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Discover the Manx Northern Railway

Updated on March 26, 2011
Manx Northern Railway's Crest
Manx Northern Railway's Crest
Typical Manx Northern Railway train -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Typical Manx Northern Railway train - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Manx Northern Railway -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Manx Northern Railway - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Ex-Manx Northern Railway locomotive 'Caledonia' -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Ex-Manx Northern Railway locomotive 'Caledonia' - David Lloyd-Jones 2010

The Line North to Ramsey

With all the prosperity, growth and wealth the rest of the Isle of Man was enjoying during the mid-1880s with thousands of Victorian holidaymakers arriving on the island every year, the Ramsey people were determined not to be isolated from the tourist boom and formed their own company the Manx Northern Railway Co. Ltd. in 1877.

The most direct route to Douglas from Ramsey was along the Island's rugged east coast. However, due to the terrain a steam railway was impractical along this route (this shorter route north was exploited by the Manx Electric Railway two decades later).

The only alternative was a longer route down the flatter west coast and join up with the Isle of Man Railway (IoMR) at St John's Station.

The Manx Northern Railway (MNR) opened a line between Ramsey and St John's on the 29th August 1879. Outwardly, the MNR was very different in many ways to the IoMR. Money or lack off it dogged the MNR for its entire twenty-six year life.

Financial constraints often force the MNR to take the lowest tender for equipment. Two 2-4-0T's were supplied from Sharp, Stewart & Co of Manchester for the opening of the line. The MNR really needed three engines, but could only afford two.

These engines were a plain, workday version of the IMR's Beyer, Peacock 2-4-0T's. Fourteen six-wheeled Cleminson coaches were also delivered by Swansea Wagon Co. Ltd to work the line.

Although, the MNR was the IMR's poor relation, the MNR's red sandstone building were more substantially built than IMR's original wooden ones.

As soon as the MNR opened, it became clear that a third engine was desperately needed. Sharp, Stewart were unable to supply engine quickly, so the MNR purchased a Beyer, Peacock 2-4-0T exactly like the IoMR ones.

Finally, a line opened between St John's and the lead mines at Foxdale on 16th August 1886 to complete the 3ft gauge system. The Foxdale Railway was leased to the MNR.

A fourth locomotive, the legendary ' Caledonia' was obtained by the MNR from Dubs & Co. of Glasgow to work the steeply graded Foxdale line.

The MNR's involvement in the Foxdale Railway and the Manx Electric Railway opening its quicker east coast line to Ramsey in 1899 spelt financial disaster for the MNR. Both the Manx Northern Railway and the Foxdale Railway were absorbed by the Isle of Man Railway Co. on 19th April 1905.  

'Caledonia' - Ex-Manx Northern Railway -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
'Caledonia' - Ex-Manx Northern Railway - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
MNR 'Caledonia' at Port Erin -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
MNR 'Caledonia' at Port Erin - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
MNR 'Caledonia' at Port Erin -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
MNR 'Caledonia' at Port Erin - David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Manx Northern Railway under Isle of Man Railway ownership

The First World War saw the Island swopping roles from a holiday  resort to a huge prison of war camp.  A short special branch was  constructed off the Peel line to large camp of 20,000 prisoners at  Knockaloe.  This temporary steeply graded line was operated  exclusively by the ex-MNR engine 'Caledonia'.  After the war, Island  life returned back to normal with the holidaymakers replacing the  internees once again.

After the Second World War, a restoration programme began in 1946 to renovate the IoMR ready to tackle the expected traffic as large as  pre-war summers.  The engines and coaching stock was repainted and  new new larger engines were coincided to replace the tired smaller  engines. 

However, people were slow to return to the Island and the railways saw a steady decline in the vital tourists due to the cheap package holidays to sunny foreign shores, while the advent of cheaper  private motor cars badly hit the local traffic.  By the late 1950s, the decline in passenger traffic was serious.  

By 1964, the IoMR was in serious trouble.  A string of bad summers in the early  sixties had left the IMR with grave financial difficulties.  Many  other narrow gauge railways around the British Isle had suffered a  similar fate, but none had survived as long as the IoMR. 

The Isle of Man Railway Co. finally  succumbed at the end of the 1965 season.  No trains ran in 1966, but  in 1967 the whole system re-opened, with the Marquis of Ailsa leasing  the railway with the assistance from the IOM Government.   Unfortunately after two further poor seasons the former Manx Northern Railway’s Ramsey line and Isle of Man Railway’s Peel lines closed forever in September 1968.

© David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Route of the Manx Northern Railway


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