train being on the “single line” at a time. The train driver must have a staff or token before entering the section of line, and the machine that issues these in the signal box at one end of the line is linked to the machine at the next signal box, and also with the signals, and so “blocks” the line to any other train.

There is no turntable, and the line is sufficiently short that the engines can run backwards in one direction. But they are always on the front of the train, even when the engine itself runs backwards. They use the loop at the stations at each end of the line to move from one end of the train to the other.

All the station staff, signalmen, drivers, firemen and guards, and many other staff carrying out restoration and maintenance are volunteers. The Trustees and Directors are also unpaid volunteers. There is a core of full-time staff, involved with administration, maintenance of the locomotives and carriages, and in catering, but many volunteers also help in these areas.

You can even drive a steam engine there, but first you have to join as a volunteer, then working through the grades from Cleaner, via Fireman and Passed Fireman to Driver. That may take some years. But yes, you can drive a steam engine.

The line is often quite busy with filming. The biggest film was the 2000 Carlton TV film of “The Railway Children”, as well as many others including the BBC’s “The Young Visiters”, “Miss Potter”, “Wind in the Willows”, “102 Dalmations”, Ken Russell’s “Mahler” and “Lisztomania”, “Station Jim” for the BBC, “Ruby in the Smoke” and countless others, as well as documentaries, pop videos and fashion shoots.

This was the first public appearance of the Empress with the Big Boobs and on the way home, we all got royally wet. But it was a great day out. See my full set of 93 high resolution pictures in Flickriver:

Art Bleiglass - View my 'Bluebell Railway' set on Flickriver

Time for the 5,000 mile service…

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