HDL Hastings Blue Belle railtour

Saturday 7 May 2016

This article was opened on 19 June 2016

[PHOTO: Train in cutting: 78kB]

Above: Our preserved train returns along the Bluebell Railway in evening sunshine. It is passing through Imberhorne cutting which was used as a landfill site after the line’s closure, and re-excavated from 2008. Photo by Phil Barnes.

Hastings Diesels Limited’s 64th public railtour was from Hastings to East Grinstead and the Bluebell Railway.

We travelled from Tonbridge to our final pickup-point at Redhill, and then up to Norwood Junction to reverse in the turnback siding there. We then proceeded south via East Croydon and Oxted to East Grinstead (see cab video 1), where we then joined the Bluebell Railway and traversed its entire length (see cab video 2).

Although our train had visited this preserved line on previous occasions, today was the first occasion on which we had run our own railtour across Imberhorne viaduct, through the re-excavated cutting and onward to Kingscote, Horsted Keynes, and to Sheffield Park—the southernmost point of the Bluebell Railway.

On our return journey, we retraced our steps as far as Hurst Green; a reversal there afforded us a trip along the whole length of the Uckfield line (see cab video 3) and back; a further reversal at South Croydon saw us regain the Brighton Main Line where we continued to retrace our outward route via Redhill and Tonbridge.

Our train behaved faultlessly, and kept almost exactly to the timings throughout the day. Our passengers had over 4 hours at Sheffield Park—plenty of time to look around the beautifully preserved station, and to take a return trip on the Bluebell’s steam services. We ensured that a 3-minute connection across the footbridge was upheld for those arriving on the 1632 steam arrival and departing for Hastings on our train at 1635!

Historical data

The train was formed thus: 60118-60501-69337-70262-60529-60116, with motor coach 60116 Mountfield leading upon departure from Hastings, and trailing upon arrival back there.

The publicity leaflet and timings remain available. The actual running times have also been published.

Cab video footage

We mounted an unattended unmonitored forward-facing camera in the leading cab and recorded three sizeable chunks of the route, as shown below.

In fact the camera was fitted and set running prior to—and later stopped and recovered after—changes of direction; this avoided any potential conflict with train operation, because the driving cab in question was at the rear of the train when we accessed it.

Two of these three videos include the actual soundtrack recorded in the leading cab, so you can hear the driver’s master-controller movements and the operation of the AWS. However on the Bluebell Railway a member of its staff was conducting our driver over the route, which resulted in a near-constant exchange of information in the leading cab and rendered the leading-cab soundtrack unusable for our purposes. With this eventuality in mind we recorded audio from the rear cab for this segment and, thanks to the starter-bell ringing in both cabs, we were able to synchronise the soundtracks precisely!

We hope you enjoy this footage, which is © Copyright 2016 Hastings Diesels Limited.

[PHOTO: YouTube capture: 34kB]

Above: Norwood to East Grinstead (31m58s)

[PHOTO: YouTube capture: 32kB]

Above: East Grinstead to Sheffield Park (49m49s), audio from rear cab

[PHOTO: YouTube capture: 30kB]

Above: Hurst Green to Uckfield (37m25s)


Various photographers have taken video-footage depicting this railtour and have uploaded it to YouTube; the following are links to some starting-points but do not represent a definitive collection:


Photos on this page were taken by Richard Griffin, unless otherwise stated.

[PHOTO: Train entering station: 61kB]

Above: The railtour pulls into Tonbridge at 0914hrs, with the full-yellow end of motor coach 60116 Mountfield leading.

[PHOTO: Train approaching in suburban area: 50kB]

Above & below: Keith Hemsley captured our train passing Holmethorpe on its way north from Redhill.

[PHOTO: Train receding (telephoto view): 57kB]

[PHOTO: Train and preserved station: 66kB]

Above & below: Upon arrival at Sheffield Park, our passengers detrained and our train was shunted ahead into the sidings just south of the platforms. These go right up to the farthest point of the existing line, beyond which the former railway’s bridge over the A275 has been removed.

[PHOTO: Train in sidings: 65kB]

[PHOTO: Train in sidings: 59kB]

Above & below: These two views taken by Phil Barnes show our train in the sidings at Sheffield Park. With the water-tower obscuring our view of the buffer-stops in the second picture, we could imagine that the railway still continued on towards Lewes.

[PHOTO: Train and water-tower: 65kB]

[PHOTO: Two men in front of a sign: 65kB]

Above: Two of our indefatigable on-board staff are called Rod; the two Rods posed in front of suitable signage on the platform at Sheffield Park.

[PHOTO: Train in preserved station: 56kB]

Above: Our train re-entered the platform at Sheffield Park prior to its departure at 1635, as captured by Phil Barnes.

[PHOTO: Striking view of train in countryside: 60kB]

Above & below: Phil Barnes jumped ahead by road to capture our train further up the Bluebell Railway as it approached Horsted Keynes, passing beneath an elegant triple-arch overbridge and running through green fields under gentle blue skies. He then jumped ahead again (see his title picture of our train returning through Imberhorne cutting).

[PHOTO: Side-on view of train among fields and blue sky: 41kB]

[PHOTO: Train in station: 62kB]

Above & below: When we had completed our traversal of the Bluebell Railway we waited at East Grinstead station for some 15 minutes. The view south (above) shows a car-park and a supermarket on the site of former railway infrastructure. Less immediately apparent from these photos is that an entire station (East Grinstead High Level, closed in 1967) crossed this station at right-angles, near the footbridge; its site to the west of here is a car-park.

[PHOTO: Train in station: 62kB]

[PHOTO: Trains in station, telephoto view: 74kB]

Above: Phil Barnes took advantage of the time we waited at East Grinstead station to go round to the bridge in Park Road, from where he photographed our train alongside a Southern EMU as we awaited departure. The concrete bridge prominently visible across this view carries a path along the route of the former High Level station.

[PHOTO: Train approaching station: 67kB]

Above & below: Phil Barnes travelled again by road to capture our train 40 minutes later as it passed Ashurst station on its way to Uckfield. It has just left the single-track section at Blackham Junction. A programme of platform-lengthening works is under way on the line.

[PHOTO: Train passing station: 65kB]

[PHOTO: Train amid foliage: 112kB]

Above & below: Evening sunshine bathes our preserved train beside the River Uck at Uckfield station. The station has been extensively remodelled, as it was previously sited on the south side of the road (out of shot to the right) which it crossed by means of a level crossing. The signal-box (below, clad in scaffolding) controlled the level crossing as well as the signalling. But with the line through to Lewes truncated at Uckfield it made little sense for every train movement to involve closing the road; following the partial single-tracking of the line in 1990, a replacement single-platform station was built at Uckfield at its current position.

[PHOTO: Train, river and signalbox: 89kB]

[PHOTO: Train in station: 71kB]

Above: A final view of the single-platformed Uckfield station (1991), whose modern building opened in 2010. Our passengers had a few minutes to stretch their legs and take in the sights before our journey back to Hastings.