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.
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.