Volk's Electric Railway

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Coordinates: 50°49′06″N 0°07′45″W / 50.8182°N 0.1291°W / 50.8182; -0.1291

Volk's Electric Railway
Brighton Volks Aquarium Station.jpg
Aquarium Station
Overview
Locale Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Operation
Opening 1883
Owner City of Brighton and Hove
Operator(s) City of Brighton and Hove
Technical
Line length 1.02 miles (1.64 km) after line shortened in 1990
Track gauge 2 ft 8 12 in (825 mm)
Old gauge 2 ft (610 mm) (1883-1884)
2 ft 9 in (838 mm) (1884-1886)
Electrification 110 V DC by inside off-set third rail
Route diagram
Aquarium Station
Halfway Station
depot
Black Rock Station
former Black Rock Station

Volk's Electric Railway (VER) is the oldest operating electric railway in the world.[1] It is a narrow gauge railway that runs along a length of the seafront of the English seaside resort of Brighton. It was built by Magnus Volk, the first section being completed in August 1883.

Operated as a historical seafront tourist attraction, the railway does not usually run during the winter months, and its service is also occasionally liable to suspension due to severe weather or maintenance issues. Information on any current service changes is available from the railway office.

History[edit]

In 1883 Magnus Volk opened a short, 2 ft (610 mm) electric railway running for 14 mile (402 m) between Swimming Arch (opposite the main entrance to Brighton Aquarium, and adjacent to the site of the future Palace Pier) and Chain Pier. Electrical power at 50 V DC was supplied to the small car using the two running rails.[2] In 1884 the line was extended a further ½ mile beyond the Chain Pier to Paston Place (now known as Halfway), and regauged to 2 ft 9 in (838 mm). The electrical supply was increased to 160 V DC and the power plant was installed in the arch built into the cliff face at Paston Place. In 1886 an off-set third rail was added to minimise current leakage, and the gauge was reduced to its current 2 ft 8 12 in (825 mm).[why?]

In 1896 the unusual Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was built by Volk. Due to problems concerning the construction of lengthened groynes to the east of Paston Place this fascinating railway closed in 1901, although it was not finally dismantled until 1910. Following the closure Volk's original electric railway was extended from Paston Place (today's Halfway) to Black Rock. Paston Place was also the home of Volk's Seaplane Station, which was used by Volk's son George Herbert Volk. In 1930 the line was cut back 200 yards (183 m) from Palace Pier to its present terminus, still known as Aquarium, and in 1937 the Black Rock end was also shortened by around 200 yards (183 m). (In 1935 a lido had been built at Black Rock.)

In 1940 the Brighton Corporation took control of the line. It was closed during World War II, but reopened in 1948. Winter operation ceased from 1954, although the line did reopen temporarily in the winter of 1980 to cash in on the large numbers of sightseers who had come to look at the Athina B, a freighter that had beached near the Palace Pier. Two-car multiple operation was introduced in 1964. In recent years there has been a decline in visitor numbers due to package holidays. In 1995 the Volk's Electric Railway Association was formed to help the operator of the line (Brighton & Hove City Council) promote and operate the line. And in 2003 the Volks Railway Institute of Science and Technology was formed to promote the educational and science side of the Victorian railway to schools and special interest groups.

In the late 1990s the Black Rock end of the line was shortened by 211 feet to permit a storm water storage scheme to be built in the marina area.The new single platform station, which shares a building with a new Southern Water pumping station, opened in 1998 and is not quite centred with the ornamental terraces above and behind it, causing the view of the area (from out at sea) to be asymmetrical.

In 2014 it was announced that the railway had been awarded a grant of £1.6 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a sum which must be spent by March 2017. The work to be funded is to include the provision of a vistor centre and ticket office at the Aquarium station, a new depot with viewing gallery at Halfway, the restoration of cars 4, 6 and 10 to full working order, and the provision of new educational materials about the railway.[3]

Operation[edit]

Route[edit]

Halfway station

Today the line runs between terminal stations at Aquarium (a short distance from the Palace Pier) and Black Rock (at Black Rock, not far from Brighton Marina), with an intermediate station and depot at Paston Place (now known as Halfway). The line has a 2 ft 8 12 in (825 mm) narrow gauge, is electrified at 110 V DC using a third rail, and is one mile long.

Signalling[edit]

The line speed of the railway is low enough that it is essentially operated as a heritage railway. The line is single throughout with a passing place at Halfway Station (known previously as Paston Place and Peter Pan's Playground). There are also two passing loops roughly midway between each terminal and Halfway, although the western loop is under repair. Usually two trains operate from end to end, passing at Halfway station. In general, there is only one train on each single track at any one time. The railway does not operate with two trains on one single track section. Drivers are now equipped with radios which allow communication between themselves, stations and control.

There are warning lights at pedestrian crossing points to the beach with a warbling siren to warn of the approach of a train. A following train is required to signal its approach to a pedestrian crossing point by sounding its klaxon horn. One such crossing provides the only external access to Halfway station.

Rolling Stock[edit]

The numbering of cars can cause some confusion as numbers were duplicated when new cars replaced scrapped vehicles. In 1948 cars no. 8, 9 and 10 were renumbered 5, 2 and 1 respectively after the cars bearing those numbers were scrapped, all cars reverted to their original numbers in the year 2000. The Cars were often built in pairs. Currently, there are seven electric cars and one diesel locomotive in operation on the line with an additional two electric cars on static display elsewhere.

Number Type Builder Date Motor Status Notes Image
1 (1st) 10 seater William Pollard 1883 Unknown Scrapped. Original two-foot gauge demonstration car. Couldn't be re-gauged when the line was converted.
1 (2nd) 30 seat saloon Unknown 1884 Siemens D2 6 hp Awaiting rebuild. Suffered badly from wartime storage. Scrapped June 1948.[citation needed]
2 30 seat saloon Unknown 1885 Siemens D2 6 hp Awaiting rebuild. Suffered badly from wartime storage. Scrapped June 1948.[citation needed]
3 40 seat semi-open VER/Paston Place Works 1892 Greenwood & Batley 7 hp replaced by Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Restoration planned. New underframe around 1923. Restoration is being planned by the volunteers of the Volk's Electric Railway Association.[3]
4 40 seat semi-open VER/Paston Place Works 1892 Greenwood & Batley 7 hp replaced by Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Awaiting rebuild. New underframe around 1923. To be returned to full working order by March 2017.[3]
5 (1st) 30 seat saloon VER/Paston Place Works 1896 Siemens 8 hp Awaiting rebuild. Body became a summerhouse in a garden near Falmer Station around 1928. Fate unknown.[citation needed]
5 (2nd) 24 seater winter Car G.Kelsey, Hove 1930 Siemens 8 hp Scrapped. Unique all steel enclosed car for use in bad weather. Suffered badly from wartime storage and body became heavily corroded. Scrapped 1948.
6 40 seat semi-open VER/Paston Place Works 1901 Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Awaiting repairs. Requires new underframe. To be returned to full working order by March 2017.[3] Volks Electric Railway No 6.jpg
7 40 seat semi-open VER/Paston Place Works 1901 Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Operational. Cars 7 & 8 were the first to be designed with side entrance doors. Volks Railway Car 7.PNG
8 (1st) 40 seat semi-open VER/Paston Place Works 1901 Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Operational. Carried no.5 between 1948 and 2000. Volks Electric Railway No 8.jpg
9 (1st) 40 seat open VER/Paston Place Works 1910 Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Operational. Carried no.2 between 1948 and 2000. Black Rock stn look east with car no. 9 (Volk's Electric Railway).JPG
8 (2nd) Southend Pier 40 seat open Falcon Works, Loughborough 1898 (Into VER service 1950) Two 140 Volt motors. No longer on the railway. Purchased from Southend Pier Railway around 1948. Operated on VER until the 1990s when it was decided to retire the aged Southend cars. Static display at Southend Pier Museum.
9 (2nd) Southend Pier 40 seat open Falcon Works, Loughborough 1898 (Into VER service 1953) Two 60 volt milk-float motors. No longer on the railway. Purchased from Southend Pier Railway around 1948. Operated on VER until the 1990s when it was decided to retire the aged Southend cars. Static display at South Downs Heritage Centre, Hassocks.
10 40 seat open VER/Paston Place Works 1926 Compagnie Electrique Belge 8 hp Carried no.1 between 1948 and 2000. To be resored to full working order by March 2017.[3] Volk's Railway, Brighton - geograph.org.uk - 1570345.jpg
PW Diesel works locomotive Motor Rail (Alan Keef Ltd.) (40SD530) 1988 (Into VER service 2004) Perkins diesel engine. Operational. Last ever locomotive to be ordered from Motor Rail though actually constructed by Alan Keef Ltd. Built for Butterley Brick Co. Ltd. and operated at Star Lane Brickworks. Passed back to Alan Keef Ltd. after closure of the brickworks, overhauled, and purchased by VER in 2004. First non-electric powered vehicle on VER. Used for maintenance and inspection at times when power rail is switched off. Alan Keef works number 40SD530 Volks Electric railway.jpg

The railway also possess a small number of service wagons that are used with the diesel locomotive.

A highly detailed model of Volks carriage № 6 is on show in the foyer of the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, donated by Siemens who provided much of the electrical equipment used on the railway.

Volk's Electric Railway Association (VERA)[edit]

At the invitation of the Council and the management of the railway a supporters association, 'The Volk's Electric Railway Association' was formed in 1995. Members of the Association provide practical and promotional help to the railway, including operation and maintenance tasks. The Association also attends various exhibitions with a large operating model of the railway as it was in the 1950s. Membership is open to all with an interest in the railway. Members receive an informative quarterly magazine, reduced rate travel on the railway and free admission to a series of interesting winter meetings held in Brighton. The Association also acts as a collector for Volk's memorabilia and ephemera, some of which can be seen at the South Downs Heritage Centre in Hassocks. The largest object now in the care of the Association is the ex Southend Car which between 1950 and 2000 carried the Volk's fleet number 9. Car 3 will become a two year joint restoration project if the temporary restoration shed gains consent during spring 2014.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The world's first electric railway, in Lichterfelde from 1881, is no longer operational.
  2. ^ The first permanently operating tram with overhead lines, Mödling and Hinterbrühl Tram in Austria, started its service two months later in October 1883. It was closed down in 1932.
  3. ^ a b c d e Abell, Paul (August 2014). "£1.6M for Volk's Railway". Today's Railways UK (152) (Platform 5 Publishing Ltd). p. 71. 
  • Iain Frew (ed) (1983). Britain's Electric Railways Today. Published by the Electric Railway Society and Southern Electric Group. ISBN 0-85534-021-5 or ISBN 0-906988-12-8. Pages 81–82.

External links[edit]