Snaefell Mountain Railway

DarloRich

Veteran Member
Joined
12 Oct 2010
Messages
24,097
Location
Work - Fenny Stratford(MK) Home - Darlington
The Snaefell Mountain Railway is a 5 mile long electric railway which connects the village of Laxey with the summit of Snaefell, the Isle of Man's highest point at 2,036 feet. The line is built to 3 ft 6 in gauge and is fitted with an additional centre rail for braking on the steep gradients. It is electrified using overhead wires at 550 volts direct current, with bow collectors fitted to the trains. The railway is owned and operated by Isle of Man Heritage Railways, a department of the Isle of Man Government and is unique in two ways: It is the only electric mountain railway in the British Isles and the only railway in the world to use the Fell mountain railway system.

Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The line was constructed in just 7 months during 1895 opening on August 16th. This time was even elongated because of bad weather and a strike! This seems to have been possible because the route for the line had been surveyed in 1887 with a view to building a steam railway up the mountain. Those surveys were undertaken by George Nobel Fell, the son of John Barraclough Fell who invented the Fell system, of which more later. These plans never came to fruition but they were revived by the Snaefell Mountain Railway Association who quickly appointed Fell to oversee construction. Construction was aided by the steam locomotive Caledonia, which was dispatched by sea from Ramsey to Laxey Harbour and then moved on baulks and rollers through the village to Laxey Station.

Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The railway was designed to be electrically powered from the outset but because of concerns about the ability of the electric cars to safely climb the 1 in 12 gradient by adhesion alone the developers opted to install the Fell system as a back-up.


The Fell mountain railway system is designed to help trains ascend and descend steep gradients safely. It consists of a raised centre rail between the two running rails to which wheels or brake shoes are horizontally pressed. It can be used to enhance breaking or propulsion. The Fell system The Snaefell Mountain Railway still uses the Fell system for emergency braking, but does not use it for traction. The Fell system was designed by British engineer John Barraclough Fell and was patented in 1863 but this only example still in use as the idea was superseded by rack and pinion technology or rendered redundant by improved tunnelling techniques.

Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

In 1895 6 tramcars were built by G.F Milnes of Birkhenhead for use on the line. These were visually similar to those built at the same time for the Manx Electric Railway. All were equipped with Hopkinson Bow Collectors ,Mather and Platt electrical equipment and braking equipment to use the Fell system. The 100hp trams were the most powerful in Britain at the time and quickly showed they could cope with the climb. All of the vehicles have subsequently been fitted with a rheostatic braking system. This meant that the Fell system was retained for emergency use only. The railcars were re-equipped in the late 1970s with new bogies to a design based on the original, using motors and traction equipment from withdrawn Aachen trams.

Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The trams themselves offer a picture of Victorian railway travel. They are narrow, wooden bodied railcars with clerestory roofs, sliding windows ( with bars to stop leaning out in the confided spaces) and off set front end access doors. Inside the trams offer little in the way of creature comfort’s providing bare wooden bench seating that is reversible to ensure you always get the best view of the stunning countryside/fog (depending on your visit) and a fairly snug sitting space.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

5 of these vehicles remain in service but a couple have led a charmed life. No.3 was destroyed in an accident in 2016 when it ran away from Summit station and derailed just north of Bungalow. Sadly the 121-year old tramcar was totally destroyed in the incident. The remains were salvaged and there is a hope this vehicle will be rebuilt. No.5 Car 5 was burned out in an accident in 1970 and its body is a replacement built in 1971 to a similar design but it is still going strong.

Snaefell Summit by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The railway operates from during the tourist season and does not run in winter because the overhead wires have to be removed from the higher parts of the line due a risk of damage form ice. It takes about 30 minutes for a one-way journey form bottom to top and most journeys start from the interchange station with the Manx Electric Railway in Laxey. The station here is fairly basic with no platforms but it does boast a refreshment hut with a recognisable tin roof. The connecting timetable seems designed ot work well together as passengers were able to get of the MER service from Douglas in time to board the SMR train to the summit.

Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The passengers on the day of my visit were a happy mixture of racing fans off to Bunglaow to watch the action, enthusiasts and tourists taking in the scenery. The conversation was an eclectic mix of debate about the merits of the latest Honda racer, comparisons with trams in San Francisco, sheep and the views form the railway

Almost immediate after leaving the station the climb up the mountain begins with the tram climbing slowly up the side of Laxey Glen. It is very pretty but it has a serious industrial past personified by the Great Laxey Wheel which can be seen as the line climbs out of the village. Lady Isabella, as the wheel is known, is the largest working waterwheel in the world with a wheel that has a 72-foot-6-inch diameter, is 6 feet wide, revolves at approximately three rpm and at its peak could shift 1000l of water out of the mines every minute from a depth of 1500ft. It was built in 1854 to pump water out of the Great Laxey Mines industrial complex. It is a very pretty bit of engineering but that is secondary to its main purpose which it performed fantastically. The mines the wheel drained allowed lead and zinc to be extracted and exported increasing the prosperity of the island. It was named "Lady Isabella" after the wife the island's governor at that time. A water wheel was chosen because the island had no source of coal to fuel a steam engine. It is massive and apparently the most photographed item on the island. The tram helpfully stopped to allow everyone to get a nice picture of the wheel
Laxey by DarloRich2009, on Flickr


The line continues to climb up the valley roughly following the course of the Laxey River. The views are stunning and the breath-taking. There are water falls spilling off the hillside, brooks cutting deep ravines into the fell, sheep patrolling and at just the right time a view right down the valley to the sea. However it isn’t long before the industrial past of the valley comes back into sight with first a ruined power station that once served the line and was said to be the most powerful on the island followed quickly by the entrance to the Laxey mine.

Snaefell Mountain Railway by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Laxey was mainly mined for its lead ore. However, in addition the mine also yielded zinc, silver ore, copper and iron in various quantities. It is unclear when the mine opened but it was certainly in use by 1782. The mines were a raging success through the 19th century but ran into difficulties early In the 20th century due to pumping difficulties and then a fall in the price of ore although the mine limped on to closure in 1934. At its peak the mine reached a depth in excess of 2,200ft and employed 100’s of men underground.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

At the time of my visit the Manx Grand Prix was taking place so railway operations were slightly perturbed. This is the amateur version of the famous Isle of Man TT and because the race course crosses the railway line at Bungalow the route is split in two with passengers alighting at a temporary station just before the level crossing. We then used a special path and bridge to cross the course before boarding another tram for the short trip to the summit. I wanted to watch some of the racing from the Bungalow as this is a famous part of the TT course and was surprised to find the track quiet. On enquiring I was told the race had been red flagged as a rider had hit an electric pole in Douglas and needed medical help. As I returned to the station news came through via the tannoy that the rider in question had been taken away by ambulance and the council were making safe the damaged electrics. I have watched lots of motor racing and news a competitor has been taken away by ambulance is usually met with dread. Not on the IOM. The crowd remained nonplussed and the common consensus was that a ride in the ambulance usually means that the rider is ok and might only have suffered a broken leg. If it is really bad they use a helicopter!

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

This delay meant I had missed the tram to the summit so spent a couple of minutes exploring the area around the station. The station opened in 1895 but the current structure dates from 2001. It is the only intermediate station on the line. It offers some waiting space and ticket selling space as well as much needed shelter from the weather. It also offers a decent viewing point of the racing and is home to a large marshals control point. There was also a busy refreshment van that I suspect is only there on race days. Nearby is a statute of Joey Dunlop ( the King of the Mountain) who won a record 26 TT races before his death in 2000 at a race in Estonia.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

During my walk back form the statue tram no.6 had descended from the summit and was ready for the short climb back up. Quite a few race fans had decided to have a trip to the summit (perhaps for a drink in the café there) so the tram was much busier than I expected. Car no.6 was built ( like the rest of the fleet ) by G.F Milnes of Birkhenhead in 1895 and has an attractive teak body with red and white livery panels with the Snaefell Mountian Railway name running down each side and a number on the nose. Apparently they were delivered without windows which must have been pleasant at times! Now they have sliding windows that can be opened or closed as required.

Snaefell Summit by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The summit station is visible from the Bunglaow but the route to the top curves up and round the mountain like a dragons tail. The scenery has by now has changed from lush green in the valley to moorland with lots more sheep in close attendance. The climb is steep at this point and much more reminiscent of a traditional mountain railway. The line performs a complete circuit of the mountain and offers some great views of the island with Douglas and Castletown to the south and Ramsey to the north as well as some great views down the various valleys.

Snaefell Mountain Railway by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

It is said that on a good day you can see 7 kingdoms from the summit of Snaefell . Those kingdoms are: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Mann and the kingdoms of Heaven and the sea. The guard was asked if this was true and he replied it was but on a bad day you would be lucky to see your hand in front of your face!

Snaefell Summit by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

A café and bar was constructed at the summit when the line opened in 1895 and it was rebuilt in 1907 due to the popularity of the line. It is that building that serves passengers today even if it was rebuilt after being burnt out in 1982. It was reopened as a cafe two years later and then refurbished in 2011. As there is no water supply at the summit, a bowser is attached to the first train of the day to supply the cafe with water. That lack of a water supply and the remote location meant that when the building caught fire in 1982 it was left to burn out as the fire brigade could not tackle the blaze. There is a well marked path for the short walk to the summit of the mountain where there are various air traffic control and radio transmitters To service these transmitters in the winter the railway maintains a small Wickham diesel railcar to allow maintenance staff to reach the summit out of season.

Snaefell Summit by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

The café was busy but I took the opportunity of a cup of tea and a cake outside on the terrace to look at the view and watch the trams come and go. After about 30 minutes it was time to board the tram and begin the descent down the mountain. By the time I got back to Bungalow the racing had restarted so I found a spot by the track to watch the riders speed past on the mountain course. When I had finished I made my way along the path and over the bridge back to the temporary station ( a garden shed) and found tram no.1 waiting.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

This is the only vehicle in the lines original livery of Prussian blue and white adorned with the original ‘Snaefell Mountain Tramway’ name. It had a three year long overhaul of both body and mechanicals which was completed early in 2013.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Because the racing hadn’t quite finished the tram was quiet so I had an ideal opportunity to bag a window seat in the direction of travel and enjoy the peaceful journey & fantastic view back down the valley to Laxey.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr
 
Last edited:
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

Adlington

Member
Joined
3 Oct 2016
Messages
822
. No.3 [car] was destroyed in an accident in 2016 when it ran away from Summit station and derailed just north of Bungalow. Sadly the 121-year old tramcar was totally destroyed in the incident.
See this thread.

Just to add to the Snaefell accidents theme: Snaefell Mountain Railway hit by 95 'safety issues' since 2015.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway is currently [Oct 2017] closed amid a health and safety inquiry.

The Manx infrastructure department has released data for problems besetting the line between 2015 and 2017.

An infrastructure spokesman said some of the incidents were "minor".

Last year an electric tram was destroyed after derailing and crashing, although no-one was on board at the time.

In August an "out of control tram" travelled down the mountain for about 180ft (54m) before the crew were able to switch from a modern braking system to an older one.

No specific details of the 95 incidents have been released.

However, the infrastructure spokesman said they included "incidents on or near a tram where passengers have taken ill" and "sheep on the line and so on".
 

Big Tim

Member
Joined
21 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Location
York
Excellent write up. I've been going to the I.o.M. for many years (27 to be precise), and have done the Manx Electric Railway (Douglas - Ramsey via Laxey) and the Steam Railway (Douglas - Port Erin) several times, but never the Mountain Railway. That's mainly due to time constraints though, as it's motorcycling that draws me to the Island year after year and I'm usually pre-occupied with the racing (sidecars - which really is a niche interest)!
 

DarloRich

Veteran Member
Joined
12 Oct 2010
Messages
24,097
Location
Work - Fenny Stratford(MK) Home - Darlington
thanks chaps - i will try and add some pictures this evening

as it's motorcycling that draws me to the Island year after year and I'm usually pre-occupied with the racing (sidecars - which really is a niche interest)!
That is niche! I have no idea how the passengers manage. There must be absolute trust in the rider.

I was really pleased to be there when the Manx GP was on as it has long been an ambition of mine to see racing on the mountain course. There are some photos on my flickr

@Adlington - i should have said this was written mainly last year before the issue came to light. I lost the memory card the report was on!
 

Big Tim

Member
Joined
21 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Location
York
It's very much a "black art" ... I've had a go at sidecar passengering (not competitively, on a closed circuit at Teesside near Middlesbrough), but I'd sooner be the driver - at least you can stop the thing if you've had enough! (I know I'm very much off-topic here, but I am involved with a sidecar team from your neck of the woods - based at Binchester, near Bishop Auckland).

I shall have a look through your photos, thanks for the "heads up".

The Steam Railway on the IoM is useful for those spectating on the shorter "Billown" circuit near Castletown (Southern 100 / Pre-TT Classic Races), as it brings fans from Douglas down south - with the opportunity to sample some excellent beer at "The Sidings" which is right beside the station platform, too! The station itself only five minutes walk from the track (the railway passes under and adjacent to the circuit - it's quite bizarre seeing the steam bellowing out under the bridges as trains pass by and the bikes circulate in excess of 120mph).
 

IanM

Member
Joined
20 Aug 2013
Messages
78
The Steam Railway on the IoM is useful for those spectating on the shorter "Billown" circuit near Castletown (Southern 100 / Pre-TT Classic Races), as it brings fans from Douglas down south - with the opportunity to sample some excellent beer at "The Sidings" which is right beside the station platform, too! The station itself only five minutes walk from the track (the railway passes under and adjacent to the circuit - it's quite bizarre seeing the steam bellowing out under the bridges as trains pass by and the bikes circulate in excess of 120mph).
In all my attempts at the Southern, I have never managed a decent shot of trains and bikes. One day, the timing will drop right.

004a.jpg
 
Last edited:

IanM

Member
Joined
20 Aug 2013
Messages
78
I have got the steam railway report to sort out next. It needs some work as it is only a partial recovery. I zoomed down that road in the camper van several times as we stayed at Port Erin.
I am enjoying your IoM report, Rich, thanks. Shame we didn't manage to catch up during last year's MGP.
 

Hornet

Member
Joined
16 Jul 2013
Messages
720
Nearby is a statute of Joey Dunlop ( the King of the Mountain) who won a record 26 TT races before his death in 2000 at a race in Estonia.

Bungalow by DarloRich2009, on Flickr
Joey has a link with Railways. His Bar, run now by his wife and family is part of Ballymoney Railway Station in Northern Ireland.

5477833_e8e9fddd.jpg


From my collection. Joey Dunlop on the VFR750R RC30 Gemini Oil HRC Honda at Glentramman, on his way to winning the 1988 Senior T.T. on the 10th June 1988.


23.jpg

Same bike 8th March 2018 in Joey's Bar.

4.JPG

Husband and Wife Team Derek and Julia Bingham on the 700 Padgetts Yamaha Sidecar at the Bungalow, before Retiring their Machine from the 1987 Sidecar Race B T.T. on the 1st June 1987. The yellow box was the commentary point for Radio T.T. The pole sticking out of the top of it is part of the OHLE for the Snaefell Mountain Railway.

16.jpg

The T.T. course is not the only Motorcycle Circuit that crosses a Railway on the Level. Imatra in Finland and the Cemetery Circuit at Whanganui, New Zealand come to mind. Also the Southern 100 Circuit on the IOM has a Station inside the circuit confines (Ballabeg), as has the NW200 Circuit in Northern Ireland (Dhu Varren).
 

Big Tim

Member
Joined
21 Jan 2017
Messages
28
Location
York
Some great stuff on this thread, and my apologies for initially taking it off topic with the bike-related chat (although I suppose the IoM has unique motorcycling and railways very much at the forefront of things and the two will often crossover - pun not intended!).

Good photo of the Binghams in the post above. Dennis is still racing to this day, albeit on a more conventional four wheels in vintage cars. (The bike he and wife Julia are riding above used a four cylinder 2-stroke 700cc motor - one of the most iconic and notorious of sidecar engines, and almost impossible to ride in a solo motorcycle, with a very narrow powerband which would throw the front wheel in the air, or "highside" a rider at almost any opportunity - The TZ750 was a similar engine, but used reed valves, making it a more "user-friendly", but still exhilarating racing experience).

Nice capture of the steam railway passing the Castletown bypass (Southern 100 start / finish straight), IanM - so many variables which prevent a shot of the bikes and train in motion at the same time ... but a good excuse to keep returning and trying to capture that elusive photo! I didn't realise there was such a gap along there to provide visibility of the line - are you near the startline, or closer to Castletown Corner (the layout of the steel barriers to your left look like the signalling area for the teams, but I cannot recall that gate being opposite, so I guess it's near the startline)?
 
Last edited:

IanM

Member
Joined
20 Aug 2013
Messages
78
You're about right, Tim. The photo is taken on about the 4th or 5th line of the grid so the portakabins are just out of shot to the left.
The gate was the access to the temporary station which was used to provide rail transport for the kids to Castle Rushen High School during the bus strikes in 2012/2013.

Thursdsy of S100 is a favourite day out for me. Where else can you step off a plane, have a gentle walk down the road, watch real road racing in the sunshine and tgen have a pint in The Sidings or The Viking before walking back up to the airport to return to the UK?
 
Last edited:

EbbwJunction1

Member
Joined
25 Mar 2010
Messages
1,013
"It is said that on a good day you can see 7 kingdoms from the summit of Snaefell . Those kingdoms are: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Mann and the kingdoms of Heaven and the sea. The guard was asked if this was true and he replied it was but on a bad day you would be lucky to see your hand in front of your face!"

He wasn't joking .... !

I visited the IoM nearly two years ago, and went on the SMR twice. It was foggy both times, although the Summit wasn't totally fogged in ... it kept swirling around, so you could see things one minute and not the next. I enjoyed my visit, though, and I'd like to go back.
 

Top