From Hemings Motor News
Magnus Volk's name lives on in the Volk's Electric Railway, a short, narrow-gauge excursion line operating in the popular English seaside resort town of Brighton. The Volk's is the longest-running electric rail line extant. Though Volk's name and the popular train are known to many tourists, the Brighton native built another, more audacious train line that lasted but a few years.
The pioneering electrical engineer designed a truly unusual addition to his works in the form of the Brighton and Rottingdean Electric Seashore Railway. While his original electric railway skirted the sea, it was built on land. The Brighton and Rottingdean, instead, had its tracks laid on the sea floor, just off the edge of the coast, and its lone passenger car mounted on tubes 23 feet high. Essentially, he created an offshore train built on stilts.
At high tide, the train took riders out over the sea at a top speed of 6 MPH. The single train car, which rode atop the stilts, looked more like a boat than any traditional rail car, with a sort of bow at each end of a 45-foot elliptical deck. Like a ferry boat, there was a small structure built into the center of the deck that could hold 30 people protected against the elements. Builders installed a rail around the outside of the deck as well as above the structure, where people could also sit, out in the ocean breeze. Known as the "Pioneer," the raised-up train car quickly gained the nickname "Daddy Longlegs" for its ungainly appearance over the water.
The Seashore Railway's tracks consisted of two sets of parallel rails, laid on concrete blocks set 18 feet apart, perhaps the widest gauge passenger train ever built. The parallel rails on either side accommodated four-wheeled trucks, or bogies, that, in turn, supported each of the long tubes keeping the train car above the water.
To prevent seaweed and other debris from clogging up the axles or otherwise gumming up the works, each bogie wore a sort of full fender over the top that prevented such contaminants from entering it. Supplied by an overhead electric wire that was supported by a line of power poles adjacent to the line, the Brighton and Rottingdean used a pair of 25-hp General Electric motors to power its drive wheels.
Starting from a pier at Brighton, the railway traveled the 2.8-mile distance to Rottindean before returning to Brighton.
Given the line's path over water, authorities required that a licensed sea captain ride aboard the train, which also flew a flag as if were from a ship's stern. Likewise, lifebuoys and lifeboats were mounted for safety in the event something went wrong.
And, almost immediately, six days after the line opened in 1896, something did go wrong. During a particularly rough storm, the train car toppled over on its stilts, resulting in massive damage. Fortunately, the car was empty at the time and not in operation, but repairs were expensive. The Brighton and Rottindean Seashore Railway stayed in business another few years, never making money and ultimately shutting down in 1900 or 1901, when British authorities decided to beef up their coastal defenses. They requested that the railway be relocated farther out away from the beach, a move that was simply too expensive for the line. Today, some of the concrete pads used to support the rails remain, visible when the tide rolls out from Brighton, the last reminder of Magnus Volk's bold railway excursion into the sea