Aquarium to Half Way
When the railway first opened in 1883 it only ran from a temporary station very close to what is now the site of the Palace Pier, eastwards to the old Chain Pier. With the extension to Paston Place in 1884, now known as Halfway, the line ran from the 1883 station site eastwards alongside the road until it dived down under the Chain Pier entrance before climbing back up to road level until it reached Paston Place. Below are a few pictures of the various stations buildings at the western end of the line.
At one time the station even boasted a subterranean tea room, complete with a plethora of signs extolling the joys of travelling on the railway. A large sign proclaiming the ‘ELECTRIC RAILWAY’ has been fitted between two poles above the entrance to the platforms making it very visible from the pier.
In September 1929 Magnus was given notice to move his station eastwards as the site was required for the proposed development of the western end of Madeira Drive, which was also going to include a new swimming pool.
As it happened the swimming pool was forgotten about but even so, the railway lost its prime position adjacent to the busy pier – the approximate position of the original station is shown by the red dot, whilst the position of the new station is shown by the blue dot.
Whilst this cutting back of the track was not an ideal situation it did give Magnus more room to build a larger station with more shelter for passengers. It was also more visible from the pier.
The Second World War certainly took its toll one the railway, and the new owners soon found themselves with no station building at Aquarium. To solve this they found they had a redundant tram shelter, which, with a few modifications would fit the bill.
The north side siding was removed in the 1960s and the platform was extended for the two car trains, but otherwise this is how it remained at Aquarium until the succesful Heritage Lottery application in 2015. This saw the complete demolition of the station building and foundations so arrangements could be made for the installation of the new building and visitor centre. To say the design of the new building was controversial is a bit of an understatement, but there is no doubt that the visitor centre has been a hit.
Onward to Halfway
On leaving Aquarium the train crosses a metal gantry that brings the track down to beach level. Since the railway was first laid down the beach has risen considerably and instead of now running on wooden gantrys the track is now actually on the beach. At intervals are concrete crossings allowing pedestrians to safely cross from Madeira Drive to the beach. Drivers are ever watchful and sound the warning devices on the trains to warn of their approach. There is also a passing loop where trains can pass safely. The points on these are spring-loaded so the train will automatically take the left hand line.
What was once nearly a straight line has now been altered by ‘the deviation’, details of which can be found on ‘The Railway Page’. Suffice it to say that the railway is now surrounded on both sides by sporting sites including the Yellow Wave courts and the new Sea Lanes swimming pool. After negotiating them the train eventally arrives at Half Way
This was always my favourite stop as not only did you normally pass a train coming the other way, but there was always the chance you might find the depot doors open – plus you got to drive through the shed on your way to Black Roack.
The station has had several names over the years, Kemptown, Paston Place, Peter Pans Playgound etc., but now its known as ‘Half Way’. Below are a few pictures of the station over the years.
Following the succesful Heritage Lottery Grant, the complex at Half Way was levelled apart from the platform. The old depot buildings were replaced with three new ones. These consisted of a purpose designed two road restoration and maintenance shed, known as the north shed, and a two road running shed (the south shed) with enough room for all the service cars and the engineers train. Between these two sheds is the mainline through to Black Rock, which has been roofed over and made secure for more stock storage. The north shed is fully fitted with a long pit, very neccesary for the daily safety checks.
Just after passing through the ‘tunnel’ en route to Black Rock you will notice a little building seemingly built into the cliff face. This was originally a cave that housed the pumps to send curative seawater up to the nearby hospital. When this failed it was used by fishermen until Magnus Volk took out a lease on it in the 1880s and converted it to an office and workshop.
The first floor office gives a splendid view of cars departing for, and arriving from Black Rock. On the ground floor is a small workshop, and below is a basement that has been known to get a little wet from time to time.
The smaller ‘cave’ on the right is used as a store, but in years gone by it was used in the contruction and overhaul of some of the cars, which were hand shunted across the road from Banjo Groyne! These days work on the cars is undertaken in the more luxurious and roomy north shed.
Next stop Black Rock
On leaving Halfway the railway encountered the major engineering feature of the line. This was a cast iron and steel viaduct that bridged the gap between Banjo Groyne and a level that took the railway alongside the road. Over the years this chasm in the shingle has gradually been filled as the groynes and tides have dictated that shingle is deposited up to the head of the beach, and the mighty viaduct is now buried in it. From the end of the viaduct the line remained on a wooden gantry, now also buried, until it reached nearly to Black Rock.
Time, tide and shingle wait for no man, and now the beach is level with the road and the railway runs on the shingle and not above it. Halfway along the long straight there is the second of the railway’s passing loops, the East Loop. Eventually Black Rock is reached but the station has had many changes over the years.
Black Rock for the Marina
Volk’s Railway finally made it to Black Rock in 1901 where a fairly basic two road station served the needs of passengers. The following photographs chart the history, and the shortening, at Black Rock. The first picture shows the original station with a small waiting shelter and wooden platform, while the second shows the very attractive ‘bungalow station’ that served the railway from 1911 until it was demolished to make way for the new Black Rock Lido in 1936/7.
When space was required for the new Lido it meant it was once again the railway that had to give way. The picture on the left shows the approximate position of the bungalow station (blue dot), and the position of the new station (red dot)
The new station, which was opened in May 1937, was built in a style much more appropriate to the Lido’s ‘art deco’ styling. Unfortunately no good pictures remain of this station, which only lasted until it was demolished in 1940 as it was feared an invading force might use the building as cover. Following the war another new station on the same site certainly showed off its style with the curved roof offering shelter for waiting and arriving passengers.
In 1993 it was decided to build a massive 5km long storm drain under the beach from Black Rock westwards.. This involved sinking a shaft near the site of the closed Lido and tunneling to form what was at the time the longest storm storage tunnel in Europe. Needless to say, the railway was again the loser, and the post war station was abandoned and a new temporary station was constructred from concrete blocks about 200 yards from the site of the old station. For a while a road train ran a service from the station to the Marina, but it was unreliable and was soon dropped.
This storm storage tunnel required the use of some powerful pumps and associated equipment, and a building was required to house them. Given the delicate nature and style of the area it took careful planning to design a building that could be approved by the local conservation societies. I must say that I’m at a loss to describe the resulting architectural style, but it is what it is. For quite sometime it lay cut off behind the chain link fencing but eventually it opened and trains were again running to Black Rock, albeit still 100 yards short of the post war limit. The railway has a very small booking office in the building, and there are some toilets, but no other facilities I’m afraid.
I hope you will enjoy your trip along this historic railway. If you want to further explore the changes in the line since WW2 then I would suggest a look at the Georeferenced map dating from the 1960s where you can overlay the current satellite image. You can find it by clicking here