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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Southport Pier Tramway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         3' 6"

Length:       3600 feet (1100m)

Opened:      1863 - 3' 6" gauge
                     1950 - 1' 11
½" gauge
                     2005 - 3' 6" gauge


Southport Pier

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Date of visit:     22 September 2013


Key Facts

  • When it was built in 1860, the pier at Southport was the longest pier of iron construction in the world. It was soon overtaken by its rival, the pier at Southend but remains the second longest in the country.
  • The first tramway on Southport Pier was opened in 1863 and was used for carrying baggage for passengers arriving by steamer. Initially it was unpowered but in 1865 it was operated by a cable powered by a steam engine.
  • The railway was electrified in 1905.
  • The rolling stock was replaced in 1936 when it was taken over by Southport Corporation
  • The pier was closed during the second world war but although the pier reopened whan the war ended, the tramway was not reopened until 1950 to a gauge of 1' 11½"with a diesel powered train built by Harry Barlow who also built stock for the adjacent Lakeside Miniature Railway
  • For safety reasons the pier closed in 1998. It was rebuilt and re-opened in 2002. The present tram first ran in 2005.
  • The tramcar was built by UK Loco Co, is battery powered and can carry 74 passengers at half hourly intervals.


The tram runs the length of the pier with no intermediate stops

My Impressions

Having spent some time studying and riding on the adjacent 15" gauge Lakeside Miniature Railway, I took time out to explore the pier tramway.

After boarding the tram at the landward end of the pier

I settled into a seat near the front of the two-car articulated tram.

Sedately, the battery-powered tram made its way up the track laid along the centre of the pier to the end of the pier around 2/3mile distant. As the tram is fairly quiet, it has a constant low-powered beeper to alert pedestrians, with a louder horn for those whose minds are elsewhere.

The journey takes around ten minutes and the tram runs at half hourly intervals and so it waits eat each end for around twenty minutes.

Walking back along the pier, the construction looks quite spindly - but as this Grade II listed structure has been here for over 100 years, the design has clearly stood the test of time.

The tram then made its stately way back along the pier ........

...... with the final part of the pier spanning the Marine Lake.

I was intrigued as to where the tram is housed, there being no pointwork and no shelter evident along the length of the pier. The rails come to an abrupt stop at the end of the pier, so it can only be assumed that the tram is run on to a transporter when it needs to be taken off for maintenance or repair.

The tram runs throughout the year (weather permitting) and the fare is quite modest. There is plenty of parking nearby (though this varies in price from free (for two hours) to £5.00 for the whole day. There are plenty of refreshment outlets nearby, including a cafe at the end of the pier.


[In preparation] 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Southport Lakeside Miniature Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          15"

Length:         1 mile (1.5km)

Opened:        1911


Lakeside Miniature Railway

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Date of visit:     22 September 2013


Key Facts

  • The railway is the oldest continuously running miniature railway in the world (others closed during war years, eg Rhyl Miniature Railway which was built in the same year)
  • The railway was opened on 25 May 1911 and ran alongside the Marine Lake with run-round loops at each end. It was extended in 1938 with a tight left-hand turn at the Northernmost end to a new terminus (Marine Parade Station) beside the pier.
  • When first opened, the railway was operated by two Bassett-Lowke 4-4-2 steam locomotives, King George and Princess Elizabeth. These locomotives are still in existence, in America.
  • The original locos were joined in 1919 by one of Sir Arthur Heywood's locomotives, Katie  which had previously run on the Eaton Hall Railway and the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway (see A chronology of Minimum Gauge railways). Katie was sold to the Fairbourne Railway in 1923.
  • In 1948 a steam outline 4-6-2 petrol-electric tender locomotive (The Duke of Edinburgh), based on Gresley’s streamline A4 Pacifics, joined the railway. It was built by Harry Barlow who became the owner of the railway in 1945.
  • Harry Barlow also built the locomotives for the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway, based on the cartoons of Roland Emett, which appeared at the 1951 Festival of Britain.
  •  Two further petrol locomotives of a similar design were added in 1954 (Prince Charles) and 1963 (Golden Jubilee).
  • A further loco, Princess Anne, a diesel hydraulic co-co loco similar to a Western diesel and built by Severn Lamb, joined the railway in 1971.
  • The railway was taken over by Don Clark in 2001.
  • Another loco, a 2-6-2 steam outline diesel hydraulic called Jenny, was added to the fleet in 2006. This loco was built for the LMR by Austin Moss at nearby Windmill Farm.


    My Impressions

    After solving the first problem of finding somewhere to park (see below), my first objective was to get the lay of the land at Marine Parade Station. The station is located between Marine Parade and the pier.

    Walking around the station, it's possible to take some pictures of the station from the first overbridge, which leads to a skateboard and BMX bike park. A little further along Marine Parade, it's possible to gain access to the pier .......

    ..... from which other views of the station can be gained.

    As can be seen, the layout at the station provides for two platforms with separate run round loops on each.

    Heading back to the station, I took a snap of the impressive station building which dates back to the days when the line was extended to its present position in 1938. After chatting with the owner's wife, Jenny, I made my way on to the platform to await the arrival of the next train.

    Only one platform was in use - in fact the track to the other was quite overgrown, suggesting it had not been used for some time. A rake of two articulated open coaches was parked beside the main platform to be available should traffic demand their use.

    At the other end of the platform, the line could be seen stretching out through a cutting towards the 90 degree right-hand bend which takes the railway alongside the lake. The overbridge to the skateboard park was clearly made from cast iron plates which bear the initials of the railway (LMRly).

    Before long, there was the sound of a horn in the distance and the train came into view, the loco propelling the train of two articulated open coaches into the station.

    The loco on duty for the day was Jenny, a 2-6-2 steam outline diesel hydraulic loco which was constructed in 2006.

    Talking with the driver, it seems that this loco is used when traffic is likely to be fairly light. The older, larger locos are pressed into service on a rolling basis during the season, dependent on anticipated traffic.

    We clambered aboard and paid the modest fare (£1.50 single for me) .......

    and within a short period we departed.

    After passing beneath the bridge to the skateboard park .......

     ...... we rounded the curve to pass under the bridge giving access to the park, and then under the pier.

     We then ran on a fairly straight route between the park and the lake. Looking back towards the pier, the lake can be seen on the right.

    We passed beneath another bridge (under repair) ...........

     ....... before passing the stock sheds.

     We then pulled into Pleasureland Station where there is an island platform with two

    In addition to the two run round loops there is a carriage siding leading to another stock shed.

    As with Marine Parade Station, it's clear that only one platform is in regular use, which presumably reflects the lack of demand for this type of seaside attraction these days.

    I decided to walk the mile back to Marine Parade Station, to grab a few lineside shots. The entrance to the station announces as clearly as possible the presence of the railway.

     As does the nameboard on the platform for those walking in the park beside the Marine Lake.

     The walk along the path between the lake and the railway is quite pleasant, punctuated occasionally by the passing of a train. Here we see Jenny passing over the points leading to the stock sheds  .........

    ...... and here further along the line towards Marine Parade.

     The track is quite well maintained though a covering of weeds gives it that Light Railway look .........

     As the line begins it curve towards Marine Parade Station, the line towards Pleasureland Station can be seen almost in its entirety.

     ..... while the other end of the curve beside the skateboard park shows the width of the cutting.

    As the afternoon wore on the number of passengers increased meaning that the second rake of  coaches was pressed into service and the loco was required to run round its train at each end.

    It was satisfying to see the railway attracting more passengers .......

     ..... though it is doubtful as to whether it will ever become as popular as it was in its early days, as evidenced by these pictures on display in the station building at Marine Parade . Clearly, the novelty of seeing a train in miniature was a great attraction.

     It seems a great pity that many of the visitors strolling along the pier and catching a glimpse of the railway are probably blissfully unaware of its fascinating history and its contribution to the world of miniature railways. However, even at the end of the season, the railway was carrying a fair number of passengers. I overheard one passenger enquiring, "Where does it go?" and when told it went up to Pleasureland he replied, "Oh, that's all right then" suggesting that the length of the ride was about right for a day out at the seaside.



    There are no parking facilities specific to the railway at either end but there are several public car parks. We discovered that we could park in the car park on the right hand side of Marine Parade opposite the station for two hours without charge (or longer if something was purchased in the shops.


    Apart from selling sweets, ice cream and hot drinks at Marine Parade Station, the railway does not have a cafe. However, there are many and varied sources of refreshment within a short distance of the two stations.

    Disabled Access

    There are no steps to access the platforms at either station which are both approached by ramps. On the day I visited, there was no carriage which could accommodate wheelchairs available. There is a telephone number on the railway's website to which enquiries could be made.


    [In preparation] 

    Friday, 13 September 2013

    Volks Electric Railway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:          2' 8½"

    Length:        1¼ miles

    Opened:       1883


    285 Madeira Drive
    East Sussex
    BN2 1EN

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    Date of visit:     10 September 2013


    Key Facts

    • The first electric railway in Brighton was opened on 4th August 1883 by Magnus Volk. It was 2' gauge and ran for ¼ mile from beside the aquarium to the chain pier (no longer in situ).
    • The council turned down his request to extend the line along the beach towards the town centre and so he extended it in the other direction to the Banjo Groyne (now the midway point of the railway). He changed the gauge to 2' 8½".
    • As the beach was at a lower level in those days, the line needed to supported in places on timber trestles
    • In 1890, Volk opened a new railway which ran from the Banjo Groyne along the coast to Rottingdean. The Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway was unique in that it ran on rails which were submerged during high tides. The single passenger car was supported on long legs and affectionately nicknamed "Daddy Long Legs" by the local inhabitants. This railway unfortunately succumbed the effects of sea defences and was forced to close in 1900. (see - for more information)
    • Volks extended the VER from the Banjo Groyne (then known as Paston Place and now Halfway Station) to Black Rock in 1900 - the line passing through the coach shed as it does to the present day
    • In 1938, the railway was taken under the control of Brighton Corporation
    • The railway was closed in 1940 for the duration of the war to allow work to be carried out on invasion defences.
    • The railway re-opened in 1948, with two cars from the Southend Pier Railway to replace some of the original rolling stock which had not survived.
    • In 1964, two-car operation was introduced. This doubled the carrying capacity of each train and halved the number of drivers needed. It also removed the need for two platform faces at the termini.
    • In 1995, the Volks Electric Railway Association was formed to support the Corporation in maintaining and running the railway
    • At present, the line possesses seven electric cars and one diesel locomotive.
    • The VER is the oldest electric railway in the world which is still operational.


    Originally running from a station beside the Palace Pier, the line ran as far as the Chain Pier (shown as a dotted red line). It was then extended to Paston Place in 1884 and further extended to Black Rock in 1901. In 1930, the Western terminus was moved from the pier to the aquarium. Black Rock Station was moved when the Lido was built in 1936 and then moved to its present location when work was carried out on sewerage construction in the 1990s.

    My Impressions

    Ironically (given the railway's history), I had assumed that the railway would run from the centre of the town and it was a little while before I located it tucked away behind the pier. There was no train in the station when I arrived (they were a driver short for the day) and so there was an opportunity to buy an ice cream and take a few pictures of the terminus station.

    The station building was previously a tram shelter and was moved to its present position when the railway was renovated after the second world war. The tracks are raised above the beach level on steel trestles and the supports for the second track can be seen on the other side of the platform.

    Before long the two-car train arrived and its passengers disembarked.

     We made our way along the platform and boarded the train.

    I was given the privilege of riding beside the driver. She attached the removable control handle to its spigot, released the brakes and we were off.

    At about the position of the original chain pier there is a passing loop..........

    ..... and then we arrived at Halfway Station .......

     ...... where the line's storage sheds and workshops are located. This was the line's terminus until 1901 when it was extended by running one of the lines through a shed and out the other side.

    Until the 1930s, the line at this point ran over a steel viaduct as the beach was much lower than it is now.

     ....... and the rest of the railway to Black Rock was supported on timber trestles. The drivers used to wear oilskins during windy weather to protect them from the spray.

    The track is now very much on firm ground, with a considerable shingle beach between it and the sea.

    Another passing loop was traversed about mid-way between Halfway and Black Rock .......

    ....... before pulling into Black Rock Station. The rather slab-like station building was built in the 1990s and houses some of the pumping equipment for the drainage works which led to a second re-siting of the station.

    The passengers disembarked and there was a short while to study the locality which has now become the site for a large marina.

    If I had had more time, I would have explored the tideline to look for traces of Volks short-lived but highly imaginative project - the Seafront Electric Railway from Paston Place to Rottingdean, which for fairly obvious reasons was nicknamed 'Daddy Long Legs'

    However, time was short and so I re-boarded the train for the return journey.

    Taking-up my position beside the driver, I had a prime view of the railway and its architecture as we made our way back towards the Palace Pier.

     I realised on the way back that the route is not as direct as I had first thought. In addition to the detour at Halfway Station, there are another couple of twists and turns, presumably to negotiate underlying environmental or geological features.

    At intervals along the line there are various crossings, controlled with automated flashing lights and occasionally guarded with gates.

    I was put in mind of a story on the DVD of the railway (which can be purchased from the ticket office) that when the line was first opened the local fishermen resented its presence and the restrictions it placed on access to the beach and would occasionally let their capstan levers slip to whack the trains as they passed.

    Just beyond the passing place between the Aquarium Station and Halfway there is a small platform which presumably acts as a request stop. We then pulled up the ramp into Aquarium Station.

     The VERA would like to extend this end of the railway to its original position beside the pier. It would certainly bring it more to the attention of the public - the station building is not a particularly prominent structure and it would be a pity if visitors to Brighton are not made more aware of this significant part of British, if not world, railway history.

    Although this was a weekday in September, the railway was carrying a fair number of people on each train - and so it seems to be attracting visitors. It is to be hoped that it continues to thrive.

    I wonder how many of today's passengers are fully aware of its history. Apparently, when the railway opened in 1883, a local clergyman urged his congregation to avoid the newfangled electric railway at all costs - as he was convinced it was the work of the devil!

    His ministrations did not appear to have affected the success of the railway then or now. Long may it continue to thrive!


    [In preparation]