FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Deltic double-up at the Bluebell

Posted in East Grinstead, England, Horsted Keynes by folkestonejack on April 18, 2015

In the 1960s and 1970s class 55 diesels, better known as Deltics, ruled the East Coast main line, hauling express trains between King’s Cross and Edinburgh. The introduction of just 22 Deltics had been sufficient to see off 55 steam locomotives, including 35 streamlined A4 pacifics. Although some found it hard to forgive the Deltics for supplanting such majestic machines, many were soon won over by their impressive appearance and distinctive growl.

D9009 Alycidon amidst the primroses on the approach to Horsted Keynes

D9009 Alycidon amidst the primroses on the approach to Horsted Keynes

The last passenger services hauled by Deltics took place on December 31st 1981, followed by a farewell gathering at Doncaster Works that pulled in vast crowds. Thankfully, six Deltics were preserved and this has given ample opportunity for later generations to be wowed. This is something that I appreciate as I didn’t get much chance to see or appreciate them first time round!

It is surprising how often I have heard steam enthusiasts refer to the Deltics as ‘honorary steam locomotives’ and accord them a status that they wouldn’t dream of giving to any other diesel or electric locomotive, so it seems appropriate that two of these machines have visited the Bluebell Railway, until recently a steam-only bastion, for this weekend’s diesel gala.

Two of the locomotives owned by the Deltic Preservation Society, 55019 Royal Highland Fusilier and D9009 Alycidon, operated the entire weekend’s services between them. I took the first service out of East Grinstead today and enjoyed a good few hours photographing them in and around Horsted Keynes.

55019 Royal Highland Fusilier hauls a late morning service away from Horsted Keynes

55019 Royal Highland Fusilier hauls a late morning service away from Horsted Keynes

It was a great day to be out and about – blue sky, sun and an abundance of primroses at the lineside making for some interesting shots. Admittedly, the Deltics looked somewhat incongruous running through Horsted Keynes, a station which presents a scene plucked out of the 1920s, but it was fun to see nevertheless. I could even see the appeal of the sound too, particularly as it echoed around Sharpthorne Tunnel on my journey back to East Grinstead.

Thanks to everyone at the Bluebell Railway and the Deltic Preservation Society for bringing the Deltics back to Sussex for the first time in over a decade. The packed trains, some with standing room only, and encouraging conversations all around me suggested that it was a much appreciated event. The Deltics are now expected to leave the railway on Tuesday morning with a mid-morning run to the Severn Valley Railway.



Blood, custard and a splash of mud

Posted in East Grinstead, England, Horsted Keynes, Sheffield Park by folkestonejack on February 26, 2014

The prospects for a photo charter on the Bluebell Railway in late February did not seem terribly encouraging given the horribly wet start to the year, so it was more than a little surprising to turn up at Sheffield Park to find a beautifully clear sky and all the promise of a good day on the lineside. The forecasts looked pretty rubbish for the week as a whole, so this was more than a little lucky…

Black Five 45231 with the Blood and Custards

Black Five 45231 with the Blood and Custards

The motive power for the photo charter was to be Black Five no. 45231 (without her nameplates) which has been on loan at the Bluebell Railway since 22nd October 2013. Today’s run was expected to be the last steaming of the privately owned locomotive, as things stand, before the loan finishes in March 2014 and provided an opportunity to see her with two sets of stock that she would be unlikely to haul normally – the “blood and custard” liveried Mk1 coaches and the BR era P-Way wagons.

Our day began with the Black Five on the “blood and custard” set with some glorious sunshine to get things rolling, making our way up to Horsted Keynes by mid morning where we switched to the P-Way wagons for a couple of runs past Great Oddynes. My tastes have always been a little biased towards freight and industrial scenes, so this was just marvellous to photograph – even if it did mean standing in mud soup! The condition of the field was certainly confirmation of just how incredibly saturated the land in southern england is at the moment.

After this brief switch, we returned to the “blood and custard” set for the run up to East Grinstead. We had the entire line to ourselves for the day and were privileged to be the first photo-charter allowed to use the extension. This gave us a marvellous opportunity to get some shots from Hazleden which is normally “out of bounds” to photographers. The number of good locations on the extension are limited but this spot was definetly worth the trip up the line.

Black clouds begin to gather at Hazleden

Black clouds begin to gather at Hazleden

Photographers are normally cursed by the sun disappearing at the wrong time, so the beauty of a photo-charter is the ability to call the locomotive at the moment the sun seems set to appear. There is quite an art to timing the arrival of a loco to match a short break in cloud cover and this skill proved to be a necessity as the clouds steadily built up through the morning. Nevertheless, our luck with the weather seemed to be holding pretty well – rain only arriving after we had returned to Sheffield Park for a short lunch stop.

Black five and BR era P-Way wagons

Black Five and BR era P-Way wagons

In the afternoon we focused on the stretch of line between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes, mostly using the BR era P-Way wagons and travelling between locations in the Queen Mary brake-van. The various pools of water along the line provided some interesting opportunities to attempt shots with the locomotive reflected in the water, although this worm’s eye view of the word necessitated an embrace of the muddy ground that few of us relished!

Playing with reflections

Playing with reflections

The weather gods had been incredibly kind to us and even the sudden delivery of a hail storm mid-afternoon was not enough to put us off our stride. Indeed, the sight of our P-Way train beautifully lit against a backdrop of black skies was one of my favourite moments of the day. So simple but incredibly effective.

After hail and rain, back to sun...

After hail and rain, back to sun…

Our day finally ended with a glint shot at Freshfield Bank which I kind of fluffed, but in a day of rich photographic opportunities it was impossible to be disappointed! All in all, this was a terrific photo-charter, brilliantly organised by Jon Bowers. Thanks to all the crews and signalmen for making it possible for such a wonderful day to work to its fullest potential.


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Swordfish in the sun

Posted in East Grinstead, England, Horsted Keynes by folkestonejack on June 29, 2013

The Bluebell Railway has been unusual amongst preserved railways in adopting a 100% steam approach to its operations for many years, using steam locomotives for shunting, permanent way and spoil trains. However, the need to remove significant quantity of spoil during the northern extension work necessitated the hiring of a sequence of diesel locomotives from 2006. It was a pragmatic, if controversial, decision that ultimately helped to ensure the successful connection of the railway to East Grinstead.

Class 33 locomotive 'Swordfish' on the Bluebell Railway

Class 33 locomotive ‘Swordfish’ on the Bluebell Railway

The class 33 locomotive ‘Swordfish’ (33103) has been the most recent hire-in, a fitting choice for the railway as almost 100 of the class were built for the Southern region in the 1960s and would have been a familiar sight at East Grinstead. Twenty-five class 33 locomotives (better known as Cromptons) have survived into preservation and a handful continue in operation on mainline charters with West Coast Railway Company.

Although the use of diesels on the Bluebell Railway has been accepted for extension work it is still exceptionally rare to see a diesel hauling passenger trains between East Grinstead and Sheffield Park. Happily, just such a rare occasion occured this weekend when Swordfish was scheduled to haul some special passenger trains between the timetabled steam services.

I was glad that I ignored the iffy weather forecast and headed down to East Grinstead today as it was a real pleasure to see a Crompton on the line. The unusual sight seemed to have attracted quite a crowd of diesel devotees, alongside families and enthusiasts. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I saw Horsted Keynes quite as busy as today. Thanks to the Bluebell for putting on such an unexpected, and enjoyable, day.


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Extension to East Grinstead

Posted in East Grinstead, England by folkestonejack on April 6, 2013

I have spent many a happy day on the Bluebell Railway, ever since visiting as a child in the late 1970s/early 1980s (at a time when the line only ran between Horsted Keynes and Sheffield Park) so it is marvellous to see the extension to East Grinstead has finally been realised – something which seemed impossibly far off when I first travelled the line.

Destination - East Grinstead

Destination – East Grinstead

I was away at the time of the opening (in blizzard conditions) but resolved to visit as soon as I returned from my travels. And so it was that I found myself heading down to East Grinstead this morning to catch the final weekend of the fortnight long opening festival. After years of catching a bus to the railway from Haywards Heath or East Grinstead it was a real pleasure to be able to stroll down to the Bluebell’s new terminus without having to ponder connection times and the like.

The first train of the day into East Grinstead was hauled by visiting locomotive 92212, a British Railways Standard Class 9F 2-10-0, which entered service in September 1959 – which was only around eight months before the running of the first Bluebell Railway train! It was a fantastic sight to see 92212 appear in the distance and then draw steadily closer as it made its way across the Imberhorne Viaduct. Even though I knew the line had been connected it still took a moment like this to make me realise it wasn’t a dream!

92212 crosses the Imberhorne Viaduct to reach East Grinstead

92212 crosses the Imberhorne Viaduct to reach East Grinstead

I took the first train of the day from East Grinstead down to Horsted Keynes, which has always been my favourite station on the line. The station has been restored to the Southern Railway period of the mid 1920s and offers the photographer some wonderful period shots. I was also rather pleased to see class 33 diesel ‘Swordfish’, a locomotive which has been hired in to help with the work on the northern extension.

Class 33 diesel 'Swordfish' at Horsted Keynes

Class 33 diesel ‘Swordfish’ at Horsted Keynes

A short onward journey by train brought me to Sheffield Park station for my first look at the new museum which delivers an impressive re-telling of the story of the railways and the history of the line. It is the best museum I have encountered on any preserved railway and a fascinating way to spend time between trains.

The final pleasure of the day was a run all the way from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead. How terrific it is to be able to say that at long last! All credit to the volunteers who played their part over the last four decades – it is a remarkable story born out of those dark days at the end of the steam era.

More information about the milestones of the Northern Extension Project can be found on the Bluebell Railway website at


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