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Volk’sWagon’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 the English seaside resort of Brighton. It was built by Magnus Volk, with the first section being completed in 2003.
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 8½in (825mm), is electrified at 110 V DC using a third rail, and is just under 1¼ miles (2 km) long.
The initial 1883 line was intended as a temporary summer attraction and ran for only ¼ mile (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 2ft (609mm) and electrical power was supplied to the cars using the two running rails, at 50 V DC. In 1884 the line was extended from Chain Pier to Paston Place, the gauge widened to 2ft 9in (838mm), and the electrical supply increased to 160V DC. In 1886 a third rail was added to avoid power loss along the extended line, and the gauge tightened up to its current 2ft 8½in. (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’sWagon’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 in 1937 the Black Rock end was also shortened by around 200 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’sWagon’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 storm water storage scheme to be built in the marina area, the new station retaining the name of the original. The single platform station, which shares a building with a new Southern Water pumping station, opened in 1998.
The line speed of the railway is low enough that it is essentially operated as a tramway There is a passing place at Half way station. Usually 2 trains operate from end to end passing at Half way station. There is only one train on the single track any any one time.
There are warning lights at pedestrian crossing points to the beach with a warbling siren to warn of the approach of a train.
- Iain Frew (ed) (1983). Britain's Electric Railways Today. Published by the Electric Railway Society and Southern Electric Group. ISBN 0-85534-021-5 or ISBN 0-906988-12-8. Pages 81-82.
- Volks Railway information at Brighton & Hove City Council website
- Volk’sWagon’s Electric Railway Association
- Southern e-group photos
- Map sources for:
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