Tag Archives: isle of Man

Save the Douglas Horse Tram

The Douglas Horse Tramway which runs for a couple of miles along the promenade of Douglas , capical of The Isle of Man, is now unique in the Northern Hemisphere, the very last survivor of a means of transport that was once commonplace in towns and cities before the development of the electric tram.

In a statement that simply beggars belief, Douglas Borough Council on The Isle of Man have announced that it is to close, citing substantial financial losses. The announcement itself is an awful example of weasel-worded bureaucratese, formulaic doublespeak that waffles about having a duty towards ratepayers. One paper it looks like a bone-headed decision by small-minded bean-counters.

The Council recognises the affection in which the horse tram service is held, both in the island and around the world, but these are difficult times that demand rigorous examination of expenditure, current and future. Against this background the horse tram service is, regrettably, no longer sustainable.

When I visited Douglas last summer the place smelled of money. My guess is the tramway stands in the way of somebody’s lucrative property deal, and the platitudes about value to ratepayers is a load of horseshit.

I’m reminded of Jonathan Calder’s observations about Jersey. That island once had a prosperous tourism industry and a thriving agricultural sector, but its status as an offshore tax haven meant the financial sector ended up eating the rest of the economy, such that tourism and agriculture withered away. Is the Isle of Man going the same way?

I went there on holiday last summer. The island’s heritage transport network was the sole reason I chose the Isle of Man as a destination. The Douglas Horse Tramway is a small but significant part of that. Both the Isle of Man Steam Railway and the Manx Electric Railway have had to struggle to survive and came close to closure in past decades, and even the steam railway is a surviving fragment of a far larger network that survived until the mid-1960s. The horse tramway will be a loss, and will diminish the island’s appeal as a tourist destination.

I hope wider councils prevail, and there is still a chance for this idiotic and short-sighted decision to be reversed. There is already an online petition opposing it.

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The Manx Electric Railway

MER No 5 waits to depart from Derby Castle

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.

MER No 32 at Groudle Glen

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.

MER No 7 at Laxey

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.

Snaefell Mountain Railway No 2 at Laxey

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.

Fell brakewheels

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.

MER No 22 passes The Mines Tavern at Laxey

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.

Okell''s SaisonThe 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.

MER No 21 at Dhoon Glen

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.

MER No 4 couples up to the trailer after running round at Ramsay

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.

MER No 22 at Derby Castle terminuus in Douglas

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.

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The Isle of Man Railway

Douglas sheds

A few photos from my recent visit to the Isle of Man Railway, which runs from Douglas to Port Erin. Here No 4 “Loch” leaves the shed at Douglas to work the mid-morning train to Port Erin. Douglas station is much reduced from its heyday as the hub of a network covering the entire island.

No 12 and No 4 at Douglas

No 12 “Hutchinson” arrives at Douglas with the morning train from Port Erin, while No 4 waits to take the return working. All but one of the line’s operational steam locomotives are these 2-4-0Ts built by Beyer-Peacock on Manchester.

IoMR No "Loch" at Castletown

No 4 again, two days later at Castletown. There are several crossing loops on the line, a legacy of the days when the railway ran a far more intensive service, but for the 2015 timetable all trains cross at Castletown.

IoMR No 5

No 5 “Mona” leaves Castletown bound for Douglas. This locomotive carries the older green livery rather than the Indian red of the majority of the operational fleet.

IoMR Arrival at Castletown

No 13 “Kissack” arrives at Castletown from Douglas. The three-foot gauge gives the line a very different flavour compared with the two-foot lines of Wales. The well-maintained permanent way is reminiscent of the meter-gauge lines of Switzerland, and the locomotives seem more like scaled-down late Victorian standard gauge machines.

Leaving  for Port ErinKissack departs for Port Erin. If the locomotives have a standard-gauge feel, the coaching stock reminds me a lot of the bogie coaches of the Talyllyn railway.

IoMR No 12

Journey’s end. No 12 “Hutchinson” at the southern terminus of Port Erin. The railway has a complicated history. Initially built to serve the tourist industry, it had a lot in common with the standard-gauge railways of the Isle of Wight, which also ran with vintage equipment into the 1960s. The entire network closed in 1965 after making heavy losses, reopening two years later. Now state-owned, only the Douglas to Port Erin section survives.

What remains of Peel station

The lines to Peel and Ramsey closed in 1968, when it became clear that operating the entire network as a vintage steam railway wasn’t viable. Here’s the site of the station throat at Peel. The station building also survives as a coffee shop, though much of the station site has sadly been built over.

No 8 on a demonstration freight train at Douglas

And finally, No 8 “Fenella” with a demonstration freight train at Douglas. The IOMR was always primarily a passenger carrier, and never carried volumes of mineral traffic like the lines in Wales. General merchandise traffic tended to be tail loads on passenger trains.

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