Bluebell Steam Railway, Sussex, UK
September 26, 2009

By Peter Limper

On September 26, 2009, I spent a delightful day on the steam-operated Bluebell Railway in Sussex, England, about 30 miles south of London.

The Bluebell Ry. is the oldest standard-gauge “preserved” railway in England, dating from 1960. Though currently only 9 miles long it has three “authentic” stations, a collection of about 30 steam locomotives (of which 6 are now in operation), and a large roster of period passenger equipment. For more details see their website:

I reached the railway from London Victoria via a local service on a former Southern Railway line with third-rail electrification, followed by a short bus ride.

I boarded my first train at the Kingscote station, the current northern terminus of the line. A two-mile extension to East Grinstead (beyond the tower) will open soon, giving a direct connection to the British Rail passenger network.

The train was pulled by the newest locomotive on the railway, British Rail “Standard” 2-6-4T # 80151, built in 1956.

Most of the train was made up of relatively “modern” carriages built in the 1950’s.

The consist also included first-class compartment car 7598, dating from 1903.

The line runs through the lovely rolling hills of Sussex.

At Horsted Keynes, the middle station on the line, the train paused for a meet with a train pulled by #592.

Horsted Keynes is the location of the Bluebell’s passenger carriage repair and storage facility. Among other cars, I saw this unique 1913 observation car and some true 19th Century “varnish.”

Sheffield Park is the southern terminus and headquarters of the railway. Here I enjoyed a lunch of steak and kidney pie washed down with real English “pulled” ale.

The interlocking plant at Sheffield Park.

The Bluebell’s extensive collection of locomotives is housed at Sheffield Park.

Some locomotives are on static display or undergoing restoration; others like 9017 and “Battle of Britain” class Pacific 34059 are operational.

Also at Sheffield Park I saw the “Pullman” (parlor/lounge) cars used in the Bluebell’s “Golden Arrow” weekend lunch and dinner service.

The second passenger train in regular service on Sept. 26 was pulled by “Wainwright goods” 0-6-0 #592, built in 1902.

The train was made up of beautifully restored varnished wood cars from about 1900, formerly operated on the London Metropolitan Railway (rapid transit system).

The cars had individual outside-door compartments; one contained a sign from WW II.

The third train in operation (which I did not ride) was a “Grandparents’ Tea Train” with two elegant dining/lounge cars and a center kitchen/service car.

This train was pulled by the most fascinating locomotive that I saw in steam on the Bluebell: inside-cylinder 4-4-0 9017, “Earl of Berkeley.”

The locomotive has a complex history, as described on the Bluebell homepage: “Nicknamed ‘Dukedogs’ since they were an amalgamation a Bulldog and a Duke, the parts of this loco are thus actually older than the ‘building’ date suggests. The 1938 rebuild of 3217 used the frames from ‘Bulldog’ No.3425 (built in 1906) and boiler and cab from ‘Duke’ class No.3282 (built in 1899).”

After the departure of the “Tea Train” I took the last train back to Kingscote and a return to London after one of the most satisfying days I’ve ever spent on a steam “tourist” line.

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