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  • Chris Milner

Saltburn's Victorian Funicular

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

One of the great legacies from the Victorian era are the many funicular or cliff railways around the country. This blog looks at the funicular at Saltburn-on-Sea, North Yorkshire.

FUNICULAR railways generally tend to be a fixed guided transit system for steep inclines. They can be found all over the world and tend to consist two counterbalanced passenger cars usually attached to the opposite ends of a single cable. Some are electrically operated, some use water to initiate movement.

Saltburn's cliff railway, beach and pier from the upper station.

There are more than a dozen funiculars still operating in the UK, many were built in Victorian times and quite a number can be found at popular seaside resorts, though there are a few exceptions, such as at Bridgnorth which will be a separate and future blog entry.

In September 2019, I visited the Saltburn Cliff Lift, a water-counterbalanced system, which the year before had emerged from a £500,000 restoration programme which included replacing all sleepers, rails, many of the original cast components and the electrical control systems.

The lift opened on June 28, 1884 to replace a vertical cliff hoist, which transported passengers between the promenade nd beach facing the North Sea and the town.

Its construction stemmed from the arrival of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in the town in 1861, bringing day trippers and holidaymakers to Saltburn. The popularity of the seaside led to the construction of a pier in 1869, but because the beach and town were at different levels, a way of moving passengers was needed, the cliff hoist opening some 14months after the pier.

In height terms, the cliff is 120ft high but the railway is 207feet long running at in incline of 71per cent (1 in 1.4). The two passenger car carry 12 people, and under each car is a 240 gallon water tank within a triangular subframe.

At the higher station, the tank is filled with water pumped from the lower station. As the tank fills, the weight mass starts to exceed that of the car at the lower station, and the car at the top of the cliff begins to move downhill, and because it is connected to the other car by a cable and pulleys, this moves upwards. The rate of ascent is controlled by a brakeman at the upper station.

On arrival at the lower station, the water is released, pumped to the top and the process repeated for the each car of passengers.

One feature of the passenger cars are its stained glass windows, and both the upper and lower lift buildings are Grade II listed structures.

Since the end of World War Two, the lift has been owned by the local council, currently Redcar and Cleveland, and is in regular operation between March and October each year.

Saltburn still retains its mainline rail connection, and while the original station building is no longer used by rail passengers - who have two sparse shelters on the platform - the Grade II listed buildings have been repurposed and are used by a variety of small businesses. Above the portico of the magnificent building in orange and white is a sign stating ‘Railway Station’, a nod to the North Eastern Region days of British Railways.

A video of the cliff railway in operation.

Over its 135 year history, the cliff lift has undergone numerous upgrades to meet changing safety standards, but it still remains one of Saltburn's most popular tourist attractions, carrying around 150,000 passengers every year.

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