Volk’s Electric Railway

Gauge:  2ft 8½in

The Volk’s Electric Railway is one of the earliest electric railways, dating from 1883, and runs for approximately a mile along the seafront in Brighton.

The Volk’s Electric Railway was constructed by Magnus Volk. Born in Brighton in 1851, he had an interest in science and engineering. In 1883, he opened his electric railway, which was originally 2ft gauge, from Aquarium station to the Chain Pier, a distance of a few hundred yards. Power was provided through the two running rails.

Following its success, and refusal by the Brighton Council to allow the line to extend westwards, an eastern extension to Paston Place was built in 1884. The gauge was also changed to 2ft 8½in and a further change made in 1886 by providing a third live feed rail, with the return circuit through the running rails. Further extension eastwards towards Rottingdean was restricted by the Banjo Groyne which the council refused to allow the railway to cross.

Volk instead turned his attention to reaching Rottingdean, 3 miles east of Brighton, using a novel sea-going railway. The Brighton & Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was built on the foreshore from Paston Place to Rottingdean, and consisted of two sets of 2ft 8½in gauge lines with the outer rails set 18ft apart. The electric car resembled a section of a pier, supported by 23ft legs and was powered by an overhead cable. The railway opened in 1896, and was nicknamed the “Daddy Long Legs”. The railway suffered from a number of defects, in particular a lack of power which reduced the tram’s progress to a slow walking pace at high tide. Storm damage and scouring of the seabed also affected the railway, and a council decision to require the railway to be re-routed to allow for sea-defence works led to abandonment in 1902.

However In 1901, following agreement with the council to cross the Banjo Groyne, a further extension was built, taking the line eastwards to Black Rock. This resulted in a line with a total length of 1¼ miles. In 1930, proposed works adjacent to the Palace Pier resulted in the line being shortened at its Western end, and in 1937, the building of a new swimming pool at Black Rock required a new station there.

In 1938, control of the railway passed to Brighton Council, and the railway was closed in 1940 for the duration of the war. After the war, the council carried out extensive repairs and upgrades to the equipment, and the line reopened in 1948.

In 1995 a supporters group was set-up, the Volk’s Electric Railway Association (V.E.R.A.). The council with the support of V.E.R.A were able to obtain Heritage Lottery funding in 2015 for a new car shed at Halfway, and a new station and visitor centre at Aquarium.

Electric Cars

Over the years, the railway has had 14 different vehicles. There are currently 7 cars at the railway, the oldest dating from 1892, and one engineering diesel locomotive.