Saltburn Cliff Tramway

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire | C.1884

Photo Credit: Maria Nilsson

When the railroad came to Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the 1860s, it brought tourists seeking a beach holiday. To accommodate and entice vacationers Saltburn Pier was built, but with one issue: to reach the pier from town, visitors had to descend precarious cliffs. As problems are the genesis of all solutions, the oldest operating water-balance lift in the United Kingdom was constructed to safely descend visitors down the cliffs.

The first lift was truly more of a hoist by design. Opening in 1870, it allowed 20 passengers at a time to be lowered by rope attached to a wooden cage. It worked for about 12 years, but was eventually condemned and demolished due to rotting timbers.

To replace the hoist, the Tangyes Engineering Company built a funicular tramway. The design proved so good that little has changed technically since it opened in 1884 – Including the job of the “brakeman” who still controls the operation from the upper station.

The current system operates in the following manner: two 12-person cars run on parallel railway tracks – each with its own 240-gallon (~908 liters) water tank. The water tank of the car at the upper-station is filled until its weight barely exceeds that of the car at the bottom. The heavier car then begins to travels down the incline, almost exactly counterbalanced by the other car, which simultaneously travels to the top. When the car reaches the bottom, its water is pumped to the top and the process begins again.

In the 2010s, The Cliff Lift underwent major restorations projects.  The Lift is still in operation today during its high season between March and October each year. With its characteristic stained glass windows and Victorian aesthetic, it remains one of Saltburn’s most popular tourist attractions.

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