It is probably fair to say that most visitors to the railway don't realise what exactly it is that the Infrastructure department do.
This is understandable, as (for obvious reasons) we can't work on the track when trains are passing!
So, this page aims to give you an insight into just what it is we get up to.
We are responsible for maintaining the 11 miles of track between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead, the sidings at these stations, and (within a variety of sub-groups) the 22 miles of lineside along the way.
This varies from major projects like track relaying to maintenance activities such as 'jacking and packing' the joints in the rails, oiling and replacing fishplates, changing expired sleepers, keeping lineside vegetation down - and that is just scratching at the surface of what we do!
Although much of the work requires a reasonable standard of fitness (since you're on your feet for much of the day), there are also less physical jobs, such as painting lineside signs and maintaining our range of power tools.
However, in no way do you need to be 'superfit' - we like to refer to ourselves as an '11 mile long gym', and like any good gym, you work to your own pace and ability.
Additionally, you don't need any previous experience - experienced people are always on hand.
You'll find that we're a friendly bunch, always willing to help explain things.
One of the few requirements is that you have to be a Bluebell member aged 16 or over (for insurance purposes) - we have a very broad age range in the department, with students to retirees working together.
For safety reasons, you must appreciate that railways are potentially very dangerous environments, and it is everyone's responsibility to maintain the excellent safety record that the Bluebell has built up.
Therefore the "recruitment process" requires you to have a quick discussion with Matt Crawford, the railway's Infrastructure manager, so he can content himself you're competent to work in the railway environment. You will also be required to attend a 'Personal Track Safety' course to comply with legislation. Please don't let this put you off - the process can't be too hard considering all of us have had our sanity officially approved!
Aside from working on the best preserved line in the country, you'll be within comfortable waving distance of all passing trains!
Seriously though, we're friendly people with a (mostly!) excellent sense of humour, and you get the satisfaction of knowing you've done your bit to keep the Bluebell running.
Plus, we're in the middle of the beautiful Sussex weald, with an abundance of wildlife on tap.
Best of all though, the starting salary is an unbeatable £0 per hour, doubling after your first year with us!
How to join us
Firstly, you will need to get a few items of clothing (in addition to the usual items of course!).
Steel toe-capped boots are essential since a lot of the equipment used is not of the weight that you would want to drop on your foot!
You will also need your own gloves, and, dependent on the weather, waterproofs and suncream.
An ORANGE hi-visibility vest or jacket, a hard hat and all tools and rails are provided!
Secondly, see what takes your fancy from the list below.
Please note that these are the usual meeting days and are provided as a guide - please contact us first rather than just turning up.
- Infrastructure Main Projects
- Working for Matt Crawford, the Infrastructure Manager, the team works on weekdays on track relaying during the annual shut-downs, assisting with major projects such as new carriage sheds, moving surface cables to underground conduits, erecting new signal posts etc. As you might imagine, we were instrumental in the extension to East Grinstead. You may find yourself feeding a cement mixer, driving a dumper, laying track or any number of activities associated with the 'heavy' part of maintenance. Although the team works every weekday, volunteers work as many or as few days as they like. Most work one or two days a week.
- The Sunday Gang
The gang's core activity is routine maintenance of the main-line, making for varied and interesting meetings.
They also lend a hand in one-off projects as and when they come a long.
- The Thursday Gang
The mid-week equivalent of the Sunday gang!
As weekdays generally have fewer trains running than at weekends, the work can be more varied, and special works trains are often arranged in the low-season. The work often involves assisting the Infrastructure Main Projects team.
- The Wednesday Lineside Clearance Gang
It is very important that the railway looks good from the carriage window. There is nothing worse for the visitor to travel through a 'green tunnel'. The two Wednesday gangs strim and burn excessive lineside vegetation and cut down any trees which are growing where they shouldn't. The teams look after the north and south sections of the line.
- The Tuesday Gang
This gang concentrate on bridges and culverts. It is very important that the culverts are kept in good order to prevent flooding and landslips. The bridges are kept clear of vegetation.
Please Note: The Tuesday and Wednesday gangs usually have sufficient volunteers and may not have vacancies.
If you think PW work might be for you, please contact The Volunteering at the Bluebell coordinator, David Chappell, by e-mail or come along to one of our "Find out More Days". Why not give us a try for a day - you never know, you might just get hooked!