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Brighton And Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway

Brighton And Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Two children looking up at the car of the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway. Photo: Hemmings Motor News
For five years towards the end of the 19th century, there was a peculiar seashore attraction at Brighton, on England’s south coast. It was an electric railway, and an extension of the already popular Volk's Electric Railway that runs on the seafront. Only this section ran underwater.
Magnus Volk, the British railway engineer, attracted attention in Brighton when he opened a narrow gauge tourist railway that ran along Brighton’s beach skirting the waters of the English Channel. Named after himself, the Volk's Electric Railway opened in 1883, and ran as far as Paston Place. But Volk’s plan was to take it all the way to Rottingdean. The only obstacle was the geography. Extending the railway the remaining three miles would require either a steep climb to take it over the cliff, or a tunnel under it. Magnus Volk chose neither.
In 1892, Volk decided that the most cost-effective solution was to build a railway that travelled through the sea.
Construction of the line started in 1894. It consisted of two separate tracks of 2 feet 8½ inch gauge that ran parallel with the outer rails 18 feet apart, making it the widest gauge passenger railway ever built. Rolling stock consisted of a single car named “Pioneer”, 45 feet long and 22 feet wide that sat on four long legs, 23 feet above the rails, to keep the train car and the passengers dry. Power was supplied by an overhead electric wire that was used to drive two 25-HP General Electric motors to power the car’s wheels. The line ran almost 200 feet from the cliffs, affording travelers a fine view of the sea front.
The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway, affectionately known as “Daddy Long-Legs”, was essentially a ship. It was required to have a sea captain at all times, who decided when the sea was safe to travel over. Pioneer carried a number of lifejackets for the passengers and even had a lifeboat.
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
The railway opened in November 1896. But only six days later the line was damaged during a fierce storm, putting the attraction out of service for eight months and nearly ruining Magnus Volk financially. Operating the line turned out to be more difficult than Volk had anticipated. Bad weather caused frequent breakdowns disrupting the timetable for weeks on end. The railway was also severely underpowered. During high tides it moved no faster than a slow, leisurely walk. New and powerful motors would have solved this but Volk was short of money.
Despite the shortcomings and the potential danger of traveling on the line, tens of thousands of people rode the car each year. After the Prince of Wales, and the future King Edward VII, made the journey on the tramroad in 1898, he reportedly said that he was “much pleased with the novelty of the undertaking, and also with the pleasant sensation of travelling through the sea.”
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
At the turn of the new century, Volk faced a new problem. Brighton authorities informed Volk that they wanted to shore up beach defenses by building two new concrete groynes, which meant that Volk had to move the line to much deeper water. Unfortunately, the investment required for such an extension was way beyond the Company’s means leaving Volk with no other option but to close the railway.
The Pioneer was left to rot until the remnants of the railway was sold for scrap in 1910. Today, very little remains of this valiant attempt save for some of the concrete blocks supporting the rails that appear during low tides, and a couple of wooden poles that supported the overhead wires.
Volk's Electric Railway, on the other hand, continues to operate and is the longest-running electric railway in the world. Following the closure of the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway, Volk's Electric Railway’s line was extended onshore to Black Rock, covering a portion of the same distance that the sea railway ran.
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway
Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway

The tracks of the former railway still visible on the shores of Brighton.  

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