When each car is ‘docked’ with full water tanks (700 gallons) at both stations the cars are in balance (weighing the same) and are ready for loading. As passengers board, the variations are accommodated for by the brakes which clamp the cars to the rails. Each car’s brakes can hold the weight of both cars fully laden. In addition to this the lower car has a water operated locking device which clamps the car to the bottom station.
When loaded, the drivers use pre-arranged bell signals, unlock the safety locking device - then both cars brakes are released. The lower driver then discharges water (if required) to make the top car heavier. Sometimes this is achieved with the weight of passengers alone and no water is used. The top car then rolls down the rails - at the same time pulling the lower car up. Each car has two sets of brakes which are water operated. The ‘governor’, which in turn, is driven by the main wheels operate one set. These brakes have shoes which press down on the top surface of the rail and actually lift the car off the rail by 2mm, thereby relying on the weight of the car to give maximum friction between the rail and the brake shoes.
The other set of brakes work in reverse to a conventional brake system, such as that found in a motor car. In a car, the driver presses the pedal to apply the brakes. However, on the railway, the brakes are permanently on - operated by a large water accumulator via the drivers hand wheel. This means when the cars are unattended, the brakes clamp it to the rails making it impossible to move under any circumstances. These brakes are a calliper type which clamp each side of the crown of the rail.
The Lifts need absolutely no power to operate , water is its motive power. This is not damaged or polluted in any way, just used as ballast and dropped on the beach at Lynmouth about 100 metres away from the river, from which it was taken. The lifts themselves do not create any emissions, their carbon footprint today has not significantly changed since the lift opened, it is probably one of the most environmentally friendly tourist attractions in the country and has been for well over a hundred and twenty years.
What makes this Lift Unique
The Lift works on a total loss system, water that is released at the bottom is not reused. Lifts such as Saltburn and Folkestone have encapsulated systems and have to pump the water back to the top so it can be used again. The Lynmouth and Lynton Lift Company was formed through an Act of Parliament in 1888 which gave them perpetual right to extract up to 60,000 gallons of water a day, quite a foresight all those years ago.