FULL PICTURE
The Bluebell Railway, which cuts through the Sussex Weald, this year celebrates 35 years in operation. The railway, which takes its name from the purple-blue flowers that line its banks, was started by a group of locals after a strike closed the Lewes to East Grinstead line in 1955. Now it attracts about 185,000 passengers a year and offers vintage bus rides, a Pullman dining car, and children's birthday teas, individually packed in Tank Engine lunchboxes.

Industrial strife is never likely to trouble the Bluebell line, since it is run on love and devotion by a team of about 350 dedicated volunteers. Peter Macdiarmid, our photographer, met some of them as they shovelled, fired, shunted and whistled on the 10-mile journey from Kingscote to Sheffield Park one recent Monday.

The railway usually runs on time, with an occasional slight delay. "We are a bit beset by indifferent coal," says the line superintendent, Bernard Holden MBE (for services to railway preservation). "It causes problems occasionally. The industry no longer provides the right sort. They mix it." Mmm. The wrong sort of coal. But nobody minds a five-minute delay on this commute.

What is it about steam trains that stokes men's passions so that they spend their entire retirement in its service? "It's lighting the fire, getting up steam," says Mr Holden. "It's an achievement just to get the engine going - t'int like the motor car, where all you do is switch it on."

For information on anniversary events and bookings, telephone 01825 723777. Recorded timetable: 01825 722370.

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