Railway facilities in the Island were proposed in 1845, 1857, 1860, 1864 and 1870 when the Isle of Man Railway Company Ltd was first registered. A three-foot gauge (914mm) line was opened from Douglas to Peel on July 1, 1873, and another line from Douglas to Port Erin opened August 1 1874. A separate concern, the Manx Northern Railway Co built the 161/2 mile line from St John's to Ramsey, opened in September 1879. A final 21/2 mile section from St John's to Foxdale was built by a nominally separate concern, the Foxdale Railway, in August 1886. This was later incorporated into the Manx Northern, and the Manx Northern in turn was amalgamated with the IMR in 1905. Services to Foxdale were suspended in 1939 and although wartime freight continued at least until 1943, passenger service was never restored. The Peel and Ramsey lines were closed completely in 1968-9 and have been lifted, together with the Foxdale branch. The one remaining line to Port Erin was taken over by the IoM Government in 1978 and maintains a seasonal tourist service.
A horse tramway was built along the promenades in Douglas and opened on August 7, 1876. This, together with the Upper Douglas Cable Tramway between Victoria Clock and Broadway, via Victoria Street-Prospect Hill -Bucks Road -Woodbourne Road -York Road - Ballaquayle Road, opened on August 15 1896, were also to the 3'-0" (914mm) gauge. The cable tramway .was truncated to operate only as far as Stanley View at the top of Broadway before 1902, but after 1927 operated seasonally only. The line closed completely on August 19 1929. Both horse and cable tramways were municipalised by the Borough of Douglas in January 1902, and the horse tramway continues to survive.
The first portion of what was to become the Manx Electric Railway, built again to the 3'-0" gauge and electrified at 500v DC was opened between Douglas (Derby Castle) and Groudle on September 7, 1893. The line was extended northwards to Laxey and service was inaugurated on July 27 1894, and to Ramsey (Bullure) in 1898. The route reached its present extent when opened through to Ramsey (Plaza) on July 24 1899. A nominally separate concern, the Snaefell Mountain Association, opened a 3'-6" gauge tramway equipped with a Fell centre rail, from Laxey to Snaefell Summit on August 21, 1895. This was then incorporated into the then Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Co Ltd which went bankrupt in 1900.with the collapse of Dumbell's Bank. The Manx Electric Railway Co Ltd took over the electric lines on August 18 1902. The concern disposed of its undertaking to the Manx Government in 1956.
In addition to the major undertakings mentioned above, the Island also had a number of additional lines. The most important of these was the Douglas Southern Electric Tramway (later Douglas Head Marine Drive) built along the cliffs between Douglas Head and Port Soderick, and opened as far as Keristal on August 7 1896. The line was completed to Port Soderick for the following season of 1897. The 3-miles of track were unusually built to UK standard gauge (4'-81/2" - 1435mm) and electrified on the overhead system with a line voltage of 500 DC. A fleet of eight open-top unvestibuled power cars and eight matching trailers maintained the service (except during World War I) until closure on September 15 1939. The Drive was taken over by the Manx government in 1946 and eventually converted into a roadway by the incompetent Highways Board. Continual problems with subsidence and rock falls led to the road being closed to traffic; there is no possibility of economic repair but access is permitted to pedestrians.
At each end of the Marine Drive, cliff lift railways connected the terminii with promenade level: the Douglas Head Incline Railway was opened in August 1900 and finally closed at the end of the 1953 season. The Port Soderick Cliff Lift, opened in July 1898 was closed and dismantled with the DHMD tramway in September 1939; the courses of both steeply-graded lines can still be traced. Additional cliff lifts existed at the Falcon Cliff on Douglas promenade, the Browside tramway in Laxey (a water counterbalance system) and a strange moving chairway at the Douglas Holiday Camp.
The LAXEY MINES had two associated tramways; the first, of 1'-7" gauge was equipped with two diminutive steam locomotives ANT and BEE, built by Stephen Lewin of Poole in 1875. This tramway extended from the washing floors, via a tunnel under the main road (still to be seen but occupied by an Electricity Board substation) along the valley and into the main adit (60 fathom level) of the Great Laxey Mines complex. The locos and their tramway were scrapped in 1932; the course of the line can be traced and two or more of the mine wagons have survived or been recovered for exhibition. The second tramway, built to 3'-0" gauge, connected the lower part of the washing floors with Laxey Harbour, via Glen Road. The line which was horse-worked, survived proposals to electrify it and lasted at least until the end of World War I. Date of construction in either case is not specifically known but is thought to be around 1865. The lines were described in MANN-TRAM No 20 (November 1977).
The INJEBRECK RESERVOIR at West Baldwin, built for Douglas Corporation and opened in 1905, was provided with a construction tramway of 3'-0" gauge in 1899. The line, which extended from Hillberry near Onchan through to the Reservoir site, a distance of 41/2 miles, plus a substantial mileage in sidings and temporary tracks. The line was worked by four steam locos. These were sold off and the line dismantled as soon as construction was finished, but the course of the line can still be clearly discerned except at Hillberry where repeated ploughing matches have obliterated the embankments. The line was described in MTR No 42 (Spring-Summer 1984).
GROUDLE GLEN, the terminus of the original 1893 electric tramway, was really the first of the Island's glens to be commercially exploited, and a 2'-0" gauge steam railway was opened between Lhen Coan, in the Glen, and the headland on the coast in May 1896. Except for the war years the line provided a seasonal service of some intensity but in the post Second War period only one of the two locos was capable of working an increasingly sporadic service. The line closed after the 1962 season and during the ensuing twenty years most of the track and all of the rolling stock was sold off or broken up. A scheme for the reconstruction of the line by the IoM Steam Railway Supporters' Association commenced in 1982; first services on the reconstructed line began on December 18 1983, with a full reopening throughout the original length in 1985. SEA LION built by W G Bagnall of Stafford in 1896 for the original line was completely rebuilt and returned to the Groudle line in 1987; the line's other loco, POLAR BEAR was originally rescued and restored by the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum and has twice returned to its original home for special celebratory events.
Another 3'-0" gauge horse tramway formerly existed at Corrin's Hill, Peel, and which connected a self-acting incline with a stone quarry along the coast from which the material needed to build the Peel breakwater was extracted. The route follows the 250ft contour line and can still be traced as part of the (somewhat hazardous) Manx coastal footpath. The rail system connected with another tramway of the same gauge, laid along the south quay at Peel and extending out to the breakwater site; on this line a vertical-boilered de Winton loco was used, the first such on the Island; this was also the first line to record the use of 3'-0" gauge track in the Isle of Man. The little-known line was described in MTR No 54 August 1988. The lines were built in either 1864 or 1865. The work was completed by 1873 and the line dismantled.
The PORT ERIN BREAKWATER tramway linked a quarry and workshop site at the Castles, on the south side of Port Erin Bay, and the site of the breakwater which was begun in 1864 as the first stage in turning Port Erin into a port. The line was built to the 7'-0" gauge and had an 0-4-0 steam engine LOCH, named after the Governor of the period, Henry B Loch. The breakwater was completed in 1876 at a cost of Â£80,000, but only lasted until 1881 when a storm substantially demolished it. It effectively ceased to exist in 1884 although the huge blocks used in construction can still be seen scattered around the site, across the foreshore from the present Marine Biological Station.
Approximately fifty other minor tramways have existed for one purpose or another in the Island, ranging from hand-worked 2'-0" gauge lines in innumerable quarries, such as Poortown and Ballajora, through sand pits (St John's) to the RAF gunnery target line on the foreshore near Blue Point.