Saturday 4 October 2014

Funiculì, Funiculà [1]

"Funiculì, Funiculà" is a famous Neapolitan song written in 1880, with lyrics by journalist Peppino Turco set to music by composer Luigi Denza. It was composed to commemorate the opening of the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius.

The 1880 cable car was later destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 1944. Read more (here).
Here's Luciano Pavarotti singing the song; yet another bit of culture from fbb courtesy of YouTube.
So there was fbb, aimlessly wandering around the gift shop at the Colyton terminus of the Seaton Tramway on Friday 26th September when Mrs fbb drew his attention to this:-
"An Illustrated Guide to the Funicular Railway of Great Britain" (catchy title, eh?) published in July this year by the Heritage Railway Association. It gives details of 19 such railways currently operating. For the record the 19 are as follows, with those enjoyed in various ways by fbb so indicated:-

Scarborough (2)
Saltburn  ridden 
Lynton & Lynmouth  ridden 
Hastings (2)  1 ridden 
Bridgnorth  ridden & blogged 
Shipley Glen   blogged 
Aberystwyth  ridden 
Great Orme  ridden 
Bournemouth (3)
CAT Machynlleth  ridden 
Birmingham Airport

Birmingham is unusual in that it is flat but is included by the authors as it is cable driven.

After a couple of pages of general background and definitions, this little booklet provides a succinct history of each of the railways plus technical details and a colour photo. It reveals that the first funicular in the UK opened in 1873 at Scarborough. The most recent is at Birmingham, preceded by Cairngorm in 2001.

The book costs a modest £1.99 for 32 pages (including covers) and is strongly recommended by fbb.

Back to Vesuvius. An italian web site reveals something of the technicalities of the funicular as "improved" for operation between 1909 and destruction by the eruption in 1944.
In 1909, thanks to the engineer Enrico Treiber, a new and more modern funicular was studied and realized. The new track disposition let carriages go on for simple adhesion. The tracing chosen was located more south than the previous one. The simple track line 807 meter long resulted to consist of two straight stretches connected by a compensating bending radius of 547 meter, corresponding to the switch-line, realized with fixed blades. The line gradient was reduced to 55 %. A 114 tared steel wires, with a diameter of 33 millimeters and a weight of 3 tons which tolered efforts of 39 tons, connected the carriages to each other in the upper part. A second one, identical to the other connected them down-dale. The two carriages, by means of an electric engine installed on board, that absorbed 550 Volts in direct current were self-propelling. They took 8 minutes to get from lower station to the upper one. The installation worked until 1944, when was destroyed by eruption.

Information, good; Translation, poor!

A proposal to build a modern version of the railway and funicular did not happen; leaving 1944 as the last year of operation of the only funicular to take the brave visitor up a live volcano.
The discovery of the booklet at Colyton was stimulating, but events the following day (Saturday 27th) provided a Devonian burst of serendipity.

Serendipity means a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to a friend Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip.

The serendipitous trip was to spend some time with a good friend and his family in Torquay.
Farewell Transport Defunct
Transport Defunct (sorry "Direct") is now defunct. The DaFT ... 
... announced its closure from 30th September. Alternative facilities, it says, are available from Google Maps. Actually it means Google Transit, but who is interested in mere detail. To say a fond farewell (?) and a politely suspicious hello, fbb will be presenting an occasional dip into the delights of the Google service.

Today : Seaton Devon to Beer. Monday to Friday afternoon.
So we get off the X53 here ...
... on the left, and set off down he hill. There's no stop sign or footpath.
At the bottom we turn sharp left ...
... and set off on another trek, this time with the bonus of a footpath.
Thankfully there is a shop at the end where refreshment may be purchased.
Oooh, look! There's a shelter there and a bus stop. You might wonder what stops there. Yes, you are right. The X53 from Seaton from which you alighted about 7 minutes lethal walk away. This is the correct stop for Beer.

Well done Google Transit!
 Next Funiciular blog : Sunday 4th October 


  1. Apart from the antedeluvian use of the 12-hour clock and the term 'Transit', from where do they obtain the data? The much-maligned traveline appears to get it right.


    Seaton (Devon)

    From the centre of Seaton (Devon) walk for about 12 mins

    Normally operated by a bus that is wheelchair accessible

    Seaton, Marine Place, Stop B (on Marine Place) [SMS: dvngdgwa]
    Take First in Wessex Dorset & South Somerset Bus X53
    towards Exeter City Centre, Exeter Bus Station

    Normally operated by wheelchair accessible bus.

    [Road closure Upton Country Park slip road - how does this affect this journey?]

    and get off at


    Beer, Beer Cross (SE-Bound)

    Then walk for about 2 mins to the centre of Beer (Devon)


    Beer (Devon)

  2. Sadly still VERY wrong. It has the "centre" of Seaton on Harepath Road, a significant and unnecessary walk (12 min, as above) from the centre of Seaton.
    Upton Country Park is, of course, near Poole but is, indeed, served by the X53 - but NOT between Seaton and Beer.
    Google obtaine(d) the data from Transport Defunct which in turn is a clodging together of stuff from Traveline.
    Re-activate Xephos - PLEASE

  3. I'm puzzled as to why you think DfT mean Google Transit, as when I search for this on the web it takes me to a page - which is clearly part of Google Maps and is indeed headed 'Google Maps | Transit' - it seems to give the same results as using Google Maps directly except that it doesn't provide car options.
    As Transport Direct provided both car and PT options, it appears that Google Maps is a truer equivalent than Google Transit - but perhaps that's just a mere detail !

  4. I can see that Harepath Road isn't the centre of Seaton, but where do you think it should be - somewhere near the Beer Road/Queen Street/Cross Street junction, Marine Place or Seafront Gardens ?

  5. From a Public Transport point of view, EVERYTHING calls at Marine Place/Seafront Gardens; stops on opposite sides of a roundabout. Only some town service journeys pass Beer Road/Queen Street/Cross Street.

  6. Thanks - although this does rather raise the question of whether Traveline should regard the 'centre' as the main shopping centre or the principal public transport interchange - which in some cases can be some way away, I see that Google Maps regards Beer Road/Queen Street/Cross Street as the 'centre', which is perhaps sensible as it also plans car trips - but in any case is certainly better than Streetmap which places it at a point just to the south of Court Lane.

  7. Another example is Chrsitchurch
    where the version of "centre" are way apart.

    Perhaps Traveline is using postcode centres, for Christchurch BH23

  8. Locality centres are based on the grid references specified in the National Gazetteer for the place concerned. These are changeable using editor privileges given to local authorities by DfT. They may seemingly be a random point often based on distance from the boundary of the town concerned and may well lead to journey plans specifying only the town name to generate obscure walking routes to the "centre" of the town requested. A journey plan requesting Christchurch High Street would give you a more accurate plan than just Christchurch as the latter is too vague which is why a notional centre point has to be created. In the past we had the same problem with Blandford Forum where the locality centre was literally in the middle of the urban area and threw up silly journey plans, so I repositioned the centre to Blandford Market Place and now journey plans to "Blandford Forum" will at least take you to the obvious commercial/transport centre of the town. I'll have a look at Christchurch and see if it can be improved.
    The problem with Beer is that from the Seaton direction the bus travels past Beer before doubling back down in to the village centre and so on paper it is quicker to do the silly walk than stay on the bus.
    The appropriate person at Devon County Council will be able to assess whether the locality centres at Seaton and Beer could be improved.
    The note about Upton slip road is placed on the X53 service by Traveline's Incident Capture System which allows the addition of warnings for short notice alterations to be displayed instantly. As the service is a single Poole to Exeter service the warning will display for any journey involving that service number.
    Ken - Traveline (Dorset)

  9. Anonymous @ 15:54
    Thanks, Ken, for some very useful insight into how things work behind the scenes.
    Another location you might like to consider is Lyme Regis, where the Traveline 'centre' is at the top of Coombe Street, not far from the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum. I'm not sure if this is intentional, but to my mind somewhere near The Square, where the west-bound X53 and X31 stop would seem more sensible.