The Manx Electric Railway is the Isle of Man’s second three-foot gauge railway, running along the coast from Douglas to Ramsay in the north of the island. As the name suggests, it’s an electric interurban railway, a type of line still found in parts of continental Europe but unique in the Biritish Isles. Here’s car no. 5 at Derby Castle in Douglas, the southern terminus of the line.
Much of the route runs parallel to the main road, something that was once common on local railways in Ireland and Wales, but now the last survivor of its type. There’s something vaguely Swiss about stations like Groudle Glen, a couple of miles out of Douglas.
Laxey is the most important intermediate station on the line, junction for the Snaefell Mountain Railway as well as the stop for the Lady Isabella water wheel, one of the island’s top attractions.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway is built to the slightly wider 3’6″ gauge in order to accomodate the Fell braking system. Here car No 2 has just arrived after decending from the 2000 ft high summit. The original 1898-built cars, though much rebuilt, are still in service.
The Fell system is an early form of rack railway using a pair of opposing wheels gripping a centre rail. Some other Fell railways used the system for both traction and braking, but the Snaiefell line uses it solely for braking, relying on adhesion for traction, and the Fell rail is only present on the steep grades. Once used in Italy, France, Brazil and New Zealand, the Snaefell Mountain Railway is now the last surviving Fell system in the world.
There are three tracks at the north end of Laxey station, the double track of the MER line to Ramsay, and the single track of the SMR heading towards the summit, which becomes double track just beyond the level crossing. The difference in gauge between the MER and SMR should be apparent in this view.
The Mines Tavern is right beside the tracks at Laxey, and is an excellent place to enjoy a beer while watching the trams go past. The Okells Saison is highly recommended on a hot day.
Dhoon Glen is another of those Swiss-style roadside stations, with a little tearoom next to the tracks. It’s near the summit of the line at 500 feet above sea level, and there are a lot of steps down the narrow glen to the sea. You then realise you have to walk all the way back up to return to the station.
Ramsay is the northern terminus of the line. Since most trains consist of motorcoach and an unpowered trailer, it’s nexessary to run round at each end of the line.
There were once two competing railways to Ramsay. The steam railway also serving the down via a more circuituitous route along the western side of the island, while the electric railway took a more direct but far more steeply-graded route along the east coast.
Journey’s end at Derby Castle. Having worked its last run for the day. the conductor reverses the trolley collector before the train propels the trailer into the depot. The open-topped vehicle visible in the background belongs to the Douglas Horse Tramway, the island’s third railway.