Gauge: 3ft (915mm)
Tourism flourished in the Isle of Man in the mid-nineteenth century, fostered by the availability of cheap steam ferry crossings from England. As the Island’s roads were extremely poor tourists tended to stay in Douglas, the capital. Various schemes for railways were proposed from 1847 onwards.
The Isle of Man Railway Company opened its first line, from Douglas to Peel, on July 2 1873. The gauge was 3 foot, adopted rather than standard gauge because of the mountainous character of the island, and the sharp curves required. August 1874 saw the opening of a line from Douglas to Castletown and Port Erin, serving the southern portion of the island.
The Manx Northern Railway opened a line from St.John’s to Ramsey in 1879, and operated the Foxdale Railway from St.John’s to Foxdale, opened in 1886 to serve silver-lead mines. Both were absorbed by the Isle of Man Railway in 1904 to give it almost fifty miles of track. Today, only the line from Douglas to Port Erin survives but at fifteen and a half miles it is one of the longest narrow gauge railways in the British Isles.
The three original locomotives of the Isle of Man Railway were of the 2-4-0 type, and were named “Sutherland,” “Derby,” and “Pender.” There were eventually fifteen similar locomotives, all built by Beyer, Peacock at Manchester. The one exception came from the Manx Northern Railway, an 0-6-0 called “Caledonia” built in Glasgow by Dubs & Company in 1885. The Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. supplied the original four-wheeled carriages. Later the bodies were removed and fitted in pairs on to new bogie underframes. All the passenger carriages were built low on the ground, making high station platforms unnecessary. Carriages dating from 1881 are still in service.
Tourism and the railways boomed up until 1914, but World War I saw tourists replaced by military personnel, internees, and prisoners-of-war. An internment camp at Knockaloe was served by a short branch from the Peel line, financed by the British government, but worked by the IoMR from September 1915.
After the war the number of visitors failed to reach previous totals. The Isle of Man Railway now faced competition from motor-bus proprietors. It effectively dealt with the problem by buying them out in 1929 and forming the Isle of Man Road Services group, with joint timetables and advertising material.
Interned aliens again replaced tourists in the Isle of Man during World War II. A sharp decline in railway receipts in 1940 led to a successful request for funding from the Manx government.
In the 1950s the availability of cheap Mediterranean holidays began a permanent decline in the Island’s tourist industry. The railway had problems. Winter working was much reduced and the Ramsey line was closed from October to May or June and the service to Port Erin and Peel provided by a single train, often the ex County Donegal Railway diesel railcars. The railway opened again throughout in June 1965, but all services ended in November. In January 1966 it was announced that the railway would not reopen that year. In April 1967 the Marquis of Ailsa stepped in and leased the railway. The Douglas-St Johns-Peel Line re-opened 3 June 1967: St Johns-Ramsey 4 June 1967 and Douglas-Castletown 11 June 1967.
The Peel and Ramsey lines were closed on 29 April 1969 with final engineering trains to Ramsey in October 1970 and occasional workings to and from the carriage shed at St Johns. In 1975 a service operated from Port Erin to Castletown only and in 1976 this was extended to Ballasalla. The situation became a political issue, and, following the election in 1977 services were restored from Douglas to Port Erin and on 13 January 1978 it was purchased by the Manx government. Control passed to the Manx Electric Railway Board, renamed the Isle of Man Passenger Transport Board in 1983 and subsequently the Department of Tourism, Leisure, and Transport. The Isle of Man Steam Railway and the Manx Electric Railway, along with the Island’s other vintage transport such as the Groudle Glen Railway, the Laxey Mines Railway and the horse trams along Douglas promenades are now a unique and popular attraction for residents and visitors alike.
1 Sutherland Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 1253 of 1873; 2-4-0 tank. Still working.
2 Derby Beyer, Peacock & Co. No.1254 of 1873; 2-4-0 tank. Dismantled 1951.
3 Pender Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 1255 of 1873; 2-4-0 tank. Survives (Manchester)
4 Loch Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 1416 of ; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
5 Mona Beyer, Peacock & Co. No. 1417 of ; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
6 Peveril Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
7 Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank
8 Fenella Beyer, Peacock & Co. of 1894; 2-4-0 tank. Survives
9 Douglas Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
10 G H Wood Beyer, Peacock & Co. of 1905; 2-4-0 tank. Still working.
11 Maitland Beyer, Peacock & Co. of 1905; 2-4-0 tank. Still working.
12 Hutchinson Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank. Still working.
13 Kissack Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
14 Thornhill Beyer, Peacock & Co. ; 2-4-0 tank. Ex Manx Northern.
15 Caledonia Dübs & Co. No. 2178 of 1885. 0-6-0 tank. Ex Manx Northern. Still working.
16 Mannin Beyer, Peacock & Co. of 1926; 2-4-0 tank. Survives.
17 Viking Diesel Locomotive
19 Diesel Railcar Walker Bros of 1950; Ex County Donegal Railways. Purchased 1961. Survives out of use.
20 Diesel Railcar Walker Bros of 1951; Ex County Donegal Railways. Purchased 1961. Survives out of use.