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By Zoe Guilford on

The Never-Stop Railway: a 1920s railway of the future

A trawl through the Yorath Lewis archive sheds light on an experimental railway design built for 1924's British Empire Exhibition.

The Yorath Lewis Archive holds the secrets to a railway that had the potential to change the world. Our most recent cataloguing project has sought to uncover the mysteries of the early-20th-century railway that never stopped.

A photograph from an album showing various scenes relating to the Never-Stop Railway at Wembley. The carriages never stop and passengers are expected to hop off while it is still in motion. The lack of stopping meant the railway was able to gain greater speeds than the trains running on the London Underground at the time. (YOR/2/4/49)

Inspired by the “Trottoir Roulant” (moving pavement) in Paris in 1900, William Yorath Lewis set out to design a system of continuous transport with the intention of replacing the current underground system in London. Teaming up with Benjamin Ratcliffe Adkins in the 1900s, the two patented the Adkins-Lewis System of Continuous Transport. Initial trials were carried out at Ipswich to demonstrate the transportation system before being relocated to Aldwych for public demonstrations.

A drawing of an early concept of the Never-Stop Railway 1910
A drawing of an early concept of the Never-Stop Railway “The A + L system of Rapid Continuous Transit” from 1910. (YOR/1/1/15)

This unusual transport system sits on two rails and is driven by a giant screw underneath the carriages. As the carriages come into the station the coil of the screw gets tighter, slowing them down. Meanwhile between the stations the coils are more loosely spaced, increasing the speed at which the carriages travel. As the name suggests the carriages never come to a complete stop and passengers are expected to hop off while it is still in motion. The lack of stopping meant that the railway was able to get a greater average speed than the trains being run on the London Underground at the time.

A photograph from an album showing the track system of the Never-Stop Railway at Wembley.
Never-Stop Railway track system. A photograph from an album showing various photographs relating to the Never-Stop Railway at Wembley, created between 1919 – 1929. (YOR/2/4/49)

Lewis was extremely passionate about his system and actively promoted it at talks around London. He also entered a competition in Paris in 1922 that invited contestants to design an alternative method of transport to those currently used in the city. This led to the formation of the Never-Stop Transit Ltd (NST). Shortly after entering this competition the NST entered an agreement with the British Empire Exhibition Committee to build a system for the British Empire Exhibition. In order to do this, they first had to prove themselves by building a prototype, which they successfully completed at Southend-on-Sea. The Never-Stop Railway was finally built for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition and transported visitors around the Wembley site during the exhibition in 1924 and 1925. When the British Empire Exhibition finally closed its doors in 1925 due to lack of public interest the Never-Stop Transit Ltd was disbanded and Lewis’ partnership with Atkins was abandoned.

Painting of bird's eye view of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley 1924
Painting of bird’s eye view of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, 1924. (YOR/2/4/37)

Part of the project saw the digitisation of a film from the collection. The film was recorded at Southend-on-Sea and shows various shots of the Never-Stop Railway in motion as well as close-ups of the screw mechanism.

Film: Never-Stop Railway

However, this was not the end of the NSR. In 1951 Lewis resumed contact with Adkins and together they began scheming. This led to the modernisation of the NSR with new ideas for new ventures. The result was the formation of Lewis-Adkins Ltd. Remarketed as a system of rapid continuous and semi continuous transportation of passengers, goods and raw materials, new ideas included passenger transportation, coal mine transportation and adaptation to lifts for the use in mines and underground railways. Lewis continued to give talks and even appeared on television on the “Tonight” show in 1959. Unfortunately none of these plans ever came to fruition and eventually Lewis and his railway were forgotten about.

Drawing of horizontal and vertical passenger transportation applied to twin towers bridged across.
Drawing of proposed combination horizontal and vertical passenger transportation applied to twin towers bridged across, Adkins-Lewis system. (YOR/5/H25)

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