Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Friday, 7 August 2009 10:58 UK

Dame Vera launches railway appeal

Dame Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn joined in the celebrations to mark the anniversary

Dame Vera Lynn has helped to launch a £3.5m appeal to mark the anniversary of a Sussex steam railway.

The Forces' Sweetheart released 50 balloons to celebrate the first 50 years of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society, formed in 1959.

The railway opened 12 months later, and it now plans a year of events leading up to a special weekend in August 2010.

Money raised in the 50th anniversary appeal will help fund the extension to East Grinstead, due to open next year.

The Bluebell Railway will have its own platform at East Grinstead, linking the service to the national railway network.

'Brings benefits'

The railway currently runs for nine miles between Sheffield Park and Kingscote.

"The Bluebell is important not only for its position as the first and one of the most prestigious heritage railways, but for the benefits it brings to Sussex, and in particular East Grinstead, in terms of tourism," said a spokesman.

The first main line steam engine to be built in Britain for 50 years will be at the Bluebell Railway for two weeks next August.

The £3m Peppercorn class A1 Pacific locomotive was named Tornado by the Prince of Wales in February.

Current plans are for Tornado to arrive by road, but it could arrive under its own steam if the extension can be completed in time.

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