(All pics 8.7.1977 copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)
Almost 40 years have passed since I took these photos in July 1977 of the Bluebell Railway. Back then it was an all-steam line just 4 miles long, linking the country station of Sheffield Park to the extraordinary junction station at Horsted Keynes. Remarkably up until 14 years before these pics you could reach the Bluebell via the Southern Region's electrified branch from Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes. It took the Bluebell another 50 years to reconnect with the network! But the line also owns the trackbed of the Haywards Heath line so at some point in the future the original Bluebell connection will be regained though, sadly, unlikely to be electrically operated!
So back in 1977 the Bluebell was a very pleasant and self contained set up, with loads of classic steam locomotives and coaches and for those of us brought up in Sussex it was a fairly regular treat to travel on the line. There was hardly a house visible on the entire route and this section really showed the wonderful rural nature of the line. Stations were built on a grand scale for such a rural line, with the earthworks, bridges and tunnels built for double track, which was present between East Grinstead via Horsted Keynes to Haywards Heath. The section south of Horsted Keynes was always single track.
I've always felt that heritage lines tend to freeze time and old pics of them can almost be reproduced today, and that this static element makes them less interesting than network lines. But as time passes that's fading. It's true that the biggest clue to the age of this pics is the array of classic cars in the exterior shot of the station, but fashions etc also date a pic. As of course does the traction used - locos come and go, go out of ticket, become unuseable or get sold on. There is change on heritage lines after all!
Overall of course the Bluebell has changed enormously since the seventies. Freshfield Halt has closed for example, there are new stations at Kingscote and East Grinstead, with West Hoathly always a possibility in the future. The line is no longer all steam, and of course there are now excursions off the network, which bring all sorts of visitors to the line. Facilities have improved both front of house and behind the scenes. The little line has become big business, but you can still savour the lovely Sussex countryside from inside a vintage carriage - and see more of it now on the longer journey!