Visitors flocked to the Isle of Man from the 1830s and the opening of the steam railway lines from 1873 to 1879 enabled resorts outside of Douglas to flourish.
A semi official first steam train was arranged in April 1873 when the Duke of Sutherland visited on his way back from the opening of the Dundalk Railway in Ireland but it was not until Thursday 1 July 1873 that the railway was ready and a great number of local businesses closed for what was to be a day of national celebrations. The Isle of Man Railway's first line, from Douglas to Peel, was opened on 1 July 1873. It was the following day that public services started.
The Port Erin line, opened on 1 August 1874, runs 15½ miles between Douglas and Port Erin and is the last remaining part of the former 46 mile long network. A third line was built in 1878-1879 by a separate company, the Manx Northern Railway, that ran from St John's to Ramsey. Another short line was built from St John's to Foxdale in 1885 to serve the lead mines there. Although this line was built by the independent Foxdale Railway, it was leased to and operated by the Manx Northern Railway.
From the 1870s until the early 1950s, the service consisted of around four to five trains per day. The first trains to leave Ramsey, Peel and Port Erin were timed to arrive just before 8am to be in time for the morning ferries to the UK. The next trains would leave Douglas, Peel, Port Erin and Ramsey around 10am and there were also early evening trains on all three main routes, but these quickly stopped during World War ll.
The loss of the mineral traffic from Foxdale placed the Manx Northern Railway in financial difficulties and was taken over and operated as part of the Isle of Man Railway in 1904.
Traffic saw a decline in the late 1950s. One million passengers travelled for the last time in 1957 and an increasing number of locomotives were stored, rather than being re-boilered and returned to service. Although the railway was still intensively used in the summer time, by the mid 1950s winter train services had been reduced to morning and afternoon round trips to Port Erin and Peel and a solitary working train to Ramsey. These trains operated mainly for parcels traffic.
In the mid 1920s the Isle of Man Railway formed a bus company which operated most of the Island's bus services and helped keep the railway profitable into the 1960s.
In the 1930s, following the integration of train and bus services, it was usual for the summer train service to peak at about a dozen trains each way on all three main routes. It must be remembered that this service ran on an entirely single track system, controlled by staff and ticket safe working and limited semaphore signaling.
Both the Peel and the Ramsey lines shut following the 1968 season, but Ailsa continued to operate freight services between Peel and Milntown until mid-1969 and a passenger service on the south line for three more seasons, until 1971. Some services continued on an occasional basis between Douglas and St John's until 1975.
Douglas Corporation Transport and Isle of Man Road Services Ltd were nationalized in October 1976, while the Port Erin line was sold to the Isle of Man Government for £250,000 on 13 January 1978, coming under the existing Manx Electric Railway Board. Improvements were underway on both systems.
Sadly passenger numbers continued to decrease while costs were increasing and this led to a progressive rundown of the system. Although attempts were made by the Marquess of Ailsa to operate the lines in the late 1960s, by 1975 the Peel and Ramsey lines were lifted and the Douglas to Port Erin line is all that remains.