The current Cliff Lift was by no means the original way to take people down the city to the 120 ft pier. A rather more terrifying Cliff Hoist was used to drop passengers 120 ft to the front of the ocean.
In 1861, Saltburn was reached by an expansion of the renowned Stockton and Darlington Railway, prompting development in tourism. This encouraged the creation of the Saltburn Pier. Traveling between the pier and the town at the top of the steep cliffs, however, was difficult. So the company Saltburn Pier decided to build a vertical, wooden "Cliff Hoist." It opened in 1870, just over a year after the opening of the pier, allowing up to 20 people to be lowered in a wooden cage by rope to beach level. The passengers were decreased by 120 feet after adding or removing water from a counterbalance tank.
The new owners found that after the pier company was sold in 1883, the Cliff Hoist had to be condemned for numerous rotten stones, and it was finally demolished at the end of 1883. The owners instructed a replacement to be built for a company that had funicular construction experience. The new Cliff Lift (sometimes called the Tramway), built at a height of 120 feet and a track length of 207 feet, produced a 71 percent (1:1.4) incline.
Each of the two 12-person cars has a 240-gallon tank operating on parallel funicular tracks. On both cars, double steel wire ropes are installed, controlled by a brakeman at the upper station. The top car is filled with its water tank until the weight of the upper car just exceeds the bottom of the car. It then moves down the slope, almost exactly offset by the other car traveling to the top, with the brakeman controlling travel speed. It runs out of water when the car reaches the bottom and is pumped back to the top of the cliff.
The original design of the funicular was so lovely that, beyond maintenance and some refurbishment with the evolution of technology, little has changed technically since 1884. In 1998, the primary winding wheel was first replaced (it is maintained as a feature at the edge of the cliff), along with the installation of a new hydraulic braking scheme to complement the original mechanical system.
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