PASSENGERS waiting on the platform at Bexhill Station last Wednesday afternoon were no doubt surprised to see a diesel-hauled train heading towards Hastings, but towing a steam engine on the rear.
The train was the Railway Touring Company’s Christmas Sussex Belle, which was a circular trip from London Victoria to Hastings.
The Christmas Sussex Belle travelled outwards through Eastbourne and returned to London Victoria via Battle and Tonbridge.
The train was required to reverse at Eastbourne, so diesel haulage was needed between Eastbourne and Hastings which would allow the steam engine to be the right way round for the return trip to London.
Bexhill resident and railway enthusiast Mike Foster said: “Bexhill’s trainspotters had an unexpected early Christmas present, when a change of plan produced the rare sight of a steam train at Bexhill.
“Typically, this happens nowadays less than once every five years.
“Regrettably, the absence of a turntable at Eastbourne meant that famous Battle of Britain locomotive Tangmere was unceremoniously hauled backwards through Bexhill, before returning to its rightful place at the head of the train at Hastings for the return to London, this time via Battle.”
The train was originally due to run outwards through Ashford and Rye, which would have kept the steam engine the right way around for the complete trip.
However the train was diverted because of restricted clearance in the Ore Tunnel after the recent Marsh Line upgrade.
Ore Tunnel was originally designed as a two-track section of railway where steam trains regularly passed. It was made single track in the 1980s, however since emergency works to save the tunnel were completed last year, steam trains no longer have the clearance to pass.
• The steam locomotive was Battle of Britain class 34067, Tangmere, built in 1947 at Brighton Works.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s it worked main line passenger services between London and the West Country and East Kent.