Heritage Locations

Saltburn Cliff Railway

One of the world's oldest cliff railways


Period of construction:
1850 - 1899

Transport Trust plaque:

Transport Mode:

Lower Promenade, Saltburn-by-th-Sea, TS12 1HQ

TS12 1HQ

Nearest Town:

Heritage Centre:

In several resorts, such as Folkestone and Southend, the cliff railway has had an historical relationship with the town pier. This is especially true in the case of Saltburn, where the railway's close proximity to Saltburn Pier makes it seem almost like an extension. When the pier was constructed in 1869, the high cliff acted a s abarrier between the town and the shoreline, threatening the commercial success of the resort. The original solution was a vertical lift, which remained operational until 1883; it was demolished for the construction of a cliff railway.

Saltburn's cliff railway uses the water-balance principle. Comprising two parallel 1.18 m (3ft 9in) gauge tracks, and extending to a length of 63 m (207 ft), it was opened to the public on 28th June 1884. With most of the machinery being provided by Tangye Limited, and the passenger cars supplied by the Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Company Limited of Birmingham, it was George Marks' responsibility to oversee the entire project. Water for the system was supplied from a natural spring in the cliff, and was recycled from car to car by the use of a Crossley Brothers 6hp 'Otto' gas engine. A plentiful water supply was maintained in a 136,380 litres (30,000 gallons) reservoir located at the lower station, and a 84,100 litres (18,500 gallons) reservoir at the upper terminus.

Facilities provided at either end of Saltburn Cliff Railway have always varied considerably, and passengers waiting to descend are less fortunate than those waiting to come up from the shore to the town. At the lower station there is a substantial complex, containing a ticket office, waiting room, and engine room, but the only building at the upper terminus is a small hut for the 'brakeman' controlling the operation of the cars. The original cars were of a standard design, capable of seating 10-12 passengers, with an over-body on a triangular sub-frame that housed a 1,000 gallon water tank. A striking feature of the early cars was the inclusion of stained-glass windows, but these were removed in 1955 when the car bodies were replaced. However, when the new aluminium cars were introduced in 1979 (modelled on the original design), this attractive feature was reinstated.



The tracks were changed to 1.27m (4ft 2.5in) during the winter of 1921-22 and, just over 50 years later, the sleepers were replaced following the end of the 1974 season. Considerable work was carried out in 1997-98 to ensure that the line continued to meet modern safety standards, and this included the replacement of the original 113 year-old winding drum. By 1930 the water system was being operated by mains power, the original Crossley gas engine having been replaced with a DC generator and electric pumps in 1913.

It is one of the world's oldest cliff railways - the oldest being the Bom Jesus Funicular in Braga, Portugal (Elevador do Bom Jesus) - and is the oldest water balance railway in Britain. Currently owned and operated by Cleveland and Redcar Borough Council, the Saltburn Cliff Railway continues to be well patronised. (See also Saltburn Station and Hotel)


Body, Geoffrey, Cliff Railways of the British Isles, David & Charles, ASIN: B0000CMBSI (1964)

Books Llc, Funicular Railways of the United Kingdom, ISBN- 10: 1155703189 (2010)

Lynn, A & Lynn, K., Saltburn by Sea Through Time, Amberley Publishing, ISBN-10: 1848684827 (2011)

Schneigert, Z., Aerial Ropeways and Funicular Railways, Elsevier, ISBN-10: 0080116817 (1966)

Turner, Keith, Cliff Railways of the British Isles, Oakwood, ISBN-10: 0853615942 (2002)

Woodhams, John, Funicular Railways, Shire, ISBN-10: 0747800405 (1989)

Opening Times:
Permanently viewable but opening times vary - visit website or telephone 01287 622 528

How To Find:

By road: On A174 at Skelton Beck

By rail: Saltburn Station is nearby


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