The line had its genesis as a brainchild of the Mid Sodor Railway, who had planned to extend the line to Kirk Machan to a junction where the passengers could join a mountain railway in their ascent to the summit of Culdee Fell.
Lord Peter Barrane, a local landowner whose property would have been affected severely by the construction, was reluctant to possibly disfigure the beautiful mountainside with a railway. So the idea was put on the backburner.
Meanwhile, the Skarloey Railway seized on the opportunity to gain extra revenue by providing easy access to a shorter route up the mountain. Wagonettes took excursionists from the station at Skarloey to where an ancient path crossed the road. This enterprise was depressing to the people of Kirk Machan and Peel Godred, as they lost much of their tourist traffic to the other side of the Island. Their complaints culminated in a deputation to Lord Peter with the request for him to change his mind.
So it was in February 1897 that the first sod of the Culdee Fell Railway was cut by Lady Elaine Barrane, eldest daughter of Lord Peter. The sponsors were The Culdee Fell Tramroad and Hotel Company Ltd, which had been formed the year before with Lord Peter as chairman. Therefore, Lord Peter could ensure that the lower sections of the line skirted the edges of his property instead of cutting straight through.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway had been opened shortly before this. On their advice, the Abt Rack System was adopted as the means to get trains up the mountain. Construction was greatly helped by their expertise. All proceeded smoothly, and the line was passed for passenger traffic in March 1900 by an Inspector from the Board of Trade, who gave rigorous tests of both operational methods and safety precautions aboard CFR No. 4, Culdee.
The line was opened to the public on Whit Monday, and, for a month, all went well. Then, on a return journey CFR No. 1, Godred left the rails at Devil's Back and fell down a ravine. Happily, the passengers remained calm and no one was injured; but Godred, when recovered the next day, was found to be beyond local repair.
While it is believed a stone lodged between two teeth of the rack rail had caused the accident, nothing was ever proven. The line was closed for the rest of the summer while stringent measures were taken to eliminate the possibility of future accidents.
The line was reopened on Easter Monday 1901, and has since operated with an unblemished safety record. There have been, of course, minor mishaps involving CFR No. 6, Lord Harry, but such incidents are rare. Even though they cause annoyance and inconvenience, these incidents have never resulted in injury to any passenger.
The line was first run by Godred, Ernest, Wilfred, Culdee, and Shane Dooiney, who arrived on order from Switzerland for the opening of the line. Although well maintained, Culdee and Shaine Dooiney needed heavy overhauls years later. Three engines - Lord Harry, Alaric, and Eric - were later purchased. Lord Harry came first allowing Culdee to be sent off to Europe, and Alaric and Eric arrived six months later, allowing Shane Dooiney to leave for Switzerland. The latter two are currently out of service and awaiting an overhaul.