Repurposing Victorian technology in a sustainable way: Hastings West Hill and East Hill Lifts Finicular Railways, opened in 1891 & 1902, electrified in 1971-76
Hastings has two funicular railways, the East Hill Lift and the West Hill Lift.
The West Hill Lift opened in 1891, and was converted to electric operation in 1971. The East Hill Lift was opened in 1902 and was converted to electric operation in 1976. Both funiculars connect the seafront with visitor attractions and green space at the top of two hills, and to residential properties on the West Hill. They were built 120 years ago for early tourists, making the hills more accessible, and are still in use today, providing vital access from the seafront to the tops of the hills.
Hastings Borough Council has invested heavily in both lifts in recent years. In 2010 new cars were built for the East Hill Lift and new safety and control systems introduced. In 2019 the main drive wheel of the West Hill Lift was removed and refurbished in Sheffield, the first time it had been removed since it was installed in 1891. It was due to reopen at Easter 2020, but this has been postponed pending the lifting of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Hastings Borough Council operates both lifts, the beneficiaries are local residents who live on the West Hill, and who use it as a means of public transport, and visitors who use both lifts to reach the tops of the hills, to enjoy the views from the top, the green spaces and other attractions there.
We have invested in our two 19th century funicular railways to ensure that they are more accessible to visitors, and can continue to operate sustainably.
The investment in the East Hill Lift in 2010 was over £200 000, and in the West Hill lift in 2019/20 around £30 000.
We are committed to an ongoing maintenance programme for both funiculars, with daily safety checks and an annual heavy maintenance programme.
Hastings Borough Council
Evidence of success
Other funicular railways have fallen into disrepair and disuse, but these in Hastings are vital for visitors, allowing them to reach the tops of two hills. They provide a safe, sustainable accessible way of our visitors reaching parts of the town that they would not otherwise be able to get to. Both lifts remain extremely popular, and each is used by around 100 000 passengers every year. Some visitors even come to Hastings just to travel on the lifts, so they are attractions in their own right.
It is difficult to repurpose 120 year old technology, and adapt it to meet modern safety standards. We have been able to do so by using the skill and expertise of engineers. Both lifts retain their traditional charm, and many original features, but to much higher safety and sustainability standards.
Potential for learning or transfer
These funicular railways are classic examples of Victorian engineering, and both are unusual: the West Hill lift runs almost wholly in a tunnel, the East Hill lift is the steepest working funicular railway in the UK. With both needing major work to bring them up to modern safety standards it would have been very easy to either close them, or completely rebuild them in modern materials. But we wanted to retain the spirit of our forefathers, so when the Est Hill lift carriages were replaced in 2010 we used a strong metal frame but clad in wood to replicate the original carriages. And when the main drive wheel of the West Hill lift needed major work in 2019 we chose to retain as much of the original as possible. We now have two low-carbon powered cliff railways that provide access to green spaces for visitors and which combine classic engineering with modern safety standards.
The way Hastings has repurposed these for sustainable tourism mobility has great transferrability potential.
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