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Editorial to Part 18


ONE of England’s most familiar railways is also one of its most famous. This is the electric railway that runs by the sea at Brighton, and which is known to thousands of people as Volk’s Electric Railway.


Next week I shall include a chapter on this railway, which, historically, is almost as important as the Stockton and Darlington. It is not generally known by the many people who regard it as a part of a summer holiday that Volk’s Electric Railway, which was opened on August 3, 1883, was the first successful electric railway in Great Britain.


1 have had, recently, some very interesting correspondence with Mr. Magnus Volk, inventor and founder of the railway. Mr. Volk, who is 83 years of age, has sent me some interesting facts and some splendid photographs, not only of the present railway, but also of its equally interesting and unique forerunner. This was an electric train which ran out at sea and which was known as the Brighton and Rottingdean Extension. The passenger coach was supported on legs some twenty-three feet above the sea, and the line was known as the “railway on stilts”. At the time of its opening, the newspapers predicted that rails laid beneath the sea, with their carriages supported on legs, would supersede all other forms of sea travel, including ships!


ANOTHER curiosity of railway history but one not now in existence, is the atmospheric system, and in response to many requests I shall include a chapter on this in Part 19. The atmospheric system was patented by Clegg and Samuda in the nineteenth century. This system made use of the pressure of the atmosphere to drive trains. Experiments with this unique method were tried in London, South Devon and Ireland. During trials in 1847 on the South Devon line, it was reported that a speed of seventy miles an hour had been reached with light trains and a speed of thirty-three miles an hour with a train of 100 tons. How the atmospheric railway worked, and how it had eventually to be abandoned, will be told in this interesting chapter.


FROM my correspondence it seems that the Story of the GWR in Part 9 was one of the most popular chapters published. Many readers have asked if it is not possible for certain aspects of tibe GWR to be dealt with separately. In response to these requests, next week’s issue of Railway Wonders of the World will include a chapter dealing with the Severn Tunnel - the longest double-line tunnel in Great Britain. The building of the Severn Tunnel ranks as one of the outstanding railway engineering achievements in England. The construction of this famous tunnel - two miles and a quarter of which are under the River Severn - and the ingenuity of the engineers in defeating the various obstacles that threatened to bring the enterprise to a standstill, will be included in this chapter.


Among interesting facts concerning the Severn Tunnel is that a pumping plant raises, on the average, 20,000,000 gallons of water a day so that the tunnel shall be kept clear.


Incidentally, in connexion with the story of the Great Western Railway, and the story of the London and North Eastern Railway, published in Parts 13 and 14, several readers have written to inquire whether I shall deal in a similar way with the Southern Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. Two chapters on these great systems are now in course of preparation.


THE main principles of Stephenson’s “Rocket” of 1829 are the main principles of the modern express engine. There have, however, been many departures from the more formal practices in locomotive design. These departures, which make a most interesting story and form an important link in the development of locomotives, will be dealt with in next week’s issue in a chapter entitled “Unconventional Locomotives”. This chapter will deal with many unusual types of locomotives such as the early “Hurricane” of 1838, which had 10 ft diameter driving wheels; the famous Webb compounds used on the old LNWR; the Mallet articulated locomotives; and the Fell locomotives with both vertical and horizontal driving wheels, as well as some modern experiments in locomotive design.


AS a contrast to this, I shall begin a chapter that deals with an important modern development in locomotive practice. This will be a further chapter on rail-cars. This will deal with the Diesel rail-car, whose superiority over the steam driven rail-motor is being steadily demonstrated in this country.


The cover of this week’s issue of Railway Wonders of the World is a splendidly coloured picture of the Sestrieres Passenger Ropeway which runs from the Sestrieres Pass to Monte Sises (Italy). It was opened in December 1931, and can carry 480 passengers hourly.