History & Heritage
Dating back to 1874 and running 15¾ miles southwest from Douglas, the Isle of Man Railway’s line to Port Erin is one of the oldest and longest in service narrow gauge passenger steam railways anywhere in the World. The 3’ 0” gauge railway still uses its original vintage locomotives and rolling stock to provide passengers with an authentic Victorian and Edwardian travel experience through glorious Manx countryside. Operated by the Isle of Man Government since 1978, the South Line from Douglas to Port Erin was once part of an Island-wide steam railway network extending over fifty miles in length. Until 1968, trains also ran out of Douglas to Peel in the west via St John’s, and from there to Ramsey in the north. A separate branch line from St John’s to the mining village of Foxdale in the centre of the Island ran until the 1940s. The disused track beds of these former routes are now heritage trails to explore on foot. Click here to read a detailed history of the Isle of Man Railway.
Explore The South By Steam
From Douglas it is just a short trip to Port Soderick with its pleasant glen, footpaths and beach (13 minutes) and Santon (21 minutes) an ideal stop for exploring the countryside and dramatic coastline to the south of the capital. The wooden station building at Santon dates from the opening of the railway in 1874 and is a short walk from Murray’s Motorcycle Museum. The ancient monastery of Rushen Abbey is found a short distance from Ballasalla (30 minutes) and a leisurely stroll alongside the scenic Silverburn river brings you to Silverdale Glen with its café, boating lake and children's play area. A diminutive stopping place at Ronaldsway Halt (34 minutes) serves the Island's only airport from which it is a short distance.
Heritage Sites A-Plenty
Further along the line at Castletown (37 minutes), the ancient Capital of Mann until 1869, where you will find four more unique heritage sites to explore as well as being the main crossing point for all service trains:-
Castle Rushen, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Europe;
Old Grammar School, originally built as a chapel in the 16th Century;
Old House of Keys, seat of the Manx Parliament from 1821 to 1874.
Nautical Museum, providing an introduction to the Island's maritime heritage;
Visit the Manx National Heritage website for information on these and other sites under their care which are spread across the island, the biggest concentration of which is in the ancient capital.
The Ancient Capital Of Mann
Nearby in Castletown there are shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants to visit. The station building at Castletown Station is constructed of local grey limestone and is another survivor from the early years of the railway, having been completed in 1876; This station has its own dedicated volunteer Friends Of... group who tend the site and create historical displays throughout the season as well as provide floral displays and projects on the site; this is the most historically in-tact station on the line and is in a picturesque setting adjacent to Poulsom Park. Across the southern mainly agricultural coastal plain of the Island, the railway line passes through the village halt at Ballabeg with its diminutive platform and floral displayed followed by Colby (48 minutes) and the tiny request stop at The Level which has been adopted by the Association in recent years; this section offers distance views to steep hills and mountains.
Into The Deep South
At the end of the line you will find the southern resorts of Port St. Mary (56 minutes) and Port Erin (60 minutes), their railway stations having fine Edwardian red-brick buildings. With their sandy beaches, sheltered harbours, cafés and activities, both villages have long been favourite destinations for families. Refreshments are available at The Whistlestop coffee shop situated within Port Erin station. A must for all visitors while in Port Erin is the Railway Museum & Gift Shop adjacent to the railway station. The museum houses a fine collection of historic Isle of Man Railway steam locomotives, rolling stock, signalling and permanent way equipment, enamel signs, posters, tickets and waybills, railway memorabilia and interpretative displays. The gift shop has an extensive range of railway souvenirs and other gifts to purchase. Also within the gift shop is the simulator experience Drive The Diesel - with two driver training levels, suitable for all ages.
The principal terminus of the Isle of Man Railway is at Douglas Station, located at the bottom end of the inner harbour. Once described as the “finest narrow gauge railway terminus in the British Isles”, the number of platforms and track arrangement are much reduced from the heyday of the railway. Nonetheless the original red-brick station buildings and entrance gateway dating from 1892 remain an imposing sight. Refreshments are available at The Tickethall restaurant inside the station. The extensive original Railway Workshops at Douglas date from 1891 and continue in use today for locomotive and rolling stock maintenance, repair and restoration. The workshops and the nearby original Signal Box are both periodically open to visitors for pre-booked guided tours.
The railway operates with a number of its original tank locomotives built by the firm of Beyer, Peacock & Co., Manchester between 1873 and 1926, and one built by the firm of Dubs & Co., Glasgow in 1885. The current service engines are No.4 Loch, No.11 Maitland, No.13 Kissack and M.N.Ry. No.4 Caledonia; undergoing heavy maintenance and repair are No.10 G.H. Wood and No.12 Hutchinson which are both due to return to traffic relatively soon. No.8 Fenella was withdrawn in 2020 and also awaits heavy overhaul. A selection of historical Isle of Man Railway liveries is represented by locomotives in service. In the railway museum are the original locomotive No.1 Sutherland with a selection of rolling stock, with No.5 Mona due to join the display items in 2023 replacing No.6 Peveril which will go into temporary storage.
The Rolling Stock
The wooden-bodied service fleet carriages date from 1873 to 1926, all built for the Isle of Man Railway by the firm of Metropolitan Amalgamated Carriage & Wagon Co., Saltley, Birmingham and its predecessor companies. In addition, a set of five Saloon Carriages built by that firm in 1905 form a special dining car train. A separate carriage (M.N.Ry. No.17) built in 1886 for use on the steeply graded Foxdale Railway branch line has been fully restored and is available for special event trains and on occasions is attached to a normal service train. A small number of original Isle of Man Railway and Manx Northern Railway wagons and goods vans also have been restored or rebuilt for demonstration use on the line, these include wagons H.1 and M.78, vans G.1, Gr.12 and G.19 as well as a host of permanent way vehicles.
The Dining Car
Operated by Isle of Man Railways in conjunction with The Tickethall restaurant and established in 2012, The Dining Car service provides a truly unique experience with Pullman-style dining, family dining, occasion dining and themed steam events aboard a fully refurbished set of railway Saloon carriages dating from 1905, now forming one of only a handful of narrow gauge dining car trains in the world. Services run most weekends and on selected mid-week dates throughout the year and full details of these trains can be found at www.rail.im or by checking the relevant social media pages for up to the minute news on dining services and menu details.
Timetables, Events & Further Information
Timetable and event leaflets are published for each of the Island’s Heritage Railways and other attractions. Leaflets are available from main railway stations, the Welcome Centre at the Sea Terminal and other outlets across the Island, and to download from official websites. Open dates and times vary by attraction, local amenity and season. Therefore to avoid disappointment, you are advised to check official websites and social media for up-to-date information relevant to your intended visit before making travel arrangements and setting out.