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Volks Electric Railway, Brighton

Opened in 1883 by Brighton-born inventor and engineer Magnus Volk. The oldest operational electric railway in the world

East Sussex
Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

Waterfront, Brighton Marina, Brighton BN2 5WB

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About Volks Electric Railway, Brighton

Opened in 1883, Volk's Electric Railway is the world's oldest operating electric railway and was the world's first public electric railway. 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. The line has a gauge of 825 mm (2 ft 8 ½ in), It is electrified at 160 V DC using a third rail, and is just under 2 km long.

The initial 1883 line was intended as a temporary summer attraction and ran for only 400 m 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 610 mm (2 ft) and electrical power at 50 V DC was supplied to the cars using the two running rails. In 1884 the line was extended from Chain Pier to Paston Place, the gauge widened to 838 mm (2 ft 9 in), and the electrical supply increased to 160 V DC. In 1886 a third rail was added to avoid power loss along the extended line and the gauge tightened to its current 825 mm (2 ft 8 ½ in).

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. 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 by 183 m (200 yds) from Palace Pier to its present terminus, still known as Aquarium. In 1937 the Black Rock end was also shortened by around 183 m (200 yds) as a lido had been built at Black Rock in 1935.

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 preserve the line.

In the late 1990s the Black Rock end of the line was again shortened by a 91 m (100 yds) to permit a storm water storage scheme to be built in the marina area, the new station retaining the name of the original.

Along with the work of Werner Von Siemens, all electric railway and tramway systems can be traced back to Magnus Volk; the railway at Brighton is therefore of incalculable heritage importance.

A formal unveiling is planned for 29th March 2024

By road: On A259 at the eastern end of the promenade

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