A Laxey man who has been manning a railway crossing for 25 years is reflecting on his time in the job.

Ian Ellis could be relied upon to open the gate at Ballastrang Crossing on time and to flag each train through for the last two and a half decades.

However, now the crossing is being automated, he’s out of a job.

The crossing is located between Santon and Ballabeg, on a lane off the main road near Fairy Bridge.

It was a level crossing and manual closable gates that barricade the roadway are intended to be a complete barrier against intrusion of any road traffic onto the railway.

These are operated by a person who will close the gates upon the arrival of a train to ensure it crosses safely.

Automatic crossings, which don’t require a person to operate the gates, are now commonplace and the Ballastrang Crossing was the last one on the Isle of Man Steam Railway to be automated.

Ian said he very much enjoyed his time with the railway and felt positive about future opportunities.

‘You have to accept that all good things must come to an end and when one door closes another opens,’ the 63-year-old said.

He had always had an interest in the railway, adding: ‘I had liked steam trains when I was a child and missed them when they were replaced with diesel.

‘Obviously Thomas the Tank Engine was supposed to have links to the Isle of Man as well, which I loved as a child.’

When asked what he will miss the most about the job, he said the fact he was popular with the public.

‘It’s funny how often people would offer me a lift back to Douglas when I wasn’t itching for one at all,’ Ian said.

‘I did become a bit of a hit with the Manx public. They’d throw things like snacks or sweets to me from the train while I was working.’

Ian has manned the crossing every summer since 1998, when he started his job with the Isle of Man Steam Railway.

He said: ‘I spend the time writing lots of letters, reading magazines and books, and listening to the radio.

‘There’s ways of keeping the day occupied.

‘I’ve moved with the times as well. I’ve now got a mobile after not having one for ages.

‘You often try to forget about how long you’re there for because if you think about time, it drags.’

Ian is also a keen cartoonist and would spend a lot of his time drawing.

‘I’d be at the hut for a few hours each day,’ he said.

‘There would be a couple of hours gap between the trains.

‘It would depend on how busy it was on the day as to how many trains would go past me.

‘I won’t lie, trains tend to look alike, especially the Manx trains, when they’re speeding past.’

Ian hasn’t only been working at the crossing at Ballastrang, but has ‘moved around a bit’ during his years with the railway.

He continued: ‘I worked at Port Erin for a while as well as Ballabeg.


‘It was nice to have a bit of a change now and again.

‘They were all manually operated when I started.

‘Of course, times change.’

His sister Louise Beckett says that to him his job was equivalent to Mr Perks in ‘The Railway Children’.

‘He loved his job, he was devoted to it,’ she said.

‘It’s sad that our heritage railway has discontinued the last manned crossing.

‘Ian is going to miss his job this summer and I’m sure others will miss waving to him.’

The railway’s chief engineer Andy Cowie explained what an important role Ian had played for the last 25 years.

He said: ‘Ian’s departure is an unfortunate consequence of the automation of the last manually-controlled gated crossing on the Steam Railway, and he leaves with our very best wishes and fond memories from his long time with us.

‘Ian joined us in the back in the 90’s and was always a very popular and reliable member of the team.

‘We are grateful for his many years of service.

‘We look forward to seeing him inside the train, rather than manning his post, when he chooses to travel on the Isle of Man Steam Railway during his well-earned retirement.’