This "rickety, rackety railway"

I’ve always had an affection for Volk’s Railway, which currently runs between a station about 200 metres east of the Palace Pier to near Black Rock. This “rickety, rackety railway” was the first permanent electric railway in the world, opened to the public in 1883, and its story has been told many times.

Working as a student in 1969
In 1969 I was a student and had an opportunity to work on the Railway during the summer holidays; by chance, the person who organised the cashiers and did the daily accounts had left, and Mr Hall, the General Manager, gave me a job until the end of the season. I was based at the offices at the bottom of Dukes Mound, which was a treasure trove of old uniforms, workshops and offices. Little seemed to have been thrown away over the years, and there were old uniform buttons, parts of the old overhead controllers (phased out in the early 1960’s), and even odd lengths of old trolleybus overhead wire used as paint stirrers!

Make do and mend!
The drivers were a mixed bunch including at least one former Brighton tram driver. The engineer, Reg, somehow managed to prepare a dependable service each day. I spent my day at the Peter Pan Playground Station kiosk, selling tickets, and at lunchtime was given unofficial driving lessons on my way into Brighton for a sandwich! Black Rock Station (now a different building, and called Marina Station) was largely built of used panels from buses and also sported a piece of tram rail as a buffer stop. The whole ethos of the Railway was “make do and mend”.

Comments about this page

  • One job my father had for a while was as an engineer on the Volks Railway in the 1980s. He was only there for a fairly short time, but I was allowed to visit the arches which were the offices. The most impressive thing to me (as an early teenager) was the mercury bath rectifier. This was a giant (may be six feet tall) glass bulb half full of mercury (dont worry, it was sealed so no fear of the deadly fumes). On the surface danced a beutiful blue spark. This spark was where mains electricity (which is AC) was arcing from an electrode on to the mercury and since it could only flow one way it produced the DC current required for the railway. Alongside it were the fairly new 1980s ‘solid state’ rectifiers which weren’t used as the chap in charge (I think he may have still been Reg) thought that the railway may as well use the old one until it stopped working. Is the Mercury bath rectifier still there?

    By Trevor Sharp (23/10/2005)
  • Last I heard the mercury bath was hidden away somewhere by the council. They don’t know how to get rid of all that dangerous mercury!

    By D Watts (27/10/2005)
  • The mercury arc bulbs were removed and taken away by approved specialists over 15 years ago now. The Special Waste Regulations 19964 and Hazardous Waste Directive (91/689/EEC)5.

    By Stuart Strong (03/12/2010)

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