THE present 15.37-mile steam railway line from Douglas to Port Erin is the last remaining part of the former 46-mile empire of the Isle of Man Railway Company, formed in 1870. Its first line, from Douglas to Peel, was opened on July 1 1873, to be followed thirteen months later by the inauguration of services from Douglas to Port Erin on August 1 1874.
The Isle of Man Railway Co also intended to build a line north to Ramsey but doubts about the viability of such a route, together with delays, led to the project being taken up by a separate concern, the Manx Northern Railway Co Ltd. In view of Ramsey's importance and the need to link it with the rest of the Island's network, and cognizant of the economic and constructional difficulties, the Government undertook to pay- the interest on some of the MNR share capital and work proceeded. With separate locomotives and stock, the Manx Northern line from St. John's to Ramsey was opened in September 1879, and thenceforth St. John's became something of a frontier check-point between the boundaries of the IMR and the MNR, even to the extent of two separate stations, although from 1881 a through Douglas-Ramsey coach was introduced. The last steam railway line to be built was the branch from St. John's to Foxdale, under a nominally separate undertaking, although worked by the Manx Northern, to serve the rich lead, zinc and silver mines of that district.
Following the opening of the direct electric line between Douglas and Ramsey in 1899, and with the Foxdale mines' dwindling output, the Manx Northern Railway fell on evil times and in 1905 was taken over by the IMR. The Foxdale branch passenger service was suspended in 1942 and never reinstated. Since 1928 the Isle of Man Railway Company had also operated an extensive network of bus services throughout the Island (except in Douglas) under a wholly-owned subsidiary, Isle of Man Road Services Ltd.
The Isle of Man Railway's 3' 0 " gauge network remained remarkably intact, but increasing costs and deficits and a change of management brought about the total closure of all lines at the end of 1965. Throughout 1966 the system lay in limbo but was revived the following year as a result of the Marquis of Ailsa leasing the facilities and reintroducing services. For the ensuing twelve months the railway presented a remarkable spectacle, not least with the efforts made to haul container-traffic from Castletown to Douglas. Rationalisation in 1968 saw the last passenger trains to Peel and Ramsey, and activities thereafter were concentrated on the south line to Port Erin, operated with some financial assistance from the Tourist Board. In 1972 operation reverted to the IMR Co once again until the end of the 1975 season. As a result of the recommendations of the government's adviser "Transmark" (which was a British Rail "consultancy") the steam railway was curtailed in 1975 to operate only between Castletown and Port Erin, with disastrous financial results. The following year it was extended to reach Ballasalla, with marginally better results, but in 1977 the entire route was reopened (after a vociferous campaign by the local steam railway fans) under the gifted management of Mr. A H Stewart and Mr. M G Warhurst. In December 1977 the line and its equipment was nationalised by the Isle of Man Government, and has operated on a more secure basis ever since although much of the lines period charm has disappeared over the years, most notably in and around the once grand Douglas Railway Station.