Nicholas Owen narrates this official Bluebell video, recording the completion of our Northern Extension Project which has taken 39 years and cost about £11 Million, almost all raised by and from the Bluebell's membership and the public. The footage was captured on the opening day, 23 March 2013, when the Bluebell Railway's first public steam trains were run out of, and into, East Grinstead station.
In the first decade of the Bluebell's existence, operating the
railway and the purchase of the freehold of the existing line were
the priorities. It was only in 1974, when the site of the demolished
West Hoathly station came up for sale, that the first steps towards
an extension northwards were taken. These culminated in a public
enquiry, and the Secretaries of State for the Environment and
Transport finally gave planning permission and a Light Railway Order
for an extension to East Grinstead in 1985.
Right: The Construction of New Coombe Bridge.
The first mile north from Horsted Keynes opened in 1990, followed two years later by the stretch through Sharpthorne Tunnel to the former West Hoathly Station site. Just north of here a new three-span girder bridge had to be built. In 1994 the railway was re-opened to Kingscote, the station building there having been purchased in January 1985.
There then followed a period of consolidation before the final push to East Grinstead.
A big problem was the number of individual land owners who had to be persuaded to sell their land to us, and it was only in 2003 that we obtained the final piece of land to clear our way north, resulting in the start of tracklaying in September 2003.
The Imberhorne (or Hill Place) Viaduct, just south of East Grinstead, is in Bluebell ownership, has been thoroughly repaired and now has track over it again. A site was earmarked for a Bluebell station in the old station goods yard at East Grinstead, and we have built a platform and run-round loop ready for trains to arrive from the South. Members of the local council are keen to see the Bluebell both contributing to the local transport infrastructure, and acting as a means of increasing the number of visitors to this historic market town.
The main obstacle was Imberhorne tip. Some 300,000 cu.m of domestic waste was tipped into the railway cutting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Removal of this waste was the only realistic option to allow the railway through. The cost was estimated to be in the region of £4 million. We have worked hard to raise the money over the last few years, as well as taking various actions to reduce those costs.
By the 1 April 2012 deadline of the ending of the Landfill Tax Exemption Scheme we have, at a cost reduced to £2.715 million, cleared 90,000 tonnes of domestic waste, which is enough, when combined with the re-engineering of the cutting and track profiles, to enable us to lay the track through and re-open the line. This left us needing to raise £800,000 during the 2012 Funding for the Finish campaign, to enable us to deal with the remaining earth-moving, including disposing of the huge pile of capping material, completion of the signalling, including expensive immunisation of track circuits due to the proximity to the national electrified network, completion of our facilities at East Grinstead, some further work on the viaduct and one of the bridges, and completing the track between Kingscote and East Grinstead to passenger-carrying standards. We are looking towards a re-opening of the line pm 23 March 2013.
The contract for the refurbishment of Imberhorne Viaduct was let in the Summer of 2002, the cost covered by contributions received under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. The work involved the re-pointing and repair of brickwork, re-waterproofing of the structure and the replacement of the coping stones on the viaduct where these have been dislodged by vandals in the past. Many of the coping stones for this have been recovered from our land beneath the viaduct.
Volunteer teams have cleared the trackbed of dumped machinery, trees and a pond, and have installed drainage and fences. All the trackbed is now clear, and much of it fenced and drained. A bridge and a cattle creep north of the tip have been subject to considerable work.
In 2004 track was laid northwards from Kingscote to the end of the tip, and during 2005/6 inert spoil which was not part of the main rubbish tip, has been removed by train southwards (as seen in the above photos). The spoil has been used to rebuild the cut-back embankment of the Ardingly spur at Horsted Keynes, and was then used to fill a small part of the "triangle" to the south of Horsted Keynes station.
The 2008 share offer raised £670,000. This enabled the purchase of the tip site, preparation of the facilities for extraction, many legal and insurance payments to be made, and a tenth of the tip was extracted by road over a three week period, which enabled more accurate planning for the remaining extraction. The funds raised also paid for the removal of the remainder of the inert spoil, which could not be removed until the main site was in our ownership.
During 2009 and early 2010 a lot of work was done to enable waste extraction by rail, which thanks to industry-wide cooperation became an affordable option. The track layout planned for our platform at East Grinstead was required to accommodate the waste trains, and before laying tracks into the station area, we needed to build the platform (since that would be almost impossible after tracks were laid), and so we have been able to complete the platform and run events and open days at the station since then.
Through 2010 and 2011, up to the end of the fifth phase of the "Waste by Rail" operation in November/December 2011, waste has been leaving by train northwards, via our connection to the main-line at East Grinstead. This has involved an enormous and very successful fund-raising effort, which continued until enough waste had been cleared (the effective deadline being the ending of the Landfill Tax Exemption Scheme at the end of March 2012 after which costs would have quadrupled).
Having therefore completed the removal of sufficient waste, work commenced in March 2012 to profile the track levels and embankment sides in the cutting at Imberhorne Lane bridge. Drainage and cable routes have been installed and the track reinstated to its new approach gradient up to Imberhorne Lane bridge. Work has also been undertaken at Kingscote North on constructing the final track and pointwork. This is a major project in itself and a quite complex job. Facilities, both for the public and for watering locos, are being prepared for East Grinstead, and the signalling system, and its associated power supply and emergency generator for the extension has been commissioned. Brickwork and safety fencing at several bridges has been repaired or installed, and final repairs to one section of the viaduct is being completed.
So with the final waste moved from the cutting, the engineering work completed on the cutting sides, track laid, crew training, and all the paperwork approved, the extension was able to open on 23 March 2013.
The full story of the work undertaken to extend the line from Kingscote to East Grinstead is available on the Extension
Work Progress Page.
Left: The 1997 sponsored walk took us through Lywood Tunnel.
The trackbed is in good condition although repairs are required to a collapsed culvert. The short Lywood Tunnel appears to be in good condition. The purchase has been funded initially with a loan from a member and a wonderful response to an appeal to the membership. The land became available due to the break-up of the estate of which it was part, although complicated by a short length of the trackbed being in the ownership of another member of the same family. The two major areas of work that would be required to re-open the line are the replacement of a missing short girder-bridge span, and the replacement of the small Sherriff Mill viaduct, the condition of which was one of the reasons the line was closed in 1963. It was demolished in 1969, but options for bridging the gap by extending the embankments and using two newly obtained bridge sections, are being pursued.
Right: The ARC depot in the former Ardingly Station goods yard, and the remains of station platform.
The branch, with only one intermediate station, was electrified in the 1930s, and initially 2-NOL units were used for the Seaford-Horsted service. In the final years up to 1963 the line was served by 2-HAL and 2-BIL units which connected with Bluebell Railway steam trains at Horsted Keynes. In the last years before closure the line was singled, with the other track used for stock storage, most notably the new Kent Coast electric stock prior to its introduction, and subsequently the steam stock that it replaced, awaiting scrapping.
The stub of the line from Haywards Heath now serves an aggregates depot at Ardingly, which occupies the former station platforms and goods yard. This has seen recent re-investment in plant, and there are several incoming aggregates trains a week. However we should be able to extend through this site to re-connect with the main line, since a route along the edge of the site for our track has been safeguarded. In the shorter term (i.e. at some stage in the next decade), we might build a platform on our own land east of the original site. The station building survives complete, although altered internally, up at road-level.
A reminder of the days when the Bluebell shared Horsted Keynes with
Keith Harwood took this photo of 2-BIL electric unit No 2098 at Horsted Keynes in the early 1960s. No.323 "Bluebell" is visible on what was then the Bluebell side of the station.
It is clear however that the Bluebell's first priority remains the Northern Extension, and any Westward extension would have to follow a period of consolidation, with investment needed in restoration and stock storage facilities, and much-needed maintenance/repairs to our existing line, buildings and structures.
A further major obstacle is found at the A272 at Newick & Chailey, where the cutting and station site have been reclaimed, and are incorporated into people's gardens. Even if it were possible to purchase that land, the cutting is itself filled with a rubbish tip, and we're led to believe that the contents would not be as easy to dispose of as those at Imberhorne on our Northern Extension, since the Chailey site includes industrial waste and is also producing methane gas discharges. A more practical, but still very costly, alternative might be a diversion around the site on a new alignment, or simply running to a new terminus on the northern side of the road, but no surveys have been done or are currently planned to establish the feasibility of this.
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