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24 September 2014

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Your Place and Mine
A tale of two towns
The top station
The Castle Hill Railway's top station
The High Town, Low Town divide is arguably Bridgnorth's most distinctive feature. 111 feet (or 200 steps) separate the two halves of the town.

Unless you are feeling athletic, the hill railway offers a welcome service.
videoTake a virtual journey on the Castle Hill Railway. (56k)
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Bridgnorth index.

Take a look at our Bridgnorth Guide .

Listen to Michael Cleere's tour of Bridgnorth.

The Bridgnorth Folk Festival.

The Your Place index provides a virtual home for Shropshire's towns and villages. Take a tour of the county.
The excellent Bridgnorth Castle Hill Railway website offers lots of information, including how to get there and the history involved.

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In its first month of operation, over 50,000 passengers made use of the new service.

The railway tracks are 201 feet long, and rise a vertical height of 111 feet. The tracks have a gauge of 3 foot six inches.

The gradient, 1:1.8 (0r 33 degrees) is one of the steepest in the country.

A 415 volt, 32 hp electric motor powers the winding drum, which operates at 30 rpm.

Apart from the tracks and winding cables, the current technical set up is practically unchanged since 1955.

On an average day, the cliff railway operates around 200 journeys. Each journey takes around one and a quarter minutes.

Bridgnorth's famous
stoneway steps are traditionally accepted to number 200. But a recent count claims there are only 173!
Originally built in 1892, you'd be mistaken for thinking that the funicular cliff railway is simply a popular tourist attraction. In fact, the railway still provides an indispensable service for anyone wishing to travel between High Town and Low Town.

The only alternative to is to climb the 200 odd steps, or brave the narrow, congested roads and hope that a parking space awaits you!

Take a virtual journey on the Castle Hill Railway
56K version (modem)

View down the track
View down the track
It might seem a stupid idea to build a town on two such extreme levels, but Bridgnorth has flourished because of its geography, and not in spite of it.

While High Town offered the castle a strategic view of the river; Low Town was built alongside the port and the wealth that it brought in.

However, in 1890, a town weary of climbing steps convened a public meeting and proposed the construction of a railway to connect Bridgnorth's two halves.

By 1892, the work was finished. Two pairs of 201 foot long tracks were set into the cliff's sandstone. The gradient, 33 degrees, was one of the steepest in the country. Two wooden cars were hauled by large steel cables, wound onto huge winding wheels.

It is use of these steel cables (necessary because of the severe angle of the ascent) which define the system as a 'funicular' railway.

Although the cliff railway is now driven by electric engines, it was originally water-powered. A 30,000 gallon tank at the upper station would fill the top car, allowing it to slowly descend and causing the lower car to rise. Once at the bottom station, the water would be released, to be then pumped back up to the top station.

The railway was converted to electricity in 1943. Meanwhile, in 1955 the heavy wooden cars were replaced by stronger and lighter aluminium designs. Fully loaded with passengers, they were expected to weigh around five and a half tonnes. At the same time, the winding gear was updated with a system popularly used at collieries.

The current set up is practically unchanged since 1955 (apart from the tracks and winding cables), making it one of the most stylish means of travel in the area. However, such equipment requires constant attention and Sunday mornings are given over to regular maintenance.

View of Low Town from the top station
View from the top station
The funicular railway is still owned by the town, but operated by a private company, established by
husband and wife team Alan and Jean Reynolds.

The couple took over the running of the railway in 1995, initially as something of a retirement project. However, running 362 days a year, the railway is quite an undertaking!

The service is at its busiest in summer months with the large influx of tourists, and stays open 12 hours a day. Yet arguably it provides an even more important service in winter, when weather conditions are poorer. Even during those months locals can use the railway 10 and a half hours a day.

On an average day, the railway provides about 200 journeys, each taking about one and a half minutes to complete.

Visit the Castle Hill Railway website for more information.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Take a virtual journey on the Castle Hill Railway
56K version (modem)
512K version (broadband)
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