To the casual observer, unfamiliar with the line and its history, the title Manx Electric Railway (MER) doesn't mean very much. You might even say it's like all the other electric railways in the world, but that's where you are wrong, as we delve into the past, we start to appreciate the present. The story of the line is a remarkable one.
In 1892 the Douglas & Laxey Coast Electric Tramway began construction on its first stretch of line as far as Groudle Glen which itself was being developed as a tourist attraction at the time. The first terminus was located at Groudle Glen and it was to this location that the official opening tram travelled on 7 September 1893. By November 1893 approval had been granted from Tynwald, the Island's parliament, to continue the line towards Baldrine via Baldromma Beg where it would cross the main Douglas to Laxey road and then run parallel for a distance.
In 1894 work began on adding a second line to the first section from where it continued over the Groudle Glen and continued northwards. On 28 July 1894 the line to Laxey was opened, which was then a major mining centre. The construction of the line was down to Messrs. Bruce and Saunderson.
Originally, the line ran from Douglas to Laxey and in 1899 the line was extended to include Ramsey. All the trams which operate today are the original Victorian and Edwardian rolling stock, the newest dating from 1906. The railway is home to the two oldest working tramcars in the world (trams number 1 and 2), certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, and even the booking office down at Derby Castle is original, dating from 1897.
A new London-based company, the Manx Electric Railway Co. Ltd., whose directors were closely connected with various British-financed railways in South America, was formed and took over in 1902. Whilst a complete rebuild of the line was out of the question, the new company invested heavily in 1903-06, adding new power cars and trailers, more freight stock, re-equipping some of the early cars with more modern equipment, and updating the electrical generation and supply system.
A lot of stock was lost in a disastrous fire at Laxey in 1930 but other than that all the original stock remains.
The railway is built to a 3ft gauge and is 17 3/4 miles long from terminus to terminus; it is argably the longest vintage narrow gauge line in the British Isles. The line is largely segregated from road traffic, running over two tracks on roadside reservation or a private right-of-way, and is electrified using an overhead line. Initially the power was supplied to the trams by bow collectors, by the 20th century the cars were fitted with trolley poles, which are still used today. Originally the electricity was generated by the railway's own power stations though they are now supplied via the Island's grid by the Manx Electricity Authority (MEA).
In its early days the MER operated an all year service while today the railway operates an extended seasonal timetable.
Since 1978, IoM Railways have carried out an extensive refurbishing programme with several of the coast line cars rebuilt with new control resistances, air whistles, speedometers and roller bearing motors, which has reduced maintenance and oil consumption.
In recent years the Manx Government has made some significant investments, most of the track work has been re-laid over the last few winters, ensuring that future generations of residents and visitors will be able to enjoy our unique railway.
Although well known for its rural location there are more than 60 official stations or stops on the Manx Electric Railway network which provides a perfect opportunity to hop off and explore the Island.