Volunteers paid a personal tribute as a Mid Sussex steam railway lover’s dream came true when the first passenger train since 1958 pulled into Sheffield Park station from East Grinstead.
The journey of faith by Bernard Holden, MBE, that the closed line could be re-opened began with a Middy report 55 years ago that prompted a knock on his door in the late Fifties.
Five decades of working, planning, and fund-raising by staff, members and hundreds of volunteers turned Bernard’s dream into reality just after 10.35am on Saturday when a special train called The Pioneer arrived at Sheffield Park after the milestone 11-mile trip from East Grinstead.
No passenger trains had run from East Grinstead on that closed stretch of the old Lewes-East Grinstead line since it was closed in 1958.
Bernard died at 104 in October, denying him his cherished wish to ride on the footplate on the 9.45am from East Grinstead on Saturday to officially mark that the £11 million Blubell Line extension was complete.
But Mr Holden’s spirit still burned brightly as the boiler was stoked up to power the Southern 473 locomotive called The Pioneer and six olive green Southern coaches on its historic journey through Mid Sussex.
Driver of the momentous first train out of East Grinstead Russ Hubner, from Henfield, with the line since he was a teenager, told a Middy reporter on arrival at Sheffield Park: “It was fantastic. You only get to do something like this just the once. The train got a huge cheer from the crowd at East Grinstead.”
His ‘fireman’ Barbara Jarvis said: “It was very good run, great fun. But I was a bit overwhelmed at one time.”
The first Bluebell passenger train in the opposite direction north into East Grintead was a sold-out breakfast special that left Sheffield Park at 9.30am on Saturday. The last of the day was a celebration dinner special with fireworks in the evening, with regular passenger trains also running throughout the day as the Bluebell railway steamed into another phase of its eventful life and a possible future link-up to Haywards Heath as another dream to chase.
For the full story pick up a copy of today’s Mid Sussex Times (Thursday, March 28)