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150th Anniversary of the Isle of Man Steam Railway

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About 150th Anniversary of the Isle of Man Steam Railway

Barry Edwards writes…

The Isle of Man Railway Company was registered in 1870 with a capital of £200,000. Tenders were invited in 1872 to construct a 3’0” gauge railway from Douglas to Peel and Port Erin. The contract was awarded to Messrs Watson & Smith of London.

The line opened to Peel on 1st July 1873, large crowds turned out to watch the train clatter past at speeds of up to 25 mph, speeds not seen on the Island before!

Meanwhile, the Port Erin line proved a more difficult task and opened without ceremony on the 1st August 1874. The Manx Northern Railway Company was registered in 1877, to build a line from Ramsey to St Johns. The construction contract was awarded to J. & W. Grainger of Glasgow. The Foxdale Railway Company was formed in 1882, leasing itself to the Manx Northern Railway for 50 years, before construction started.

The Foxdale Railway went into voluntary liquidation in 1891, leaving the Manx Northern to complete the remaining lease. By 1904, The Manx Northern was itself in trouble and both were purchased by The Isle of Man Railway, for £67,000.

After the outbreak of War, the railway operated trains over a specially constructed line linking Peel with Knockaloe, serving a Prisoners of War (POW) camp for 20,000 people.

World War II brought more work for the railway, the Knockaloe camp had been demolished but, hotels were requisitioned to house POW’s while training camps at Jurby and Castletown put passenger numbers above peacetime.

On 7th July 1963 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited the Island and travelled from Douglas to Kirk Braddan by train.

The railway lost £8,000 in 1965, the cancellation of all winter maintenance, meant no trains in 1966. The Marquis of Ailsa provided relief and agreed to lease the line for 21 years with an opt-out clause after five years. The railway re-opened on 3rd June 1967. However, there were mounting losses and the season was cut short, the last train from Ramsey running on the 6th September and the last from Peel the next day. The two lines never reopened.

The Tourist Board assisted in keeping the Port Erin line open for three years. The Marquis took the five-year option, and in 1971 the Tourist Board offered support for a further three years, Her Majesty the Queen travelled from Castletown to Douglas on the 2nd August 1972.

The centenary of the opening of the Peel line was celebrated on 1st July 1973. The future of the railway was discussed in Tynwald in 1974, resulting in assistance being offered to operate between Port Erin and Castletown from 1975 onwards.

Trains returned to Ballasalla for 1976, and to Douglas for 1977, the line being purchased by the Government the same year.

The 125th anniversary was celebrated on the 1st July 1998 with a special train, celebrations for the Port Erin line took place on the 1st August 1999. HRH Prince Edward and his royal party travelled from Douglas to Santon to attend the Santon Fayre on 7th July 2001.

A new Director of Public Transport arrived in 2002 and some interesting initiatives followed. Special trains operated for Hop-tu-Naa trains, Blow away the Cobwebs, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Rush Hour on the Railways was launched in 2011, an event that has now established itself as the official curtain raiser to the season. The dining train was next, officially launched in late 2013, and was a huge success from the start.

The 2020 season started on 3rd March to convey a coach party from Douglas to Port Erin, the full timetable beginning on 6th March. Sadly, the onset of Covid-19 changed everything and on 19th March, all services were withdrawn until further notice.

An air corridor with Guernsey, and the school holidays approaching, the railway re-opened on 23rd July, and continued until the beginning of November.

The 2021 season was also interrupted by the Covid situation, 2022 seeing a return to normal.