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The Station, Laxey.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway is an electric mountain railway connecting the town of Laxey with the summit of Snaefell, at 2,036 feet above sea level the highest point on the Isle of Man. It connects with the Manx Electric Railway (MER) in Laxey. The line is five miles long, built to 3 ft 6 in gauge and uses a Fell centre rail for braking on the steep gradients. It is electrified using overhead wires at 550 volts direct current, with bow collectors.
Services operate at regular intervals between April and September, taking 30 minutes for a one-way journey. There is no winter service: the overhead wires on the exposed upper part of the route are dismantled to avoid damage from icing. All passenger traffic is carried in six wooden-bodied electric railcars, built in 1895 and numbered 1 to 6. Car 5 was burnt out in an accident in 1970 and its body is a replacement built in 1971 to a similar design. The cars 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in the late 1970s with new bogies to a design based on the original, using motors and traction equipment from withdrawn Aachen trams.
Because of the different gauge and the centre rail, vehicles cannot inter-run between the railway and the 3 ft gauge MER. Railway vehicles are occasionally worked to the MER workshops at Douglas by swapping their bogies, and to aid this there is a dual gauge siding in Laxey. The railway is owned and operated by Isle of Man Transport, a department of the Isle of Man government.
The line was originally surveyed by George Nobel Fell, the son of John Barraclough Fell who invented the Fell system. This survey was for a steam-operated railway using the Fell centre rail for both propulsion and braking, and the scheme was approved by Tynwald in 1888 but not built.
In 1895 the Snaefell Mountain Railway Association (SMRA) revived the plans, and adopted the route of the earlier survey. As the line was built entirely on land leased by the association there was no need for statutory powers, and the line was constructed very quickly and opened on 20 August 1895. The line was built from scratch as an electric railway without Fell traction equipment, relying on normal rail adhesion for propulsion up the steep gradients. However they are fitted with Fell braking equipment for use when descending.
In December 1895 the SMRA sold the line to the Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Co. Ltd (IoMT&EP), which owned the MER. Doubt was thrown on this transaction in aftermath after the later collapse of the IoMT&EP, when it was revealed that the SMRA was unregistered, and that most of the board of the IoMT&EP were also members of the SMRA and had voted on the acquisition in contravention of that company's articles of association.
The IoMT&EP went into liquidation in 1900 as a consequence of a banking collapse. The railway and the MER were sold by the liquidator to the newly-formed Manx Electric Railway Co. Ltd, which took over in 1902. By the late 1950s the company was itself in financial difficulties, and it was acquired by the Isle of Man government in 1957.