The Bluebell Railway, a heritage railway that runs through Sussex has filed a pre-planning application as it seeks to extend the railway westwards along a partially disused railway alignment.

The Bluebell Railway opened in 1960 between Sheffield Park and Bluebell Halt, extending the final 100 yards to reach Horsted Keynes in 1962. Over the next few decades, they were able to inch northwards to Kingscote in 1994, and finally to East Grinstead in 2013. Now the railway is looking at taking a westwards path towards the large town of Haywards Heath, along a part-disused railway that used to link Haywards Heath with Horsted Keynes, via Ardingly Station.

Existing railway and expansion plans over Open Street Map

To start the process, they recently filed a pre-application with Mid-Sussex District Council looking at whether they would need a full environmental impact to be carried out before filing the formal planning request. The railway alignment they want to use still exists, although all the railway track on the eastern half was removed when the original railway was closed. The western half of the railway still remains, as it’s in use for freight traffic to the Hanson Aggregates depot at Ardingly.

(the disused railway is green on the map above, the blue is the freight and national rail track)

The plans are to restore the disused railway as far as Ardingly where there used to be a station and is today the aggregates depot, and then dig a new tunnel under the road so that the heritage railway can loop around the north side of the Hanson depot without affecting its operations. Eventually, the aim is to secure funding and regulatory clearance to run trains along the existing freight line down to Haywards Heath.

The existing aggregate depot is safeguarded as a railhead in the West Sussex Joint Minerals Local Plan 2018 (Partial Review March 2021), so the heritage railway says in its application that it worked with Hanson to come up with a plan that would keep the depot working while also allowing the heritage railway to run up to, and eventually beyond it.

In their review, the District Council has looked at the plans, and decided that although the length of the railway extension would normally require an environmental statement, as the other factors such as reusing existing railway lines mitigate this, they wouldn’t be calling for a full EIA from the railway.

That cost and delay avoided, the railway expects to file the formal application and request for a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) later this year, suggesting a likely decision from the council could be early next year.

Apart from creating a rail link once again between Haywards Heath and East Grinstead, from a visitor attraction point of view, Haywards Heath, which is on the London to Brighton railway has a much larger potential population within easy travelling distance of where the heritage railway will eventually be operating from.

More people will be able to visit a steam railway.

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Article last updated: 1 August 2022 09:37

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15 comments
  1. Ghost Bus Driver says:

    Believe it or not I was actually chatting with the former BRPS chairman over a cup of tea at Kingscote the day I did the 473 bus link back in the mists of time (Sir Archie was still in steam, that’s how long ago…ahem) and the subject of Ketches Halt csme up. I kind of off the cuff said it’d make a good Ardingly temporary station. Apparently doubling HK to KC has also been looked at. Who knows? Watch this space…

  2. Jamie Stallwood says:

    Although the goods line to Ardingly is sparsely used, the Platform 1 at Haywards Heath is occupied for a significant proportion of each hour, as well as being available for refuge in times of disruption. I can’t imagine how the steam railway, with long turnaround times, is going to get the necessary paths into the station from Network Rail. And there isn’t space to add an extra platform 0. I wish the Bluebell luck though.

    • ianVisits says:

      There’s plenty of land to the northwest side of the station for a dedicated set of platforms.

    • Lee Fewell says:

      Probably something similar to East Grinstead, with the station a short walk away. Although I thought the spare land was to the north east and not as Ian mentioned to the north west.

    • ianVisits says:

      I looked at a map.

  3. Dave says:

    I’m struggling to decide which proposal is more ludicrous: this one or the K&ESR’s plan to put a level crossing on the A21.

  4. Robert Hawkins says:

    Robertsbridge is the perfect terminal for KESR and bring life into the village.A level crossing on the A21 is no big deal given the frequency of trains,can’t be any worse than 40tonne lorry getting stuck or cars queuing on such a bad road.Progress for all must be the priority so give it a good chance.

  5. John Linge says:

    I think “Dave” is very much in the minority. Let him struggle. Both are superb ideas. If the Welsh Highland can travel a significant distance down the highway in Porthmadog, I can see no real problems with either of the proposals mentioned by “Dave”. An incidence of Meldrew disease I feel!

  6. Dave says:

    They would do well to run a service for commuting between east grinstead and Haywards heath taking national rail ticket holders, as they own the track they would take 100% of the revenue. Maybe a half-hourly old slam door, that way they could keep that service environmentally friendly tons of space for another platform at Haywards heath. They wouldn’t even need to merge with the BML

  7. Jamie Stallwood says:

    Space to the North-West is all well and good but not on the correct side, unless you path to cross both lines of the busy Brighton Main Line. The East side is constrained by a road bridge and Waitrose. And this is before you account for the many millions that any new track or platform work would cost on NR territory!

  8. Mike Foster says:

    I certainly hope that the extension all the way to Haywards Heath can be achieved. Would this make the Bluebell Railway unique in operating a working Junction Signal Box? This too would encourage more visitors and help recoup the costs involved.

  9. Ed K says:

    As I understand it the plan is for a new platform to be built between the siding on the eastern side of HH station and Waitrose.

    Quote from a 2014 article in Sussex World:
    “What we have negotiated with the developers of the station site where there is a new Waitrose going is an agreement with them, Network Rail and the local authority, that at the point at which we can run trains to Haywards Heath there is a plot of land allocated for us to build a station which sits between the Network Rail station and the new Waitrose.”

    Looks like it would be a bit of a squeeze at the southern end, unless the agreement is for Waitrose to relinquish some of their car park.

    There seems to be a little used fifth track most of the way between HH and Copyhold Junction which could be used by the Bluebell Railway. The bridge at Old Wickham Lane looks like a potential problem. I am not sure there is room to get a fifth track here so it might need to be rebuilt, or have an agreement to share Network rail tracks for a few hundred metres.

    This would be fantastic boost to the Bluebell railway.

  10. David Cole says:

    Forget the Bluebell Railway, this is what should be being done to provide an alternative route from Brighton to London, rather than the never likely and more impractical reopening of Lewes to Uckfield. Any future problems with either Balcome Tunnel or the Ouse Valley Viaduct – inevitable if fracking is ever allowed to go ahead – would allow a vital link from the south coast using a Haywards Heath – East Grinstead – Oxted route. Totally appreciate the work already done by the Bluebell Railway but National Rail needs to take over the rout entirely and maybe allow Bluebell ‘specials’ on high days and holidays.

    • Voda says:

      That’s like watching someone restore a vintage car and then stealing it.

  11. Lee Fewell says:

    May be feasible if network rail pays for a southern extension to lewes ,or at least the outskirts in exchange for the loss of the 6mile northern section. The area around Newick and Chailey maybe problematical but the Bluebell will still have a network rail connection at Horsted Keynes instead of East Grinstead, a bonus will be a line a few miles longer.

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