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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Southend Pier Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          3'

Length:        1.34 miles

Opened:      1851 - Horsedrawn tramway
                     1890 - 1978 - Electric railway (3'6" gauge)
                     1986 - Diesel railway (3' gauge)                  


View Narrow Gauge Railways in a larger map  


Date of visit:     9 September 2013


Key Facts

  • The first pier at Southend was built in 1830 and in 1851 a horsedrawn tramway was added to take passengers to and from the jetty at the end of the pier.
  • The original wooden pier was replaced in 1888 by the existing pier which is still the longest in the world at 1.34 miles
  • In 1891, a 3'6" gauge railway was completed, operated by electrically powered toast-rack coaches (two of which were transferred in 1950 to the Volks Electric Railway in Brighton)
  • By 1930, the line had been doubled along its entire length and was operated by four seven-coach trains
  • In 1949 the rolling stock was replaced with four new seven coach trains similar to those on the London Underground. Each train comprised three motor cars and four trailer cars which could carry up to 260 passengers, at a top speed of 18 mph.
  • This 3'6" gauge electric powered railway was closed in 1978
  • It was rebuilt as a single 3' gauge line with a midway passing place and two Deutz engined, diesel-hydraulic powered trains and re-opened in 1986
  • The railway runs throughout the year (apart from Christmas Day - or if the weather is exceptionally bad).




My Impressions

The last time I travelled on the Southend Pier Railway was approximately 50 years ago, when it was still electrically operated. I still remember the distinctive clack-clack-clack of the trains which could be heard all along the sea-front.

On this occasion, when we reached Southend sea-front, the rain was beating down and the end of the pier was only just discernible through the haze.

I made my way to the main entrance to the pier and duly paid over £4.00 for a return ticket. Despite the weather the train was still running at half-hourly intervals and so before long the regular beat of the wheels and a quick toot on the horn announced the arrival of our train. It pulled into the platform and we waited behind the barrier until the passengers from the pier-head had disembarked. We were then allowed on to the platform to board the train.

There are two platforms, but as only one train was running today, the other (Sir John Betjemen) was parked in the other bay.

The coaches are utilitarian, being finished inside with wipe-clean glass fibre panels.

The turn-round time is fairly brief and so, before long, we were on our way. The view from the carriage window on this wet September day was not particularly edifying, .......

......... but within ten minutes the head of the pier came into view.

We disembarked and made our way up the platform,......

...... with the skyline of Southend, visible in the distance, about a mile away.

There was time to admire the diesel loco and peer through the louvres at the Deutz diesel engine.

Despite the weather, I ventured to the head of the pier and then sought refuge in the cafe, availing myself of a cup of coffee and peering out along the pier to check on the progress of the train as it made its way back up towards us.

Eventually (about 25 minutes later), the train pulled back into the platform and we made our way to the carriages.

The driver's compartment was neatly laid-out and businesslike - though the persistent rain made conditions for photography less than perfect!

The line stretched back towards the mainland. If the weather had been more conducive, I would have walked back, catching a few lineside shots on the way. However, the rain was relentless and I decided that maybe discretion was the better part of valour - and rode back.

When we arrived back at the main (Shore) station, I checked out the two power cars of the line's trains ........

....... before making my way through the amusement arcade and out on to the seafront.

The railway has been constructed for a particular purpose and so its trains are designed to make life easy for the staff and appropriate for the passengers. On the journey, I caught a glimpse of the battery-powered car which is used during the winter months, parked on the other line at the Shore Terminus. The line also owns a couple of flat trucks which are used for maintenance and to transport items to the pierhead but these were not in evidence during my visit.

The museum was not open on the day I visited and so I was unable to see one of the 1949 coaches which it holds, but there are plenty of images of these on the internet.
Southend Pier - 1949 electric train-set - Source:
By coincidence, I travelled on the Volks Electric Railway in Brighton the following day, seeing one of the original former Southend Pier power cars.

Maybe, one day I will return when the sun is shining and get a few lineside shots of the train in action. But I have now filled the gap of a 50 year absence.


[In preparation] 

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