My Manx Heritage (September 9th-15th 2014) tour makes a feature of the Isle of Man’s superb public transport, both the famed heritage rail services and the efficient, extensive bus network.
The tour handbook includes fleet lists of the steam railway, the electric railway and the horse tramway, so that those who don’t habitually take notice of such things can check the age of their vehicle. Usually, if you’re travelling on steel wheels on steel rails in the Isle of Man, your carriage is at least a century old.
This astonishing collection of transportation is, without exception, indigenous to the island – built elsewhere but designed for Manx service. Some examples have been restored or rebuilt following years of neglect or accidental damage, yet the mechanics and the operating practices date essentially from the nineteenth century.
The Manx Electric Railway fleet includes the two oldest remaining working electric tramcars in the world still in use on their original route.
Nos 1 and 2 were delivered to the island by the Birkenhead manufacturer, G F Milnes, along with a third, No 3, which was destroyed in a depot fire in 1930, to start the initial 2¼-mile service between Douglas and Groudle in September 1893.
These long, bogie single-deck trams with their open cabs and clerestory roofs suggest American ancestry, for though the Manx line is circuitous and hilly and built to a modest three-foot gauge, it has stronger resemblances to the American interurban railway than to the British street tramway that evolved in the 1890s.
For years these two survivors were relegated to route-maintenance support rather than passenger service but they’re now treasured for their antiquity and they operate regular-timetable services from time to time.
Inevitably, both cars have been modified over the years, but the technology is essentially of the 1890s, and it works as well as it ever did doing the job it was designed for.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.