Unlike some resorts that boast more than one funicular railway, at Hastings the two railways could not be more different despite the fact that they were both originally designed on the water-balance principle. The East Hill railway is a far more striking addition to the town, simply because it can actually be seen! This was cut into the face of the cliff, whereas the West Hill railway is largely hidden in a tunnel dug through the cliff.
Designed by borough engineer P H Palmer, with machinery supplied by Easton and Company Limited, this railway was constructed by the town's unemployed men folk. Although initially opening on 9th April 1903, the official opening ceremony took place one week later and was performed by Lady Meyrick. The two parallel tracks are 5ft (1.5m) gauge and extend for 267ft (81m) in a cutting that is 22ft (6.5m) wide and runs to a maximum depth of 120ft (36m). Each track has two 'safety' timbers running down the centre. These serve a dual purpose by constituting part of the car's emergency braking arrangements, as well as housing the rollers that support the cabling. A series of steps were constructed on the eastern side of the cutting to facilitate general works access and maintenance. Operating at an incline of 1:1.28, East Hill Railway is the steepest cliff railway in Britain.
Entrance buildings were erected at both ends of the line, again in total contrast to each other. The larger of the two buildings is found at the upper terminus, and bears a striking resemblance to that of a small castle. Constructed of brick with a stone facing, the building contained toilets, a waiting room, and an underground machinery room. The towers were designed to conceal the two 1200 gallon water tanks required to provide water for the hydraulic operation of the cars. The lower ticket office and waiting room however is more in keeping with a part-timbered country cottage, as opposed to a castle. A holding tank, for the discharged water from the descending passenger car, was constructed adjacent to the lower station. This water would be electrically pumped back up to replenish the tanks at the top station. Originally, the wooden cars used could carry 20 passengers but these were replaced in 1976 with the present cars that hold only 16.
In 1973 a water pump failure forced the temporary closure of the line, and the decision was taken to modernise the East Cliff Railway and convert it to electric winding. This major project revealed other issues that needed to be addressed, as is so often the case with an ageing structure, and it was a further three years before all work had been completed. Today the railway continues to operate all year round, with return tickets available from the lower station.