Isle of Man Railway
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Railway Company Crest
|Headquarters||Douglas, Isle of Man|
|Area served||Isle of Man|
|Key people||Colin Kniveton
(Director of Public Transport)
|Owners||Isle of Man Government|
|Parent||Isle of Man Government
Culture & Leisure)
The Isle of Man Railway (IMR) (Manx: Raad Yiarn Vannin) is a narrow gauge steam-operated railway connecting Douglas with Castletown and Port Erin. The line is 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge and 15.3 miles (24.6 km) long. It is part of what was a much larger network that served the westerly town of Peel, the northern town of Ramsey and the small mining village of Foxdale, a network of over 46 miles (74 km), large for an island as small as the Isle of Man. Now in government ownership, it uses original rolling stock and locomotives and there are few concessions to modernity.
The 15.3-mile (24.6 km) line from Douglas to Port Erin is the last remaining part of the Isle of Man Railway Company, formed in 1870. Its first line, from Douglas to Peel, opened on 1 July 1873, followed by the Port Erin line on 1 August 1874. Initially the Port Erin line had been planned to terminate at Castletown, but the construction of deep water docks at Port Erin caused an extension to the line. A few years after completion, the dock was destroyed by heavy seas and the idea of deep water vessels abandoned there. The remains of the breakwater are still visible at low tide.
A third line was built in 1878-1879 by the Manx Northern Railway, from St John's to Ramsey. A further short line was constructed from St John's to Foxdale in 1885 to serve the lead mines there. Although it was built by the nominally independent Foxdale Railway, it was leased to and operated by the Manx Northern. The loss of the mineral traffic from Foxdale and competition for the Douglas-Ramsey passenger traffic from the Manx Electric Railway placed the Manx Northern Railway in financial difficulties. It was taken over by the IMR in 1904.
During the mid-1920s the IMR formed a bus subsidiary that operated most of the Island's bus services, and helped the railway to remain profitable into the 1960s. The first serious examination of the long term viability of the railway came with the Howden Report in 1949, which recommended the closure of the Ramsey line, which was already losing money; the eventual closure of the Peel line, which was breaking even in the late 1940s; and the retention of the then profitable South line. Howden also reported that the existing equipment of the railway had an economic life of 10-25 years. Economies were made throughout the 1950s, and early 1960s. These included the ending of evening and Sunday services, the deferral of track maintenance, and cuts to train mileage as locomotives became unserviceable. To further reduce expenses, winter closures of the Peel line (1960/1 only) and Ramsey line after September 1961, were introduced, but A. M. Sheard, the then general manager, refused to close the Ramsey line which by this time was losing a considerable amount of money annually.
Following the closure of the County Donegal Railways in 1960, the IMR purchased the CDR's two most modern diesel railcars, which were then largely used on the Peel line in summer, and after 1962 worked the whole of the winter service except when withdrawn for maintenance. The system closed after the 1965 season but was briefly revived when the Marquess of Ailsa obtained a lease and reopened all three routes in 1967. Both the Peel and Ramsey lines shut following the 1968 season, but freight services between Peel and Milntown continued until mid-1969. Traffic was poor on the two northern lines, especially that to Ramsey, so after the end of the 1968 season, Ailsa decided to concentrate on passenger service on the South Line for three more seasons until he took the option to end his lease at the close of the 1971 season.
Empty coaching stock workings continued on an occasional basis between Douglas and St John's in 1970 and 1971 for the retrieval of stored stock between seasons. During this time most of the early wooden framed carriages were moved to St John's where they were lost to a fire in July 1975. The Peel and Ramsey routes and the Foxdale line were lifted in 1975. The IMR operated services between Douglas and Port Erin after Lord Ailsa took his five-year option, beginning in 1972 through the centenaries of the Peel and Port Erin lines in 1973 and 1974 respectively. In 1975, the Port Erin line operated only from its southwestern terminus to Castletown, bring the painful realization that half a railway makes twice the loss. The government sponsored a modest extension of the service back to Ballasalla in 1976, and, after extensive campaigning during the 1976 Tynwald elections, the railway returned to Douglas in 1977, the last year in which the railway was operated by the IMR. Following nationalisation the railway has continued to be operated seasonally, for many years from Easter Weekend until the end of September, more recently from around March 1st to early November.
Ownership & Operation
The railway is now marketed as the Steam Railway to differentiate it from the Manx Electric Railway, operated by the same department. It was marketed as "Isle of Man Railway" until closure in 1965. From 1969 to 1972, it operated as the Isle of Mann Victorian Steam Railway Company Limited, reverting to Isle of Man Railway. When nationalised in 1978 it fell under the banner of "Isle of Man Railways", along with the Manx Electric Railway. Re-branding to Isle of Man Passenger Transport took place from 1984 but the steam line was not affected, and this reverted to Isle of Man Railways from 1990, when a re-branding exercise took place with the emphasis on the Victorian origins of the railway.
A change in management style occurred in 1999, and trains, trams and buses were presented as Isle of Man Transport. The electric railway was affected more by this change, with a series of non-historical and modern liveries, but in 2007 this was changed and the railway is marketed once more as the Isle of Man Railway. In keeping with the historical aspect, coaches and locomotives carry original names and transfers. The banner heading of all the railways was again changed in 2009 and they are now collectively known as Isle Of Man Heritage Railways, although the railway retains its original titling on much of the marketing material, sometimes with Steam in the title. The railway is part of Isle Of Man Transport, as evidenced in platform staff uniforms and paperwork; this branding also covers the Bus Vannin drivers and staff.
South Line Described
Today's railway is a fraction of its original size, having served the western city of Peel, northern town of Ramsey and the small mining village of Foxdale. Since 1969 only the southern line has been operational. Although it is only about half of its former size, Douglas station is still an impressive complex. After crossing the Douglas River, the line climbs the two-and-a-half-mile-long 1-in-65 Nunnery Bank through a wide rock cutting that brings it through a large estate, past an industrial estate to the White Hoe, where the island's largest brewery is passed on the left of the train before crossing the first bridge. The train continues to climb to Port Soderick, just prior to which passengers get the first view of the sea at Keristal, before descending into the station. The train then passes through Crogga Woods, under another bridge at Meary Veg (centre for the island's sewage treatment works) and climbs, reaching its summit (588 feet (179.2 m), marked by a board visible from the train) close to the site of Ballacostain Halt. The train descends to Santon, the only intermediate station in substantially original condition. From here the train descends at 1 in 60 to Ballasalla Station, with interesting sea-cliff views to the east, and regular service trains cross here. After Ballasalla the line runs over relatively flat land past the request halt at Ronaldsway to the ancient capital of Castletown. After Castletown the railway crosses the Silver Burn and heads northwest across country to the diminutive request stop at Ballabeg. It then turns west for the short run to Colby, which is popular with the locals. After a request stop at the Level the train continues to Port St Mary, with views of Bradda Head and Milner's Tower on this stretch of line to Port Erin. Port Erin Station is home to the Whistle Stop Cafe providing light refreshments and the Port Erin Railway Museum, established in 1975 with two locomotives and rolling stock including the Queen's Coach and Governor's Saloon from the opening of the line in 1873. The majority of the line runs through countryside, with only small stretches being close to built-up areas. Many people start or end their journey in Port Erin, a Victorian sea-side resort, or in Castletown, the ancient capital. Ronaldsway Halt, between Ballasalla and Castletown is a few hundred yards' walk from Isle of Man Airport. There are several farm crossings and rural request stops along the picturesque line which largely serve adjoining fields and localised communities, this being especially prevalent on the southernmost section which passes through agricultural land. The line passes along the southern plain following the more hilly landscape north of Ballasalla.
When the railway was nationalised in 1978 Bill Jackson was appointed the first manager. During his time in office much progress was made, although not liked by the preservationists and supporters, with negative developments overshadowing his tenure including the loss of the large railway yard at Douglas and the unpopular re-build of No. 12 Hutchinson. Upon his retirement in 1987 he was replaced by Robert Smith whose style was totally different and who made many changes. Smith masterminded the "Year of Railways" in 1993 and the celebrations that followed. Rolling stock returned to original "purple lake" livery and Nos. 10, 15 and 1 (in that order) were returned to service. When he resigned in 1999 he was replaced by David Howard, with previous bus experience at various UK operators and rail experience from his time at Tyne and Wear Metro. He was more inclined to a corporate approach and the railway had to follow suit. His time in office, finishing in 2006, will be remembered for the thrust on health and safety issues, such as high-visibility clothing and warning signs, as part of a Government-wide drive. The government commissioned a study to see if it would be worthwhile to operate commuter services to help relieve the road traffic congestion in and around Douglas, and although experimental services were implemented in 2007, these operate only during T.T. race periods.
The result of the study was a recommendation against such development. Nevertheless almost all the line was relaid in the first few years of this century as part of the Department of Transport's IRIS sewerage scheme, with all but one of the numerous level crossings converted from manual to automatic operation, saving the cost of employing crossing keepers. After the resignation of Howard, the Department of Tourism and Leisure's Director of leisure, Mike Ball, stepped in as acting director of public transport and in early 2007 the leisure and public transport divisions of the department combined into "service delivery", Ball becoming "Director of service delivery" under the minister Adrian Earnshaw appointed in November 2006. Ian Longworth was appointed Director of Public Transport in 2009 and since then the railway has become part of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure. A number of new services have been introduced since the arrival of the new director, including evening excursion trains, a Rush Hour event at the start of each season, and family-orientated events including a Teddy Bears' Picnic, Friends Of Thomas Weekend and Fathers' Day Specials. An ongoing restoration programme for the unique collection of rolling stock and locomotives is in place; this has seen most recently two saloon-type coaches completely rebuilt and back in traffic and is to be followed by at least a further three coaches being restored, one of which has been out of traffic for nearly half a century.
As of March 2014 there are five locomotives in traffic - No. 4 Loch, No. 8 Fenella, No. 10 G. H. Wood, No. 12 Hutchinson and MNR № 4 Caledonia. No. 11 Maitland is undergoing long-term re-build whilst No. 13 Kissack is awaiting a new boiler. The Port Erin Railway Museum is home to No. 6 Peveril of 1875 and No. 16 Mannin of 1926 with other locomotives at various locations.
About 30 carriages remain on the railway, of which 18 are in service, two in the Port Erin Railway Museum, and the rest in storage. Several vehicles were sold off island in 1975 for preservation, and at least one has been preserved privately on the island. Over a dozen out-of-use carriages were lost in a fire that engulfed the large carriage shed at St John's in 1975, and more were damaged beyond economic repair, including most of the remaining MNR six-wheelers. There is an ongoing maintenance programme for returning coaches to traffic, which saw two saloon coaches completely rebuilt and returned to traffic in 2011 with a further two in 2012. In the winter of 2013, F27 was rebuilt on a steel underframe as a kitchen car to work with the saloons as a dining train. Significant work was also done on the 'Cardinal's Coach' - F35 - which is used as the Bar Car, and the other saloons are being converted (2013/4) to dining cars seating 26, giving the six car set a capacity of up to 104. It is also proposed to rebuild F41 as a third-brake with disabled accommodation in the near future.
The IMR has always seen a marked seasonal pattern in traffic. Services evolved around two main considerations: the need to connect with ferries to and from the UK and Ireland, and to transport day trippers out of the major termini. The railway never evolved appreciable commuter traffic, so local traffic tended to revolve around shopping, attending markets, and trips to "Town".
From the 1870s until the early 1950s, the basic service on all three main routes consisted of four or five trains a day. The first departures were timed to arrive just before 8am to connect with the morning ferries to the UK. The principal morning departures left Douglas, Peel, Port Erin, and Ramsey around 9.30am, crossing the second train of the day from the other termini en route. All three routes had a late morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon trains in both the up and down directions, with the day's service ending with an early evening departure from Douglas. From 1886 to 1940, the Foxdale branch was served by up to four round trips on weekdays from St John's.
Additional trains were added to the basic service beginning at Easter and again at Whitsun. The high season timetable usually came into effect on July 6th and often stretched the railway's resources to the limit. At its height in the 1920s, the railway was carrying well over a million passengers a year. The high-season timetable consisted of up to 15 round trips on the Peel and Port Erin lines, and up to 12 on the Ramsey line, with even Foxdale seeing a half dozen trains each day. In 1927, during "The Bus War," the IMR boasted that it ran "100 trains a day at pre-war prices."
In the 1930s, following the integration of train and bus services, summer train service was trimmed to about a dozen trains each way on all three main routes. This intensive service ran on an entirely single-track system controlled by staff and ticket safeworking, with limited semaphore signalling. As it was exempt from the 1889 Railways Act, it lacked signal interlockings except at Douglas and St John's, though limited interlocking in the form of slot detectors was fitted at passing loops from 1927 onwards. Continuous vacuum brakes were not fitted until 1925-27. In spite of this the railway has seen very few serious accidents (see below).
During World War II, the railway timetable seven or eight trains a day on all three main routes with the working day running from 7am to 8pm Monday to Thursday and from 7am to midnight on Fridays and Saturday. Military requirements led to a large number of special trains being run, some of them in the wee small hours of the morning, which led to some minor mishaps. Foxdale passenger services ceased in 1940, but the branch was heavily used for spoil trains during the construction of Jurby and Ronaldsway aerodromes.
Traffic levels remained very high in the late 1940s due to rationing, but the 1948 Howden Report foresaw the eventual closure of both the Ramsey and Peel lines, the transfer of goods services to road transport. The brief post-war resurgence of the Manx Tourist industry kept the trains well filled into the mid-1950s, and postponed the evil days, but from 1955 onwards usage declined sharply with a million passengers were carried for the last time in 1957. The last re-boilering before the 1965 closure took place in 1959, by which time the active fleet had already been reduced to 11 locomotives from 16 by the withdrawal of Nos.7, 2, 9, 4, and 3. Locos 1, 6, 13 and 14 were known to have limited lives left on their existing boilers, so the future looked grim. Although the railway was still intensively used in summer, winter train services had been reduced to morning and afternoon round trips to Port Erin and Peel, and a solitary working to Ramsey. These trains operated mainly for parcels traffic and were run at a considerable deficit. Winter trains usually consisted of a locomotive and one or two carriages. The St John's - Peel section closed for the winter of 1960, reopening the following Easter, whilst in 1961-65 the St John's to Ramsey service was withdrawn for the winter months. From 1962 the ex-County Donegal railcars handled most of the winter service, and were used between Douglas and Peel in the summer.
The last two summer timetables (see http://www.iomsrsa.com) before the railway's reorientation towards tourism were issued in 1964 and 1965. These show six round trips on the Port Erin line, five on the Peel line, and two to Ramsey. With the exception of the high-season Port Erin-Douglas boat train, all trains operated between 9.30am and 5.30pm, quite a contrast to the 15-hours-a-day operation of the 1920s and 1930s.
In June 1967 Ailsa issued an ambitious summer timetable that pushed a reduced locomotive fleet to its limit (see Hendry and Hendry "Isle of Man Railway Album" - David and Charles 1977). But this time only five Beyer Peacock steam locomotives and the railcars were available for service. By September services had been reduced to four round trips to Castletown, three to Peel and two to Ramsey. This pattern carried over to the 1968 season, except that the Ramsey service was reduced to one train thrice-weekly by the end of the season.
Since the closure of the Peel and Ramsey lines, the basic service has generally been four trains a day between Douglas and Port Erin and return, at roughly two-hour intervals between 10.00am and 4.00pm. Most seasons an extra train has operated from Douglas around 10.45am during July and August, returning from Port Erin at about 3.30pm. A brief 1990s experiment of six trains each way in high season was abandoned on grounds of cost. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, a six train service has again been run in high season. That provided in 2012 followed the conventional pattern of a third locomotive and third set of carriages proving additional departures at 10.50 and 14.50 from Douglas, and 12.50 and 16.50 from Port Erin, but in 2013, a third locomotive was used to shorten turn around times at Douglas, and trains departed at 90 minute intervals through the day. This allowed the use of only two rakes of carriages for the scheduled service allowing the saloons to be reserved for excursion and charter trains. The draft timetable perpetuates this pattern for the 2014 season, with the saloons now forming a dining train set along with F27(ii) which has been rebuilt as a kitchen car.
In the period 1945-1965 most trains consisted of a three-carriage sets hauled by a single locomotive. Each three-car set consisted of a third class, a first/third composite, and a third brake, with seats for 120 third class, 12 first class. Additional carriages - usually older stock such as "the Pairs" and "small Fs" - were added when loadings increased in mid-summer. The official maximum loading for a single locomotive was seven carriages until 1977 when it was reduced to six (SRN Spring 1978). However, during locomotive shortages a single Medium Boiler locomotive sometimes handled eight or nine carriages on Port Erin trains, banked as far as Keristal by the Douglas Station pilot. Peel and Ramsey trains were usually combined between Douglas and St John's. These trains were often double-headed, usually to balance locomotive workings rather than on account of loading.
Apart from the Ramsey Cattle Mart specials and the transport of materials for projects such as the completion of an airfield in the north of the island, freight trains rarely operated. Most freight was conveyed by attaching freight wagons, loose coupled, to the rear of passenger trains. A practice that was contrary to UK regulations, but acceptable on the Isle of Man, due to its independent status. The consequent shunting often delayed passenger trains at intermediate stations, but was cost effective for the railway. A miscommunication while detaching a van from a Douglas train at Union Mills was a contributory factor to the 22 August 1925 accident at Douglas. Freight traffic ceased in the 1960s, as road transport was much more effective over the short distances on the Island. Ailsa's manager, Sir Philip Wombwell did try to bring container traffic to the railway in 1967/8 (Hendry and Hendry, op. cit.) and stripped 12 carriages from the F50-75 series of the bodies to act as container flats. The experiment proved to be unsuccessful as clearance issues prevented containers being carried north of Douglas, and the double transshipment of containers at Castletown - from ship to lorry and from lorry to train - made the traffic uneconomic. Some of the underframes from this project eventually found their way to the Ffestiniog Railway where they were place on two foot gauge bogies and used as the basis for some of the "Barn" carriages running on the FR. A far more successful was a contract to haul oil between Peel and Milntown (Ramsey) for the Electricity Board. Three 'M' series wagons were fitted with tanks, and the oil was worked as tail traffic until passenger trains ceased in September. The service continued through the winter of 1968/9, but was abandoned in May 1969 following the decision to close the Peel and Ramsey lines.
The railway operated an intensive service throughout the year, with restricted services in the winter. This continued until 1965 when the railway was closed "for essential maintenance to take place".
No trains ran in 1966 but the following year it reopened on a seasonal basis as a tourist attraction as detailed above; from 1969 only the southern route to Port Erin has operated. Services generally operated from May to September thereafter, and only between Port Erin and Castletown in 1975, and Port Erin and Ballasalla in 1976. Various timetables were experimented with in the early period of nationalisation, with no trains operating on Saturdays for a number of years until 1987 among other changes.
The complete southern line has been operated every year since 1977, the last year of operation prior to nationalisation. Aside from the popular Santa Trains, which have operated since 1985, out-of-season running (generally between May and September) was uncommon until 2009 when a number of experimental services were tested, expanding the running season. The season now commonly commences at the end of February although services do not operate daily until Easter.
The season now extends until the first weekend of November to tie in with the Ride The Rocket Bonfire Night service and schools' half term. Various timetables that operate at different times of the season, with the peak version seeing three train sets in service and six departures from each termini, the last one at approximately 7.00pm from Douglas, returning from Port Erin at 9.00pm - depending on the operating pattern. Special event days often see bespoke timetables with additional services often providing shuttle services to intermediate stations, usually Ballasalla and Castletown, although Port St Mary has also been served by these shuttles. On peak days, the service intensity is reminiscent of the Edwardian era with up to nine trains each way operating over the 16 mile route.
The Isle of Man was one of the locations for the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Castletown Station became Shining Times Station while the goods shed at Port Erin became Burnett Stone's workshop, containing a replica of Lady. Other locations were used to represent the entrance to Burnett's workshop (an old lead mine) and the entry to the Magic Railroad (near the old lead mine), and a workshop in Port Erin was used to store properties, presumably including the Lady replica.
One-off and special events have been expanded from 2009 with further expansion in 2010 to include several now-annual initiatives, with the focus on the local market and families rather than the less lucrative enthusiasts' market which has tailed off since the expansive events beginning with the 1993 Year of Railways and beyond. These are summarised as follows:-
- Valentine's Love Train (Sunday nearest 14th)
- Winter Photography (End of February, weekend)
- A Night At The Opera (Black-tie Event in Port Erin)
- Rush Hour (Enthusiasts' event Easter Weekend)
- Thanks, Mum (Mothers' Day special offers)
- Rolling Stock (Rail Ale tour & dining trains)
- Island At War (Wartime-themed trains & events)
- The Queenie Express (Tie-in with Festival, Port St. Mary)
- Rail Ale Tour (Port Erin, Falcon's Nest Hotel)
- Manx Heritage Transport Festival (Main Vintage Festival)
- Teddy Bears' Picnic (Themed event at Ballasalla)
- Evening Excursions (Thursday evenings, July–September)
- Shoebox Special (For Operation Christmas Child Charity)
- Family Fun Weekend (Bouncy castles, face-painting, etc.)
- A Musical Gala (Old-Time Musical Hall)
- Manx National Week Trains (First week in July)
- Hop-Tu-Naa Express (Ghost trains & events, end October)
- Ride The Rocket (Fireworks & Bonfire Night train)
- Tinseltown Santa Trains (Visit Santa in Castle Rushen)
- Christmas Shopping Express (Direct shopping service to Douglas)
- Blow Away The Cobwebs Train (One-Off special prior to New Year)
- On 22 August 1925 a train hauled by No.3 Pender ran into Douglas station with insufficient braking power as a misunderstanding had resulted in the Guard's van, vital for braking, being left behind at Union Mills. The Fireman of the train was killed but the Driver, William Costain, escaped unhurt. Vacuum brakes were introduced as a result of the accident.
- J.I.C. Boyd (The Isle of Man Railway, Oakwood Press, 1967) mentions a serious head-on collision between a light engine and a passenger train on Port Soderick bank in 1928, which resulted in the frames of No.10 G.H. Wood being bent. They were bent again in a minor collision at Union Mills in 1968 (Hendry and Hendry, op. cit.)
- On 14 August 2005 a train hauled by No.13 Kissack when entering Castletown was derailed on the facing points of the passing loop, resulting in the locomotive and leading coach F.54 becoming derailed. There were no serious injuries and services were replaced by buses for the remainder of the day while the locomotive was re-railed.
- On 19 May 2008 a train hauled by No.4 Loch to Port Erin was involved in a collision with a van at Port Soderick station. There were no reported injuries to the driver of the van or the 74 passengers and crew on board the train.
- On 7 May 2012 a train hauled by No.4 Loch collided with a train hauled by No.13 Kissack that was awaiting departure from the bay platform at Port Erin due to the point being incorrectly set.
- British narrow gauge railways
- Bus Vannin
- Isle of Man Railway level crossings and points of interest
- Isle of Man Railway locomotives
- Isle of Man Railway rolling stock
- Isle of Man Railway stations
- Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters' Association
- Isle of Man Transport
- Port Erin Railway Museum
- Rail transport in the Isle of Man
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