Isle of Man Railway

Gauge: 3ft (915mm)

The Isle of Man Railway opened its first line, from Douglas to Peel, in 1873. A further line to Port Erin opened in 1874. In 1904, it took over the Manx Northern Railway to Ramsey and the Foxdale Branch, giving it nearly 50 miles of track. As traffic dwindled, the railway finally closed in 1966.

After several attempts to reopen the railway, the line from Douglas to Port Erin was saved and forms the Isle of Man Steam Railway.

See the Manx Northern Railway for specific items relating to it.

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. The lease expired at the end of 1971, and the Port Erin line continued to be operated by the company. 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.

Number / NameManufacturerTypeNotes
1 SutherlandBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.1253 of 18732-4-0T
2 DerbyBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.1254 of 18732-4-0TDismantled 1951
3 Pender Beyer, Peacock & Co. No.1254 of 18732-4-0TTo Science and Industry Museum Manchester 1977
4 LochBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.1416 of 18742-4-0T
5 MonaBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.1417 of 18742-4-0T
6 PeverilBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.1524 of 18752-4-0T
7 TynwaldBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.2027 of 18802-4-0T
8 FenellaBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.3610 of 18942-4-0T
9 DouglasBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.3815 of 18962-4-0T
10 G H WoodBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.4663 of 19052-4-0T
11 Maitland Beyer, Peacock & Co. No.4662 of 19052-4-0T
12 HutchinsonBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.5126 of 19082-4-0T
13 KissackBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.5382 of 19102-4-0T
14 Thornhill Beyer, Peacock & Co. No.2028 of 18802-4-0TEx Manx Northern Railway. Sold 1978
15 CaledoniaDübs & Co. No.2178 of 18850-6-0TEx Manx Northern Railway.
16 ManninBeyer, Peacock & Co. No.6296 of 19262-4-0T
17 VikingSchöma No.SDE2066 of 19584wDEx Braunschweigische Kohlenbergwerke (BKB) 1992
18 AilsaHunslet Engine Co. No.LD9342 of 19944wDEx Contractor 2002
19 Walkers of Wigan of 1950Diesel Railcar Ex County Donegal Railways 1961
20Walkers of Wigan of 1951Diesel Railcar Ex County Donegal Railways 1961
21Motive Power & Equipment Solutions No.MP550-B1 of 2013Bo-Bo