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In the Sixties, British Rail had a financial crisis (Google: “Beeching report) and shut down a third of the services and more than half of the train stations nationwide. This coincided with the wrapping up of the expensive-to-run steam trains.

Brits love them some trains, so this change cut a million British autists to the heart. There are all sorts of inspirational stories of engines rescued and, eventually, tiny parts of the closed lines restored by obsessive fans. These are the so-called Heritage railways which are dotted across the country.

The dream has always been to link heritage lines back up to the real network. Problem is, when they tore up the tracks, they sold those bits of land off to dozens — hundreds — of landowners. It seemed hopeless to buy enough of them back (in a contiguous line!) to connect with the real world.

Never bet against obsessives; they are finally managing it in places. The photo is from this article about the Bluebell Railway – “The first preserved standard gauge steam-operated passenger railway in the world to operate a public service, the society ran its first train on 7 August 1960, less than three years after the line from East Grinstead to Lewes had been closed by British Railways” (I stole that bit from Wikipedia). But it’s taken them until just now to link all the way back up to East Grinstead.

Linking up to the real world opens all kinds of possibilities, like commuters paying to go to work (at least partly) on steam trains. Which is doubly neat because we also have a handful of high-speed trains here. I can’t articulate why I think having both in service at once is so cool, it just is.

The Bluebell is one of the most-used railway lines in movies and TV, so do click over and have an explore.

April 20, 2017 — 8:30 pm
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