A HERITAGE railway has seen a 60,000 person increase in visitor numbers since it reconnected to the mainline network last year.

The Bluebell Railway runs 12miles of track between Sheffield Park, Kingscote, Horstead Keynes and East Grinstead – the latter of which was only reconnected in March 2013.

The two-mile stretch, which cost £3.5million, has seen the service link up to the mainline station in the town.

Since then they have seen their visitor numbers jump by 60,000 to 250,000 in total.

Chief clerk Roy Watts said as a result an extra £1million had been plugged into the business.

He added: “We are a £4m business now. That takes into account the extra fares along with spending at the station and on food.

“We’re not a profit making organisation so all that money goes back into the service and improving the railway for future visitors. We’re delighted.”

The Bluebell first ran steam services on the line in August 1960, just two years after British Rail closed the line.

Mr Watts said as a result of reconnecting with the mainline they were now seeing people using the heritage service to get to London.

He said: “People from nearby villages park up at Sheffield Park, get our train to East Grinstead and then get on the mainline to London. It feels like the line is doing its bit again.

“This Christmas for the first time we are going to be putting on a special service from Sheffield Park so people can go Christmas shopping in London.”

Speaking yesterday, he also praised the line’s 700-odd volunteers who he described as the “life blood” of the service.

He added: “We always have projects on the go. But for now we have to consolidate our position and see where things go.”

For more details and to book visit www.bluebell-railway.com.