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Last Updated Sunday 1st September 2013

British Trams Online goes to the Isle of Man by Gareth Prior

Despite the fact that my interest in trams goes back over 20 years and this website has existed for over 10 years I have never been to the Isle of Man, well until now! I had been trying to find time to make a visit to the Island and 2013 was to be the year and helped by a change of role at work which meant I could take a holiday earlier than previously the trip was booked for a week in mid-August – deliberately avoiding any enthusiast events so I could explore and discover the tramways (and railways) of the Isle of Man as they would be normally. What follows is a diary of what happened whilst on the Isle of Man for the three tramways: Douglas Horse Tramway, Manx Electric Railway and Snaefell Mountain Railway. Gareth Prior reports.

Saturday 10th August

Arriving on the Isle of Man shortly before 1400 on board the Isle of Man Steam Packet Fast craft “Manannan” after a perfectly smooth crossing it was a walk to my hotel on Douglas promenade. On the way it was a chance to see my very first tram on the island: Horse Tram 43. On this day it was joined by 45 in providing the normal two tram, 20 minute interval service. In addition a further three trams were stabled out of the depot at the Strathallan terminus: 21, 36 and 44. These five trams would stay there all week.

After checking in to the hotel and heading back down to the Sea Terminal to get my 7 Day Explorer ticket it was then time to make my first visit to the Derby Castle terminus of the Manx Electric Railway and to see my first MER trams in the flesh, which turned out to be the rather standard fare of 5+44. There was no time for any riding on this day but three of the remaining four sets were also seen around Derby Castle with 7+40, 20+46 and 21+41 in action.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 43, 45
Manx Electric Railway service trams: 5+44, 7+40, 20+46, 21+41

Sunday 11th August

On the Douglas Horse Tramway a pattern was clearly starting to develop with the service being operated by 45 from the previous day and this was joined by 36 for the day. One of the highlights of the day on this tramway was the depot doors being kept open for a large part of the day allowing a chance to see the sole operational double decker in the fleet - 18.

It was also a fairly familiar sight on the Manx Electric Railway with the same ten trams being used as the previous day, although they were mixed up a bit. 7 was partnered with its matching trailer 48 (instead of 40 which was hauled by 9 instead) with 5, 20 and 21 all remaining partnered with their same trailers as the day before.

My first view of the Snaefell Mountain Railway saw three vehicles noted: 3, 5 and 6.

This was also the day I rode on my first trams on the Isle of Man and the tram with the honour of carrying me for the first time was Winter Saloon 21 (with Trailer 41) on the 1010 Derby Castle-Ramsey service. Also on the horse tramway I enjoyed rides on both of the trams in service with horses Rocky, Robert and Mark in charge.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 45
Manx Electric Railway service trams: D1 - 9+40, D2 - 21+41, D3 - 7+48, L - 20+46, R - 5+44
Snaefell Mountain Railway service trams: 3, 5, 6

Monday 12th August

Pretty much as you were on all the tramways on this day with the Horse Tramway seeing 36 and 43 in service (the pattern would remain the same for seven of the eight days with two of the three trams which had operated by this stage in service each day) and the Manx Electric Railway had the same five motors with the same five trailers from the Sunday. The only difference was on the Snaefell Mountain Railway where four different vehicles were seen in 3, 4, 5 and 6 - although this could well have been because I had spent more time around Laxey that I saw all four in service.

This day also saw my first trip up to the Summit of Snaefell with 5 taking me up and 6 bringing me back down. Unfortunately it wasn’t a “7 kingdoms” day up the Mountain as it was a bit misty out to sea and so just the kingdoms of heaven, the sea and Man could be seen. I also took the chance on this day to make my first journey all the way to Ramsey and thus was on board trailer 44.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 43
Manx Electric Railway service trams: D1 - 5+44, D2 - 21+41, D3 - 20+46, L - 7+48, R - 9+40
Snaefell Mountain Railway service trams: 3, 4, 5, 6

Tuesday 13th August

The majority of this day was actually spent away from the tramways on the Isle of Man Steam Railway so not everything which happened was able to be noted but what is known is that the horses of Douglas were hauling 36 and 43 for the second day in a row.

Only four of the MER sets were noted and although three of these were identical from the previous day for the first time there was a complete change with Winter Saloon 19 being partnered with Enclosed Royal Saloon Trailer 59. There did, however, seem to be a delay with services heading back to Derby Castle in the evening as the 1725 arrival was around 30 minutes late and was swiftly followed by the last arrival of the day.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 43
Manx Electric Railway service trams: 5+44, 9+40, 19+59, 20+46.

Wednesday 14th August

No prizes for guessing which trams might possibly be used on the Horse Tramway this day with the chosen two being 36 and 45. The only difference on this Wednesday was that Toastrack 21 - one of those trams stabled at the Strathallan terminus – was in use first thing in the morning for some new horse training.

On the Manx Electric Railway there were three sets which were out together the previous day including 6+41 which had been the missing fifth set in the notes above. The changes to those trams in use saw 21 paired with 59 and 22 making its debut for the week with 46. Although possibly the highlight of the day for me was the appearance of 1+51 on the mainline briefly as they shunted at Derby Castle car sheds. The trams were being moved from the top shed to the bottom shed for an unknown reason and it was certainly pleasing to see them make a move.

Business as usual on the Snaefell Mountain Railway with 3, 4 and 5 in use, although this turned out not to be the day to go up to the Summit (it had started off sunny!) with low cloud, mist and rain arriving just as arrived up the top. Definitely not a 7 Kingdoms day and not even a 3 as the sea couldn’t be seen and to be honest if I hadn’t been standing on Man that would have been an issue as well!

With it being a Wednesday limited evening services are operated on both the MER and SMR. For the Manx Electric Railway this saw 21operating solo which runs a number of Derby Castle-Laxey journeys along with a single Derby Castle-Groudle Glen service for visitors to the Groudle Glen Railway. On the Snaefell Mountain Railway 3 was seen doing the honours specifically for those who had booked to have a meal at the Summit Hotel – although they probably would have been able to see anything through the fog!

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 45
Manx Electric Railway service trams: D1 - 5+44, D2 - 21+59, D3 - 22+46, L - 9+40, R - 6+41
Snaefell Mountain Railway service trams: 3, 4, 5

Thursday 15th August

Douglas Horse Tramway, well you know what I’m going to write here don’t you! 36 and 45 did the honours on this day and that’s all there is to say about that really!

On the Manx Electric Railway there was a bit of variety again with the stunning 7 back in service after a couple days rest and this ran with Trailer 47 (its first appearance of the week) whilst trailer 57 also made its week debut and this ran with 21 throughout the day. Apart from that it was as you were with 5+44 continuing to operate together for the sixth consecutive day.

Not much to say about the Snaefell Mountain Railway either with all of 3, 4, 5 and 6 all making runs up to the Summit.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 45
Manx Electric Railway service trams: 5+44, 6+41, 7+47, 21+57, 22+46
Snaefell Mountain Railway service trams: 3,4, 5, 6

Friday 16th August

The penultimate day of the trip and a day which turned out to have my last rides on the MER for the week. All the ten vehicles in use on the Manx Electric Railway had seen use earlier in the week but there was a bit of mixing up of the partners including the splitting of 5 and 44 for the first time! 5 instead ran with 40 and 44 was hauled by 21. 9 was also back in a service after a little break with 46 joining it for the day. The other two sets saw regular performers 6+41 and 7+47 in action. It is also thought that 22 ran a test run as it was seen running alone to Laxey and back to Derby Castle during the afternoon.

Both of the other tramways on the island saw the usual suspects out as 36 and 45 were used on the Douglas Horse Tramway (although 21 made another appearance on new horse training with a rather resistant horse to start with) whilst it was 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the Mountain.

Fridays equal an evening service during August which requires three sets to operate extra journeys. This saw 9 and 21 run solo (both of these trams include Ramsey evening trips in their diagrams) whilst 7+47 ran a solitary Derby Castle-Laxey and return trip in tandem. On the Snaefell Mountain Railway 5 and 6 were seen making trips.

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 36, 45
Manx Electric Railway service trams: D1 - 9+46, D2 - 21+44, D3 - 5+40, L - 6+41, R - 7+47
Snaefell Mountain Railway service trams: 3, 4, 5, 6

Saturday 17th August

And so do the final day of our review – and a major change to the weather! The lovely sunny skies of the previous day had been replaced by windy wet weather which was a bit of a blow as I was on a ferry later on in the day!

The one advantage of the weather was that there was some variety on the Douglas Horse Tramway as they had no choice but to bring the enclosed saloons out rather than the rather exposed crossbenches. This meant that numbers 27 and 29 were in action and although this was good to see it did show that both vehicles could do with a repaint with flaking paint visible on the exteriors.

Because of the wet weather I decided not to venture away from Douglas ahead of my afternoon ferry and stationed myself for a while in the bus shelter at Derby Castle (which appears to be one of the only areas you can shelter on the Prom – why is it that so many UK seaside resorts don’t think they need to provide any cover for bad weather?!). This meant I was able to see all the trams in action on the MER and it was a bit of a mixed bag although mainly what you would have expected. Surprisingly despite the weather the very first departure saw trailer 44 provided – not that anyone seemed to be keen to travel on an open sided trailer, can’t think why! – and this worked along with 22. The second departure was more sensible with 7 partnered with enclosed trailer 59. D3 was then in the hands of 21 running solo (to be honest that was more than was required as there weren’t many people seemingly wanting to travel on the MER during the morning). The first arrival of the day from Ramsey was in the hands of 9+46 but as soon as they arrived at Derby Castle the motor headed back to the car sheds with 6 coming out to replace it in service.

And that was it with the final tram being seen on this trip once again being a horse tram with 29 being the vehicle heading back to Strathallan. It was time to head back to the mainland, once again via Manannan although this time it wasn’t to be a smooth crossing with the Captain handily telling us to expect winds of up to gale force 7 on the way back. You probably know it isn’t going to be a great crossing when there are paper bags strategically placed around the boat! As one child behind me said “it’s like a really slow rollercoaster” – I don’t like those either!

Douglas Horse Tramway service trams: 27, 29
Manx Electric Railway service trams: D1 - 22+44, D2 - 7+59, D3 - 21, L - 5+40, R - 9+46 (9 replaced by 6 from first northbound journey)

In Conclusion

And so that was my first ever visit to the Isle of Man and an enjoyable week it was. There will be some more experienced Isle of Man visitors who will point to the rather predictable nature of the output on the Manx Electric Railway but when you have never been before each and every tram is exciting (although I have to admit to getting a bit bored when 5+44 seemed to be glued together for days on end). One of the highlights on the MER had to be seeing 1 ever so briefly during a shunting exercise which at least enabled me to get some photos of the oldest tram on its original system in the world. It was also good to see 7 out and about so regularly and it really is a stunning vehicle even more so when partnered with its matching trailer 48.

Away from the MER it was a little disappointing not to see the blue liveried 1 on the Snaefell Mountain Railway but I am sure I will see it one day! Poor choices of day from me also meant that the stunning views from the summit weren’t able to be seen with the second of my visits in particular being a major error of judgement!

And finally the Douglas Horse Tramway. Although I have to admit it find it strange that they leave five trams out in the open overnight and the fact that the output is incredibly predictable with normally only 3 trams alternated to offer the 2 tram service. In that respect I was glad to see the poor weather on the final day as at least that meant there was a bit more variety.

One thing I did learn from the trip was that I can definitely cross off sailor as a possible career option!

Also on British Trams Online

You can view photos of this week in Gallery 395: Isle of Man Tramways August 2013. This features 102 photos from the Douglas Horse Tramway, Manx Electric Railway and Snaefell Mountain Railway.

British Trams Online is an enthusiast run website for enthusiasts. It should be able to be viewed at all screen resolutions but I do advise you that it is probably best at 1024x768. The site is owned, maintained (and in the main written) by Gareth Prior. Any comments or suggestions please email.