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Aberystwyth Cliff Railway
Cliff Terrace, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, UK
Aberystwyth Cliff Railway
associated engineer
George Croydon Marks
date  1895 - 1896, opened 1st August 1896
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Tramway/Funicular  |  reference  SN583826
ICE reference number  HEW 1130
photo  © Ian Capper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
A twin track funicular railway at the north end of the promenade at Aberystwyth on the west coast of mid Wales. Substantial earthworks were necessary to construct the cutting that carries the tracks over an approximately uniform 1 in 2 gradient. Aberystwyth Cliff Railway was Britain’s longest funicular railway until the Cairngorm Mountain Railway opened in 2001 over one hundred years later.
George Croydon Marks (1858-1938, knighted 1911, created baron 1929) designed the railway for the Aberystwyth Improvement Company (est. 1895). The funicular was constructed 1895-9 and opened on 1st August 1896. It cost around £60,000 to complete.
Aberystwyth Cliff Railway is a cable-drawn balanced system with two passenger cars, each with a maximum capacity of 30 people. The cars are connected by a continuous cable and they run in opposite directions on separate parallel tracks.
Originally the railway was worked by a water balance system, with water pumped to the upper station (SN584827) by a Worthington compound steam engine located in the lower station (SN583825). The passenger cars have water tanks of 4 tonne capacity built into their chassis frames. Water would be loaded into the top car, which would descend under gravity, forcing the lower car up the slope.
The railway runs a straight course, ascending some 122m over its 237m length. Its rails are spaced a little wider than standard gauge, at 1.473m (4ft 10in), and laid on timber sleepers. Though generally constructed at a 1 in 2 gradient, the slope steepens at each end of the tracks — a measure intended to help acceleration and deceleration.
The ornate red brick lower station is two storeys high, with a hipped slate roof. The upper station is plain in style with whitewashed block walls, a corrugated iron roof and boarded front valance (decorative fascia).
Considerable excavation was involved in establishing the formation levels and thousands of tonnes of rock were removed from the cutting. Four timber bridges were constructed to carry existing hillside paths over the funicular. The project was accompanied by the substantial development of surrounding gardens and pleasure grounds on Constitution Hill.
In 1921, the costly water powered balance system was removed. It was replaced by a 41kW Morley direct current electric motor operating through a series of gears, hauling the cars upwards at 6.4kph (4mph). Both cars are attached to a continuous rope of high-tensile steel cable, which passes several times around a drum, mounted on a vertical axis, situated between the tracks at the upper end of the tracks. The motor drives the drum, controlled by an automatic cut-off.
When the town’s electricity supply was changed to alternating current in 1934, a mercury arc rectifier and transformer installed in the lower station converted power for the motor to 440V direct current.
Though it had been popular with passengers in the 1920s and 1930s, the railway’s fortunes declined during World War II (1939-45). In 1948, the Aberystwyth Pier Company purchased it. Despite carrying out repairs, the company could not stop the decline in passenger numbers.
In 1976, the railway closed briefly over a fault in its braking system. It was soon bought by a local mining company, which formed the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway Company. In 1978, the present electrical operating system was installed. An electronic mechanism takes current from, and returns surplus power to, the National Grid.
In November 1987, the railway was Grade II listed. Three of the original four bridges remain in place over the northern half of the route, and are now used for foot traffic.
In 1998, the funicular was purchased by its current owners, Constitution Hill Ltd, and is operated under a light railway order. The line is open to passengers continuously from April to October, and runs to a limited timetable out of season. It is now very popular, and is accessible to wheelchair users. The upper station has been refurbished recently and roof repairs were undertaken in 2014.
At the summit, visitors can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the scenery projected by a Victorian camera obscura (SN584827) with a 356mm diameter primary mirror.
Passenger cars: Richard Jones
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH Wales

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway