Volk's Railway

Volks Railway

photograph by Keith Harwood

Not strictly "Southern", but definitely within the "Southern" area, Volk's Railway at Brighton was the first electric railway to provide a regular service in Britain, opening to the public on 4 August 1883. Originally built to a gauge of 2ft, the track stretched for about a quarter of a mile on a shingle embankment from the Swimming Arch (near the Aquarium) to the Chain Pier. The line closed for re-construction in 1884 and when re-opened on 4 April 1884 had converted to 2' 9" gauge and now went as far as Kemp Town, passing under the Chain Pier in a cutting through the shingle approached at gradients of 1 in 28 on the Brighton side and 1 in 14 on the Kemp Town side. Originally built as a two-rail electric railway it was soon converted to an off-centre three rail system as a result of serious leakages of current when the sea washed over the line!
Volks Railway

photograph by Ray Soper

About this time the gauge changed once more - this time to 2' 8½". The railway eventually covered 1¼ miles after extending in the west to Madeira Drive on a steel and wooden viaduct, now buried under the shingle, and in the east on another viaduct, just wooden this time, to Black Rock.
This eastern end of the line was shortened slightly when Brighton Corporation built a new bathing pool at Black Rock. In 1938 ownership of the line passed to the Corporation and from 1 April 1940 they were solely responsible for its operation, just seven months and one day after they had abandoned their electric tramways! The following day the Government closed all beaches against the threat of a German invasion, defence works were built around the tracks and the two terminal stations were demolished.
  Volks Railway

photograph by Ray Soper

After the war, with the track in a very sorry condition, the Corporation took the decision to restore the line and it was rebuilt from end to end with a smart new concrete station at Black Rock but with a redundant tram shelter pressed into use as the Aquarium station, re-opening for business on 15 May 1948. The line closed again during winter 1952/3 during which time a thorough overhaul took place, including the laying of some concrete sleepers. Since 1954 the line has closed every winter with the service operating just from Easter until end September each year. In 1960 the line was transferred from Brighton Corporation's Transport Committee to its Entertainments and Publicity Committee, but was still managed from Magnus Volk's old office. The "new" owners planned to introduce four modern, fibreglass, cars but wisely decided that much of the line's attraction lay in its vintage vehicles, so instead re-built these to prolong their life.
Bibliography: Volk's Railway Brighton, 1883-1964, pub. Light Railway Transport League

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This page was last updated 28 November 2003

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