Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life

The Southend Pier Trains


The First Railway.

The first Pier railway was on the original wooden pier opening around 1846 this used hand propelled carts, running on a single wooden track, on days when the wind was favorable a sail powered cart would be used, the railway was used until 1873.



Horse Drawn Railway.

When the local board took over they re-laid the wooden rails with iron, the new train was little more than three box like wagons and a flat carriage at the rear, this was hauled the length of the pier by two horses with the new service starting in 1873 and ran until 188. The service was stopped as the track had become unsafe to use and the horses kept putting their hooves through holes and gaps in the decking.








 The Toast Racks

The new Iron Pier was built alongside the closed wooden pier, the plan included the worlds first electric pier railway work was overseen by Mr. C. R. Norton, the former Electrical Engineer of the pier, electrification being carried out by Colonel R. E. B. Crompton, by 1889 ¾ mile of track had been laid on the new pier with a single motor car running on it.  This had a 13hp motor powered from the 200v dc generator on the pier.

The Generator was compound wound driven, a belt driven by a Davey & Paxman 25hp steam engine using a locomotive style boiler.  The electric car picked up power from a centre rail of a steel channel and copper strip mounted on petticoat insulators, with a carbon brush pickup on the motor cars. The return circuit was through the running rails.

By 1890 the first stage of the then 1¼ mile track was complete with two new trailer cars in operation, with numbers of passengers increasing a passing loop was installed in 1893 and a new train of three coaches added to the fleet. These were built by Falcon works in Loughborough.

From 1893 through to 1899 passenger numbers increased to such a level that a further two trains had to be bought, a second generator had to be installed in 1899 as well as the passing loop being extended.  In 1902 Southend Council built a dedicated generating station in London Road making the pier-based station redundant it was later demolished.  The new power station was capable of producing 500v dc this saw the trains all re-fitted with new engines rated at 18hp, added to the fleet at the same time were four more coaches this enabled four trains of up to four coaches.

In 1909 four more coaches were added to the fleet this saw each of the four trains in operation travelling with five coaches.  However the extra weight of cars & passengers proved that the motorcars were underpowered and had to be up graded again this time twin BTH27hp motors were fitted.  During 1910 the aging conductor rail was replaced with a 45lb/yard steel rail much like the running rails, this also saw the pick ups being replaced with cast iron ones.  1914 saw a further eight cars being added allowing four seven car trains.  In 1919 a survey of the track found that it was in a poor condition so a program of track renewal was launched this saw the now 20year old lines replaced by steel.

A short-lived experiment saw magnetic breaks fitted to one train the 1923 test was abandoned in 1924.  During the year the trains running wheels were all replaced with Bessemer Steel Tyres.  During 1928 the midway passing loop was extended by 150 yards, two further loops were added at both the North station (Shore) and the South station (Head).  The following year (1929) saw the loops all joined forming a double track the length of the pier. 

The track was covered up to pile 18 at the shore end the signal boxes were located at piles 47-48 & 179-180 south station began at pile 217 through to 225.  To keep the trains in running order a workshop was constructed on the west side of the shore station.

The Pier trains were pushed in to war time service carrying over 300,000 troops, at the end of hostilities the holiday makers returned, by 1949 the now 60 year old Toast Rack trains were beginning to become more & more difficult to maintain it was decided to replace the entire rolling stock with new trains.  During their lifetime the toast racks clocked up some three million miles traveled carrying some sixty five million passengers.

"Toast Rack" Specifications:


            Length: 22ft 9in to 24ft (different types of car having varying lengths.)

            Height: 6ft 11in to 7ft 3 (different types of car having varying lengths.)

            Width: 6ft 5in

            Wheelbase: 6ft 9in to 11ft 6in (different types of car having varying lengths.)

            Seats: 32, 36, 40 (various seating in differing cars)

            Motors: General Electric GE60-4t 2x 27hp

            Controllers: General Electric GE K10


The AC Cars

AC Cars Ltd of Thames Ditton were chosen to built the new fleet of 28cars to form four trains of seven cars, these trains had three powered cars and four trailer cars  These were run as a M-T-T-M-TT-M set up. 

The operating service saw a:

Peak Time Service: with all four trains in operation, whilst one was moving in each direction the other two would be waiting at either station for the approaching train to enter the station it would depart, the theory behind the plan was that if a passenger walked on to the platform there would on most occasions be a train waiting.

Off-Peak Service: Two Trains running with the other two in stations out of use.

Low Season Service: One train shuttle service, one train in each station the other on the track.
By the 1970’s two of the trains had been Permanently Withdrawn From Use (PWFU) only cars 1-7 & 22-28 remaining.  One of the retired power cars was transformed into a works loco with the body shell being scrapped & only the drivers cab remaining a flat platform was built over the remains of the chassis, this provided a means of transporting goods out the pier head complex.
The East line (sea-side) was originally used as the up (to pier head) line with the west (walkway) was the down (to shore) this enabled conventional left hand drive.  The trains crossed by the scissors crossovers situated approximately 400 yards from each station.

By the mid 1970’s the operation had changed to both trains using the east platform at the North station running over the east track to the second crossover located at the first signal box, at which point alternate trains were switched to the West track, at the South Station both sides were still used.  So that people would not get confused as to which train would be the next to depart from South Station the service was scheduled so that at no time the two trains would be in the station at the same time.  Departing trains moved out of the station to a signal protecting the cross over it waited here for the southbound train to pass.

The west track between the two crossovers was not used & the west platform at the North station was used for the works unit.

The AC trains remained in service until the October 1978 when an inspection of the track found it had deteriorated to a state where it needed completely replacing it was condemned and the reaming trains & work unit PWFU.  In 1976 the sprawling pier head complex suffered a devastating blaze, which saw 98% of the facilities destroyed, with an ever-increasing maintenance budget the council took the drastic action of closing the pier down.  When it finally re-opened the railway had been abandoned and only a few limited facilities were open on the pier head.

The trains had all been sold off four cars went to Tal-y-cafn in Wales, the rest of the rolling stock went to a scrap yard in Shoeberry.  However during the 29 years in service the AC cars traveled many millions of miles carrying some forty five million passengers.


A.C Cars Specifications


Power Cars:


               Weight of motor car (un-laden): 5 tons 15 cwt 5842kg 
               Weight of trailer car: 4 tons 4 cwt 4267kg 
               Number of passengers: 38 
               Length over buffers: 29'6" 9m 
               Height from rail-level: 7'9" 2m 36 
               Overall width: 6'6" 1m 98 
               Wheelbase: 14'6" 4m 42 
               Wheel diameter: 24" 60cm 
               Traction Motor rating: 17hp 12.6kW 
               Transmission Gear ratio: 57/8 7.125:1 
               Maximum acceleration: 1mph/sec 1.60kph/sec 
               Maximum braking rate: 1½mph/sec 2.41kph/sec 
               Maximum speed: 18mph 29kph 
               Motors: Crompton Parkinson CP30 2x 17hp
               Controllers: Allen West
               Motor Car No’s: 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 28.



Trailer Car:
               Weight: 4tons 14cwt
               Seats: 34
               Length: 29ft 6in
               Height: 7ft 9in
               Width: 6ft 6in
               Wheelbase: 14ft 6in
               Wheel Diameter: 2ft
               Trailer Car No’s: 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27

 Seven-Lamb Trains

Trains were to return to the pier in 1986 when two seven Severn-Lamb built were bought in the trains numbered A & B are named Sir John Betjeman & Sir William Heygate, these operate on a 3’ gauge track laid on conventional cross sleepers, a single track with passing loop based on the 1893 layout is used with atomised signalling.  The trains are operated as a CT-T-T-T-T-T-PC set.

The two trains were orginally presented in a "inferno red" but after the pier head fire of 2005 both trains were re-painted blue.


Power Cars (PC):

            Length: 20ft 9in

            Weight: 4 tons

            Seats: 0 (except for driver)

            Engine: Deutz 4 cylinder 55hp diesel, two Linde hydraulic transmission chain & sprocket to each axle

            Max Speed: 18 mph


Trailer (T):

            Length: 20ft

            Weight: 2 tons

            Capacity: 24 seated 10 standing


Control Trailer (CT):

            Length: 20ft 9in

            Weight: 2 tons

            Capacity: 12 seated plus clear area for wheel chairs.


All Cars:

            Width: 5ft 9in

            Height: 7ft 6in




Castleline Train

A low peak winter operating train is also available for use on the railway.  This is a single unit battery car built by Castleline of Nottingham.  It is a three axle double ended car that has doors in the centre of the body.  When it is not in used as a passenger shelter at the South (wet) station. 

The train is marked up as “1835” this represents the date that the pier first appeared on Admiralty charts.


Castleline Train Specifications:

Not currently avalable













Pier Trains in Preservation


So just what remains of the entire fleet of pier trains that have seen service on the pier.   


The Toast Racks:


There were originally 28 "toast rack" pier trains operated on the pier today just three are known to be preserved, however who knows what might pop up in the years to come, the rebuilt car 6 at the Southend Pier Museum was in use as a garden shed before it was rescued!



The survivors


No6: The Southend Pier Museum hold one original Toast rack train from the 1889 it was recovered in poor condition & has been restored to original stock condition.


No 8: Was donated to the Southend Pier Museum by the Brighton based Volks Railway in 2001, but due to lack of space within the museum it was exhibited on the deck of the pier, it was later offred to The Standford Mill Museum but due to lack of space it was not taken up and moved into store. 

No 9: In storage with the Volks Railway Brighton.



1949 Rolling Stock:



There were originally 28 Cars built to replace the "toast racks" half the fleet were retired and scrapped, with the remaining 14 continuing in service until the closure of the railway, most of these went to a scrap yard in Shoebury however a few were able to escape and make it in to preservation, three ended up going to in Wales these being 2, 7 & 21


Over the years car 21 was returned to Southend, whilst it is rumoured car 7 returned to Southend in 2001 and is currently in store.  Car 2 was scrapped in Wales.


The Survivors.


Car 7: Returned to Southend 2001 stored in secure location not avalable to public inspection.


Car 8: Mangapps Railway Museum in Essex.


Car 11: The Southend Pier Museum.


With thanks to the Southend Pier Museum for authorising the use of this photo.

Car 21: The Lyn Tate Gallery, Leigh-on-Sea.


Car 22: The Southend Pier Museum.


 With thanks to the Southend Pier Museum for authorising the use of this photo.


It's not Just Trains...!


In 1972 Mitchell Ropeways propose to replace the train with the Swiss designed Aerobus suspended monorail. The proposal would have seen pylons placed alongside the pier linked by a steel cable two 100seater “Aerobuses” would have been hung from the cable like a cable car.  The area where the track had been set would have been turned into a widened walkway.


The scheme never materialised and the trains carried on plodding away until they were deemed unsafe and retired from service.


In 2001 the cable car proposal returned when it was announced that as part of a major restoration a new transport system would be installed, this would have seen the traditional Pier trains removed with the track also being removed, the area the track sat on would then become part of the walkway, the trains would be replaced by cable-cars or a monorail linking the Pier head with the shore station & on to the high street the cost was put at over £10million, which only a private sector company would be able to fund. 





 Visit the Southend Pier Museum

The Southend Pier museum is a not for profit museum run entirely by a volunteer workforce who have spent many many years collecting artefacts and restoring the many items on show within the old pier workshops.






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