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The opening of the Northern Extension

The formal public opening of the railway line back into East Grinstead concludes the longest running project the Bluebell Railway has had since its inaugural meeting way back in 1958.

Whilst the founding members were looking at saving the entire line from East Grinstead to Lewes, the history books will tell the story of why it began as just a short operation between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes did in fact become the Bluebell Railway.

Of the many people who saw the lifting of the last panels of track severing the line from the main network, most just said, "Well that's that"; but here we are - albeit at the end of a journey almost 40 years in length having restored a good proportion of the original intent.

We have confounded our critics, stumped our doubters and proved the pessimists wrong, let alone demonstrated to the outside world; that a small group of amateurs would attempt, let alone complete, a project of such magnitude.

I can remember filming one of the first appeal videos standing at the base of the Imberhorne cutting with waste and clay towering above us and saying all we have to do is clear that lot and we can run trains, whilst at the same time at the back of my mind asking myself "Surely not, we can't be this mad???". But it has been done and to as best a high standard as can be considering what has been thrown against us over the last 6 months.

There already been a few "firsts" and without doubt there will be more over the next few weeks. It is a good time to be a Bluebell member as witnessed by our continued growth in membership numbers.

It is hard to believe that there have been 2 multi-million pound projects running in parallel over and shows a huge investment in the railway overall and then when you add to that the other monies that have been raised and expended on other items such as coaching stock, locomotives and buildings one cannot escape the fact this has been done with a huge amount of support from members, individuals, organisations and the public to all of whom we say a big thank you for supporting our key aims.

Just as so many people are excited about the opening there must be those who are looking forward to a well deserved break! The preparation that has gone into this opening project whether it has been preparing the booking offices with new tickets, catering, decorating and tidying the stations and signals, preparing locomotives and carriages, advertising and promoting the line, fund raised and told the Bluebell story a thousand times over, all the training that has had to be completed in a short amount of time has put immense pressure on people but in true Bluebell style, they have overcome and delivered and great credit to all.

It won't be totally perfect but assured it wont be far off and of course we will have to manage the operation and of course we can all take a great learning from this. We have a great start and I hope that many people come and enjoy a ride on "our" railway as we create just a little piece of railway heritage history. Congratulations have continued to come in from all over the world and from other Heritage Organisations which goes to show how interested people were in what we were doing... after probably thinking the same as us!!!

My most sincere thanks to all those who have played their part.

Roy Watts, Chairman 22 March 2013.


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