The Isle of Man is an island in the Irish Sea and a British Crown Dependency.
The first recorded railway on the island was built in the 1820s to serve the Great Laxey lead mine. Because of space restrictions within the mine adits, it was built to the narrow gauge of 19in (483mm). Trucks were initially propelled by hand, and later drawn by ponies. By 1877, this was found to be inadequate and steam locomotives were introduced. The mine and railway closed in 1929, but in the early 21st century restoration work took place and the above ground part of the railway reopened as a passenger carrying tourist railway.
The first public railway on the island ran from Douglas to Peel, a 3ft (914mm) gauge line 11½ miles (18.5km) in length, opened by the Isle of Man Railway in 1873. The following year, the same company opened the line from Douglas to Port Erin, a distance of 15¼ miles (24.5km). In the late 1870s, the Manx Northern Railway opened a branch from St John’s on the Douglas to Peel line, extending to Ramsay at the northern end of the island. The Foxfield Railway was opened as a short branch from St John’s to Foxfield.
By the 1960s, the 3ft gauge steam railways were in financial difficulties, owing to competition from road transport and from the Manx Electric Railway, and ultimately all closed with the exception of the Douglas to Port Erin line, which now operates as a tourist railway, the Isle of Man Steam Railway.
The first section of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway opened in 1876. It is a 3ft (914mm) gauge street tramway and as the name implies is horse drawn. It was extended over the years and ultimately provided a connection along the Promenade between the ferry terminal and the Manx Electric Railway terminus at Derby Castle. Since 2018, track relaying and modifications to the route have been under way and only part of the route from Derby Castle is in use. By 2022, work had been completed as far as Broadway, and had commenced on the remaining section to Sea Terminal.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway opened in 1895 from Laxey to Snaefell Summit. It is a 3ft 6in (1087mm) gauge electric railway, rising some 1800ft (550m) in a distance of 5½ miles (8.8km). There is no rack, traction being entirely by adhesion, but a central rail of the Fell type was provided to assist with braking in the downhill direction.
The first section of the Manx Electric Railway opened between Derby Castle in Douglas and Groudle Glen in 1897 as a 3ft (914mm) electric roadside tramway. It was extended in stages to Ramsey by 1899. An interchange station with the Snaefell Mountain Railway was provided at Laxey.
All the above mentioned railways, with the exception of the Great Laxey Mine Railway, are now owned and operated by the Isle of Man Government under the branding of Heritage Railways.
The Groudle Glen Railway opened in 1896 to connect the Manx Electric Railway at Groudle Glen with a zoo at Sea Lion Rocks. It was a 2ft (610mm) gauge steam hauled railway about ¾ mile (1.2 km) in length. The zoo and railway closed for the duration of both World Wars. The railway reopened following World War II but the zoo did not. This led to a major decline in traffic and the railway languished, closing in the 1960s. Restoration took place in the l980s and 1990s and the line now operates as a tourist railway in its own right.
The Orchid Line includes a number of miniature railways and was established in the 1990s by a group of local model engineers in the Curraghs Wildlife Park.
Queen’s Pier, Ramsey, opened in 1885, was equipped with a 3ft (914mm) gauge railway carrying hand propelled luggage carts. By the 1930s, a locomotive and a passenger car had been added, and the line had been extended onto the Promenade, giving a total length of 760 yards (690m). The pier closed in the 1990s over safety concerns. In 2016, work began on its restoration. This is likely to take many years, but in 2021 an initial short section was opened to the public. As work progresses, it is hoped to restore part of the railway to working order. At present, the original locomotive and passenger car are on static display.
Station names in English and Manx
© 2019-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image from the Facebook page of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway Online