Restoration on Track at Volk’s, The World’s Oldest Electric Railway
Additional writing by Adam Heppell
The huge £2 million restoration project on Volk’s railway, which runs between Palace Pier and Black Rock, is on schedule despite the scathing winter weather. Works financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund are on target for their late spring completion when the oldest electric railway in the world will re-open for the 2017 summer season.
Originally opened in 1883, Volk’s railway holds a special place in the hearts of locals and tourists alike.
Councillor Alan Robins, deputy chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee for Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “Volk’s Railway is a much-loved and integral part of our city’s history. The funding is recognition from the Heritage Lottery Fund of the importance of this fascinating Victorian attraction which is still so very popular today. ”
Wet, windy and icy weather this winter has caused no delays to the works.
Peter Williams, vice chairman of the Volk’s Electric Railway Association (VERA), said the only problem with work this winter has been getting the utilities and power networks to come along and disconnect the supplies.
As soon as these supplies are disconnected, weather permitting, contractors can lay foundations and begin constructing two new buildings: a visitor centre and a station at the Sealife centre aquarium. The bulk of the funding, around 1.3 million pounds, will be used for these two buildings.
Mr Williams said: “The hope is that when the have the visitor centre set up we can and we will be doing much more to get schools actively involved as part of the education program.”
He joined VERA 12 years ago, inspired by his personal passion for engineering. Members of the association spend their free time restoring, promoting and operating the line, which was the invention of electrical engineer Mangus Volk.
An electrical engineer himself, Mr Williams said he looks up to Magnus Volk as a pioneer in the field and a man whose work he very much admires.
The son of a German clockmaker, Magnus Volk was born on Western Road on 19th October 1851. Educated in the town, he was eventually apprenticed to a scientific instrument maker. He was a pioneer of the early use of electricity, bringing the first telephone system to Brighton in 1879. His most famous invention was the ‘Daddy Long Legs’, a railway that ran on rails in the sea between Brighton and Rottingdean.In 1883 he opened the famous seafront railway which put him down in history as one of the greatest Brightonians.
The renovation work will see a visitor centre with a special exhibition paying tribute to Volk and his ground-breaking electrical inventions erected. The improvements will also see the attraction accessible year-round whereas in the past it could only offer a seasonal service.
In addition to the building work, three of the railway’s older cars have been sent to a specialist contractor in Ross on Wye, 160 miles away from their seafront home, for restoration work.
When construction began on the railway in October 2016, many locals took to the 14,000-person strong Hanover Community Notice Board on Facebook, expressing sadness at seeing cranes looming over the railway and fearing for the worst. However, these works will secure the future of the cherished seafront fixture and will doubtless secure the future of Volk’s for many generations to come.
“Hopefully,” said Mr Williams, “we will be able to achieve something for Brighton that will last another hundred years.
“As far as my own involvement is concerned, I am helping to leave a legacy for the future. The railway is something that is really precious, both to me and to the community, and I’m glad to be involved.”