Heritage railways are the real gems of the English countryside providing people with the experience of riding a steam train.
The country holds a real affinity with these routes as they provide that trip down memory lane when these trains would patrol the railways on a regular basis. There are very few opportunities where people can sit back in comfort and hear the unmistakable sound of a locomotive chugging its way through the countryside. It is an experience that not many were able to enjoy during the glory days of steam and before the dawn of the diesel or electric train.
It is that departure from the cramped, congested carriages that many people find themselves on during the commute back home from a day of work, that makes heritage railways so popular. While there are numerous routes all over the country, namely the Severn Valley Railway and Ffestiniog Railway, the Bluebell Railway has gone through somewhat of a renaissance in past years.
This nine-mile stretch of railway runs from East Grinstead and passes through Sussex to Sheffield Park. The route boasts over 30 working steam locomotives and attracts visitors from all over the country. It is a one-of-a-kind railway as for the first 46 years of its existence it relied solely on steam power for the trains and shunting. Over the years it has expanded into the diesel side of things but it is still very much committed to the preservation of steam trains.
One of the reasons for the success of the Bluebell Railway has been the team of dedicated volunteers who form the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society. This bunch of passionate railway enthusiasts are responsible for the smooth running of the heritage line and ensure that it stays the popular attraction that it has managed to become over the past few decades.
Their efforts were rewarded recently as the Bluebell Railway was named Ian Allan Railway of the Decade. It came after the line was extended to East Grinstead but still came as an overwhelming shock to the society's chairman Roy Watts who was said to be "knocked back senseless" at the announcement.
The Bluebell Railway was honoured at the National Railway Heritage Awards 2013 at the Merchant Taylors' Hall in London in December and it represented the first that an accolade of this magnitude was handed down. Mr Watts was presented with a plaque by TV presenter Loyd Grossman which recognised the hard work that the whole society has been putting in to make the Bluebell Railway a success.
Like with many other heritage lines across the Bluebell Railway is constantly holding events where people can kick back and enjoy the Sussex countryside from the comfort of a steam train carriage. This upcoming weekend (March 22nd and 23rd) marks the first birthday of trains running between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead. To celebrate there will be a series of special services operating including the Southern Railway S15 Class number 847 and U Class number 1638 locomotive hauling the 1930s Maunsell carriages ensuring a fun day out for all the family.