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Volk's Electric Railway

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1883. The Opening of The Railway at Brighton.


Madeira Drive, Brighton, East Sussex. For more details see the website.

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

Today the line runs between terminal stations at Aquarium (a short distance from the Palace Pier) and Black Rock (not far from Brighton Marina), with an intermediate station and depot at Paston Place. The line has a gauge of 2ft 8.5 in, is electrified at 110 V DC using a third rail, and is just under 1.25 miles long.

The initial 1883 line was intended as a temporary summer attraction and ran for the quarter mile between Swimming Arch (opposite the main entrance to Brighton Aquarium, and adjacent to the site of the future Palace Pier) and Chain Pier. It was built to a gauge of 2ft and electrical power was supplied to the cars using the two running rails, at 50 VDC.

In 1884 the line was extended from Chain Pier to Paston Place, the gauge widened to 2ft 9in , and the electrical supply increased to 160 VDC.

In 1886 a third rail was added to avoid power loss along the extended line, and the gauge tightened up to its current 2ft 8.5 in. (The voltage was reduced to the present 110V in the 1980s.)

In 1896 the unusual Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was built by Volk. This was unsuccessful and closed in 1901, when the Volk's Electric Railway was extended from Paston Place to Black Rock.

In 1930 the line was cut back 200 yards from Palace Pier to its present terminus, still known as Aquarium and the Black Rock end was shortened by around 500 yards.

In 1940 the Brighton Corporation took control of the line. It was closed during the Second World War 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. 2-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 preserve the line.

In the late 1990's the Black Rock end of the line was again shortened by a hundred yards or so to permit a drainage scheme in the marina area, the new station retaining the name of the original. The single platform station was built using the shell of a pre-existing pumping station as part of the structure.

The line speed of the railway is low enough that it is essentially operated as a tramway with no line side signalling at all. In general the line is divided into 2 single track stubs with a passing place at Half way station. Usually 2 trains operate from end to end passing at Half way station. However in very busy times 3 or even 4 trains are able to operate with one train following closely behind another in one or both stubs.

There are warning lights at pedestrian crossing points with a warbling siren to warn of the approach of a train. Where a second train is following the first, the driver is required to sound the train's klaxon horn to warn pedestrians of the approach of a second train.

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