Sunday, 19 July 2009

Volks Volts

In an age where we think nothing of flying thousands of miles to see new things, it seems strange to consider that there are often new things on our doorstep.

Well old things that are new to us, to be more precise.

Take for example, Brighton, on the south coast of England.

Not more than 65 miles away from me.

Of course, I've been there, as most Londoners have.

However, what I never knew, was that Brighton was the home of one of the most strangest railways on earth.

Or to be more exact, under the sea.

Magnus Volk, the son of a German emigre, was born in Brighton in 1851 and became famous by inventing his Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Elecric Railway in 1896.

What was unusual was that the tracks for the railway, ran under the sea.

What was even more unusual, was that the railway was powered by electricity.

The railcar, officially called "Pioneer", but christened "Daddy Longlegs" by the locals, sat on 24ft legs ending in wheeled bogies which ran on parallel copper tracks, sitting on the seabed.

DC Power was obtained by an overhead line, not unlike that of a trolley cable.

Strangely, the return supply was through the tracks, which were underwater at high tide.

The Daddy Longlegs cruised at walking pace over the waves and had to be skippered by a qualified ships captain and have its own lifeboat.

The new railway only ran for 6 days before it was destroyed by a storm.

However, it was repaired and ran for another four years.

Its end came when the council wanted to introduce more sea defences along the coast and wanted to build groynes out into the sea.

An agreement was reached whereby the track was removed and Magnus was compensated by receiving additions to his existing land-based conventional electric railway.

Even today, at low spring tides, the concrete bed blocks for the tracks can still be seen on the seashore at Brighton. 

Fact is often stranger than fiction - long live British eccentricity.

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