Scarborough Cliff Railways, North Yorkshire

St Nicholas Cliff Railway (pictured): Built on behalf of the St Nicholas Lift Company, this was the fourth of five cliff railways originally built in the town. (The North Cliff Railway, opened in 1930, was eventually dismantled in 1998 with a view to rebuilding it in Launceston, Cornwall, but this project has yet to come to fruition). Designed by the borough engineer of the day, H W Smith, Scarborough's St Nicholas Cliff Railway was constructed by the Medway Safety Lift Company at a cost of some £6,503.

Opening on 5th August 1929, the track extends to a length of 103ft (31m) and comprises two parallel lines with a surprisingly large gauge of 7ft 6ins (2.3m), remaining the broadest gauge of all British railway lines. Unlike the earlier cliff railways, Scarborough's St Nicholas Cliff Railway was electrically operated from the outset by a 45hp winding motor. The two cars, again with triangular sub-frames, each held 30 passengers and continued in service until 1975 when they were replaced by the cars in use today. In 1945 Scarborough St Nicholas Cliff Railway was purchased by the local authority, and they continue to run a service from Easter to September.

Central Cliff Railway: Now the second oldest surviving cliff railway in Britain, this was actually the third of Scarborough's original cliff railways (the Queens Parade Tramway closed due to a landslip in 1887). Built by George Wood of Hull, on behalf of the Central Tramway Company Limited, Scarborough Central Cliff Railway opened on 1st August 1881. This railway was quite unique when first completed in that it utilised steam-powered winding, as opposed to the water-balanced hydraulics used by the town's previous two cliff railways, and remains the only known example of its kind in the UK to have employed this method of operation. The line extends to a length of 254ft (77m) and was originally constructed on a concrete, cast iron and wrought iron viaduct, the project costing a total of £10,358 to complete.

Two standard passenger cars were used, connected to each other by a 3inch (75mm) woven flat rope. The steam powered winding drums were located beneath the tracks, some 60ft (18m) from the upper station, and the braking mechanism was located on a steel joist that ran between the rails. This system, known as a 'screw and wedge' was quite different from the usual 'clasp' brakes, which were fitted to the cars and designed to act directly on the rails. The central joist also doubled up as a housing unit for the rollers that supported the winding cables. By 1920 the steam powered winding system had been converted to electric.

In 1931-32 an extensive refurbishment of Scarborough Central Cliff Railway was carried out by Hudswell, Clarke & Company, including the installation of a 400v 60hp electric motor, and the relaying of the track. New car bodies were supplied at that time by F W Plaxton Limited, increasing the overall capacity of each car to 30 passengers (20 seated plus 10 standing), and these were mounted on new sub-frames. A replacement braking system was also installed at this time.

Towards the end of the 1960s the viaduct was largely rebuilt as a solid concrete foundation, a lifting gantry was constructed at the lower station, and the upper station was extended with a café. The two wooden car bodies were again replaced in 1975, this time using aluminium shells supplied by George Neville Truck Equipment Limited. Continuing to operate as a privately run business, Scarborough Central Cliff Railway is open during the spring and summer season.

South 'Spa' Cliff Railway: Of Scarborough's three surviving cliff railways, the South (or 'Spa') Cliff Railway is the oldest example to be found in the whole of Britain. Designed by a Mr Lucas, and constructed by Crossley Brothers of Manchester, the line originally comprised two 284ft (86m) parallel tracks, with a central water pipe running between that was used to facilitate the hydraulic operation of the railway.

The Metropolitan Railway Carriage Company of Birmingham supplied two cars to operate on the line, each capable of carrying 14 passengers. They were standard design covered-body carriages mounted on a triangular sub-frame that housed a water tank. Linked by a single cable, the cars worked quite efficiently using sea water and gravity. As water was pumped through the central pipe by two Crossley gas engines, the water tank of the upper car was filled. With the weight of this car now much increased, when the brakes were released gravity ensured that the upper car descended at the same time as the lower car with the empty tank rose. On reaching the bottom, the car's water tank would be emptied, and the process would begin again with the car now at the top. Having cost in the region of £8000 to build, the Scarborough South Cliff Railway opened to great success on 6th July 1875, when 1,400 passengers paid the fare of one old penny for the novelty of descending such a steep gradient for the very first time.

Although the Crossley Gas Engines where replaced in 1879 by coke-burning steam pumps, little else changed on Scarborough South Cliff Railway until a major refurbishment was carried out in 1934-35 by Hudswell, Clarke & Company. These works included the replacement of the two 19th century passenger cars, the new cars having the capacity for only twelve persons, and the installation of a 90hp electric winding motor that replaced the hydraulic system.

For the first time since it was built, the status of the operating company changed in 1966, from a limited company to a partnership. The new Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Company retained control of the railway for a further three decades, before Scarborough Borough Council purchased it in 1993 for £110,000. Continuing to be maintained and operated by the council, Scarborough South Cliff Railway is open daily from Easter to September, as well as several additional times during the closed season when events are being held at the 'Spa'.


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