A Brief History of the Manx Electric Railway

The pioneer electric tramway between Derby Castle, Douglas and Groudle Glen opened on September 7, 1893. It formed a testing ground for equipment later to be used on the Douglas & Laxey Coast tramline, a scheme which satisfied the demands for direct rail communication along the Island's undulating eastern seaboard, since the steam railway route to Ramsey, opened in 1879, followed a circuitous line, through St. John's and along the western coast.

On July 28 1894 the electric line to Laxey, then a major mining centre, was opened, and the undertaking came under the ownership of the IoM Tramways & Electric Power Co. Ltd., a syndicate which was later to acquire the Douglas promenade horse tramway, and also constructed the Upper Douglas cable tramway . In 1895 a nominally separate group planned and built a five-mile steep-gradient line from Laxey to the summit of Snaefell Mountain. This 3'-6" (1067mm)-gauge track fitted with a Fell patent rail, was completed to its terminus just 30ft below the 2,036ft summit in just six months.

The following years were occupied with the building of the fine ten mile line from Laxey to Ramsey; the first passenger Car reached Ballure, on the outskirts of the town on August 5 l898. The present terminus at Ramsey (Plaza) 17 miles from Douglas, was opened (in pouring rain) on July 22 1899.

Isle of Man businesses suffered as a result of the failure of Dumbell's Bank, a leading Island finance house, in 1904, including the IoM Tramways & Electric Power Co. Ltd., which declared bankruptcy. A new company, the Manx Electric Railway Co. Ltd. took over the electric tramway in November 1902, whilst the lines in Douglas were municipalised.

Through the years that followed, the MER became a vital Island institution, providing important and valued services, not only to passengers but also for freight and mail. The downturn in tourism in the 1950s, together with increasing costs and diminishing profits resulted in the company being unable to carry on but as a result of a campaign mounted by opponents of closure, the undertaking was taken over by the Isle of Man government in 1957. Almost twenty years later, with spiralling deficits as a result of a lamentable "consultancy" report on the line and its services produced by "Transmark" (which was nothing but a subsidiary of British Rail) the government decided to close the line on September 30 1975, with the Douglas-Laxey and Snaefell lines operating seasonally but with permanent closure of the Ramsey section. It quickly became evident, as in the case of the steam railway (which had also been 'Transmarked') half a railway produced twice the losses, and after the Island's General Election in November 1977, when the railways were a major issue, and precisely half the House of Keys was changed, both railways were restored, and have operated ever since.

For the full hisotry of the MER see Manx Electric by A.M. Goodwyn.