Twilight of the railways

I suppose we ought to be accustomed to large audiences for our meetings but to see more than one-hundred people in the Centenary Centre was remarkable, this month, given that a similar number was picketing the Town Hall. I only had time to join this latter group, briefly, to show my support for their efforts in preventing what they described as an attempt to turn Sunset City into Sewage City. Their fight back seems to be off to a good start.

Back to the twilight years – of the Isle of Man Railways. Stan Basnett is an acclaimed transport enthusiast, photographer, writer and speaker so, if it hadn’t been for the Town Hall diversion, it might have been the first time we’d have to put up the ‘House Full’ sign. No one was disappointed – the evening sped by all too quickly.

Stan’s perfectly judged illustrated talk was based on his book, Trains of the Isle of Man, The Twilight Years. This is one of a series of titles – that on buses having just been published and featured in the Examiner. I hope to have the whole set on my shelves, eventually!

The geographical position and the geological importance of the Island were the starting points of the talk. The exploitation of the minerals required by the Industrial Revolution coupled with the notion of holidays rapidly increased Victorians’transport needs. Mining was putting impossible demands on horses and carts. Rock to be cleared and ore to be handled and shipped was crying out for railways and it all came together beautifully. The added bonus of passenger travel and the developing tourist trade gave a great lift to the whole enterprise. The central position in the middle of the Irish Sea meant easy access and short journey times.

The Peel line was the first to open, closely followed by Port Erin. Ramsey felt left out and, after some delay, a company was formed, called the Manx Northern Railway. This ran from the very busy junction at St Johns, with its mineral line up to the very important mines at Foxdale.

There are many books on the history of Manx railways, including the extensive tram system on the east coast and the once popular line along Marine Drive. Just a handful of Victorian entrepreneurs would get the whole lot sorted out, again for us. Just think of the number of vehicle journeys between Peel and Douglas that could be saved! Every village in between has been expanded along with the increased need for parcels and bulkier goods. We don’t need a ‘green’ lobby to persuade us of the advantages.

We have a very special, ‘members only’ evening at 7.45pm in the Centenary Centre, 19th November. This is to celebrate our 20th anniversary. If you are a member and need tickets, ring Bill Quine on 844938.

Pam Quine, 842234, has a few tickets left for our Christmas party at 7.30pm in the Corrin Hall on Tuesday, 15th December, but hurry!

John Slater