Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Sunday, 18 January 2009

Steam railway linked to network

Bluebell Railway
It is hoped the East Grinstead extension will be opened in 2010

A steam railway in East Sussex has been connected to the National Rail network for the first time in half a century.

It is part of a 4m project to extend the Bluebell Railway, which currently runs for nine miles from Sheffield Park to Kingscote, to East Grinstead.

A restored British Rail slam door train, now out of service, pulled into East Grinstead station and was formally handed over to the railway on Saturday.

It is hoped that the extended stretch of track will open in 2010.

The slam door train was given the honour of trying out the new link.

Roger Kelly, director of the Bluebell Railway, said: "It's the first time a train has been south of East Grinstead for 50 years, and when we can get all the way to our station in Sheffield Park, it will be the first time it's gone right down there for over that length of time."

BBC news presenter and Bluebell Railway supporter, Nicholas Owen, said he was looking forward to the day when it was able to link from East Grinstead to "what is the first and the best preserved railway in the country".

Work to extend the line began last year and if fundraising goes to plan it should be completed in 2010, with steam trains entering East Grinstead over the 10-arch Imberhorne viaduct.

The slam door train can be seen at the Bluebell Railway sidings in East Grinstead.

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