Plans are on track for steam trains to roll regularly into Haywards Heath railway station for the first time since the 1960s - although not for ten years or so yet.
The Bluebell Railway, which a year ago extended its preserved steam service from Sheffield Park in East Sussex through to East Grinstead, has now set its sights on Haywards Heath.
Land has been set aside for the Bluebell Railway to build a station in the town, said Chris White, the railway’s infrastructure director, speaking to the Mid Sussex Times.
Mr White, who has volunteered with the preservation organisation since 1975, said: “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.”
Cllr Norman Webster, cabinet member for planning said: “As a council we would love to see the Bluebell Railway service extend to Haywards Heath, and we have ensured that a piece of land is safeguarded for a platform by making it a condition of the planning permission granted for the Haywards Heath station redevelopment.”
However, Mr White added that while they view the project as a ‘very desirable long term preservation and commercial opportunity’, they are yet to work out the costs of the project.
He said: “We are putting together the bones of a project to extend the railway from Horsted Keynes to Ardingly, and once we’ve got to Ardingly the plan is then to negotiate running rights with Network rail through to Haywards Heath.”
This section of track is still in use commercially by a daily freight train carrying stone.
Once the railway reaches Haywards Heath the effects are likely to be far-reaching. Last March, East Grinstead became the northern terminus of Bluebell’s operation and the town promotions manager Simon Kerr told the Middy it ‘certainly put us on the national tourist map’.
Mr Kerr said: “The economic spin off is reflected by increased tourist spend in our shops and cafes here and this has been confirmed by retailers who have been surprised by the number of visitors who have come into town while visiting the Bluebell Railway.”
Additional visitors that arrived by train to the town was estimated to be in excess of 60,000 people in 2013.
Mr Kerr added: “Although it’s still not quite a year since the line opened, it has won the hearts of all our locals and I’m sure will go on to increase our visitor flow in the coming season and beyond.
“Should the Western spur from Horsted Keynes to Haywards Heath be re-connected, I’m sure that it would bring yet more visitors who will go on to enjoy an even bigger ‘Bluebell Experience’- and better yet, residents of Haywards Heath can come and visit us by train too!”
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See next week’s Middy (February 20) for update from the Town Team’s Station Quarter group including further ideas of how to regenerate the area around Haywards Heath railway station.