Volk’s Electric Railway, the oldest operating electric railway in the world.



Today, a history lesson on electric railways. The Volk’s Electric Railway (VER) is the oldest operating electric railway in the world (the world’s first electric railway, in Lichterfelde from 1881, no longer operates). It’s a narrow gauge railway that runs along a length of the seafront of the English seaside resort of Brighton, built by Magnus Volk, with the first section being completed in 1883.

The Volks Electric Railway is not an interurban or a tramway, but a niche railway, built for the tourist trade, not unlike Disneyland’s monorail. That being said the Volks Electric Railway is the oldest operating railway in the world.

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. The line has a gauge of 2 ft 8+12 in (825 mm), It is electrified at 110 V DC using a third rail, and is just under 1+14 miles (2 km) long.


The initial 1883 line was intended as a temporary summer attraction and ran for only 14 miles (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. It was built to a gauge of 2 ft (610 mm) and electrical power at 50V 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 2 ft 9 in (838 mm), 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 2 ft 8+12 in (825 mm). (The voltage was reduced to the present 110 V 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 (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 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.



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