David Mee reports from the Isle of Man summarising the main activities on the Manx Electric Railway and Snaefell during private hires by the ‘Isle of Man 50 Group’ and the following Manx Heritage Transport event.
I arrived on the Island late on Thursday 18th July at the start of my longest visit for many years. Initially as part of the ‘Isle of Man 50 group’, now in its 13th year and having grown out of the great anniversary events of the 1990’s planned by Alan Corlett; and then as an individual to enjoy the annual Manx Heritage Transport Festival which this year had a distinct MER bias as 2013 is the 120th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the electric railway from Douglas to Groudle by the Douglas and Laxey Coast Electric Railway, the forerunner of the MER.
The following takes the form of a diary highlighting the main events, operations and yes a few mishaps during my time on the Island!
Friday 19th July
A normal operating day using timetable CG which includes an evening service with a train to Ramsey. This service comprises ten daytime and five evening departures from Douglas.
I travelled on car 7 and trailer 48 to Laxey at 9.40am. Then transferred to Snaefell Mountain Railway car 6 for a run to the summit at 10.45am, returning at 11.35am. Luck was on my side and Snaefell Mountain Tramway No. 1, now restored to original blue and white livery was sitting in the station and even more luckily car 7 in matching livery then rolled in for a side by side photo! Later I took car 6 and trailer 47 to Ramsey at 12.10 concluding my MER based activities for the day.
The service was running well with allocated cars as follows:
D1 – 7+48
D2 – 9+46
L – 20+40 (56 trailer for 10.40DC/12.40R services to accommodate a disabled party)
R – 6+47
Special – 5+44 (Driver Experience)
A quick note about diagramming of service cars: On a normal summer service day there is one car based on Laxey Car Shed (diagram L), one at Ramsey (diagram R) , and up to three from Douglas (diagram D1, D2 etc). A clever timetable causes the D1 diagram to normally become the R diagram next day and the D2 next days L diagram ensuring that all cars return to Derby Castle frequently for servicing.
Saturday 20th – Wednesday 24th July
Isle of Man 50 Group Private Charters
During this period I took part in activities organised by this group which has been visiting the island annually for thirteen years. I also did a fair bit of personal travel. During this period and for the rest of my stay the MER was operating the peak season service D with a total of 14 departures a day from Douglas, augmented by five evening departures on Wednesday and Friday.
Saturday 20th July
I only managed a single trip from Ramsey at 4.10pm with car 6 and trailer 47 as the group had hired an Open Top Bus for a tour of the island. However I did manage to note the car allocations:
D1 – 20+40
D2 – 6+47
D3 – 7+48
L – 9+46
Special – 1 (Driving Experience)
Unusually the same tram and trailer combinations as the previous day, on the MER they usually change daily!
Sunday 21st July
Today I managed a trip to Laxey at 9.40am again with car 6 and trailer 47 and back to Douglas with car 20 and trailer 40 at 10.55am before the group activities started (today centred around the miniature railway at Crogga). Tram allocations were:
D1 – 6+47
D2 – 9+46
D3 – 5+44
L – 7+48
R – 20+40
Special – 1+59 (Private Hire)
A pattern emerging with cars and trailers staying together, and with car 20 unusually being the only winter saloon in service for the third day running – a most unusual phenomenon! Discussion with the crew revealed that all three other members of the class were suffering with a number of defects, and apart from short periods in service during intensive service days later in the week when they proved themselves to be very unreliable, they remained confined to depot!
The whole of Monday was taken up by a group private hire on the Isle of Man Steam Railway.
Tuesday 23rd July
This was the Isle of Man 50 Group main charter day on the MER and was billed as ‘Triple Tram Tuesday’ with the group hiring three different tram sets:
Special 1- 16+59 (round trip to Groudle at 9.55am)
Special 2 – 32+59 (round trip to Laxey at 11am)
Special 3 – 2+60 (round trip to Ramsey at 1.30pm)
All three trips featured photographic stops, although in the case of the first run this was somewhat curtailed by sea mist. The trip with 32 was particularly interesting due to the failure of the air braking system on the outward run near Baldrine. This allowed the crew to show us a perfect demonstration of working the car on the ratchet hand brake and if anything added to the interest of the day, particularly as some members of the group wished to get off at Port Jack on one of the steepest sections of the line! The driver stopped smoothly at the halt.
Also during the trip with car 32 we ran into the sidings at Laxey Car Shed and were able to have a brief look around the shed with the following noted:
Laxey Car Sheds
Line 1: 52, 1, 28, 26
Line 2: 45, 31
Line 3: 23, 27, 25
No. 1 substituting as line car with trailer 52 because of our hire of the normal car 32, plus a good selection of stored stock. Particularly sad to see car 26 sidelined as it is a popular car with enthusiasts and featured on many special hires until fairly recently.
Service tram allocations today were:
D1 – 7+48 (16+51 later following a fault with car 7)
D2 – 5+44
D3 – 6+47
L – 9+46
R – 20+40
The fixed tram and trailer combinations lasting a fifth day!
Wednesday 24th July
Today was built around a private hire on the Snaefell Mountain Railway with car 1 recently returned to the original Snaefell Mountain Tramway blue and white livery. The line is currently working with a long single section from Llerghy Veg to Bungalow worked by token. There has been some land movement at the edge of the line near the old Sub Station which will be rectified this summer allowing the double line to be reinstated.
As the interesting combination of 16 and 51 had worked through to Ramsey the previous night I decided to catch the bus to Ramsey in order to sample it on the 10.10am departure, getting off at Laxey for the SMR hire.
We then enjoyed the private hire with SMR car 1 – departed Laxey at 11.30, quick photo of the single line section and one overlooking Sulby Glen. Half an hour at the top and then back with a further stop overlooking the northern plain of the island. Perfect weather and a wonderful trip.
Luckily 16 and 51 had stuck to the diagram and I was able to enjoy this rare combination through to Douglas at 2.25pm, concluding my MER activities for the day. Service tram allocations as follows:
D1 – 9+44
D2 – 20+46
D3 – 6+47
L – 2+48
R – 16+51
Special – 5 (Driver Experience)
A sixth day with the same combinations!
The Transport Festival started this afternoon with a TPO special on Snaefell and the MER carrying covers created for the event. Van 4 was noted at Laxey Blacksmiths siding and was used for the MER portion of the trip.
Thursday was a full day spent on the Isle of Man Steam Railway, the first full day of the Manx Heritage Transport Festival.
Friday 26th July
A real highlight with an intensive service between Douglas and Laxey. Service D was augmented to a ten car set service on the southern section with departures from Douglas and Laxey at ten or fifteen minute intervals. The tram allocations for the day were:
D1 – 5+46
D2 – 9+44
D3 – 16+60
D4 – 32+58
D5 – 1+41
D6 – 19+59
D7 – 21+57
D8 – 22+56*
L – 6+47
R – 20+40
Standby – 2 (on shed at Derby Castle and not used)
* Part diagram only – car failed and returned to depot under own power
All worked well until car 22 entered service and promptly failed on its first journey to Laxey. It was revived by a fitter and after a 25 minute delay managed to complete one round trip before being confined to depot.
My plan was to travel on as many car sets as possible and use some of the more unusual stops in the process. I managed to sample all but the Douglas 8 and Ramsey sets and visited stops at Far End, Halfway, Eskadale, Prestons Crossing, Laxey Car Sheds, South Cape, Ballagawne, Baldrine and Ballameanagh in addition to the termini at Derby Castle and Laxey!
I even managed to fit in a one hour visit to the depot at Derby Castle from 2.50pm and noted the following:
Derby Castle Tour
Line 1 – 54, 61, 62
Line 2 – 37, 42
Line 3 – 43
Line 4 – Van 4, 49, 18
Line 5 – 56, 17, 15
Line 6 – 29, 53
Line 7 – 2 (on standby)
Line 1 – 48
Line 2 – 34, 33 (under service)
Line 3 – 36, 55 (stored)
An excellent tour with some thought given by the powers that be to the placing of withdrawn ratchet cars and trailers for photography.
I rounded an excellent day off with an evening trip to Ramsey organised by the group behind Manxelectricrailway.co.uk, the online MER encyclopedia. It was billed as the ‘Terminus Tour’ and featured stops at all of the termini used during the building and extension of the line, these being Groudle, three different locations in Laxey, Ballure, Ramsey Plaza plus the two temporary termini either side of the Bulgham gap in 1967. The tour utilised car 7 and trailer 51, with wagon 8 added to the back from Laxey to Ramsey and return.
Possibly the best day I have EVER had on the MER!
Saturday 27th July
I had planned to spend the day on the steam railway but had been tipped off that there would be a parallel run from Douglas to Groudle with original cars 1 and 2 before services as a private hire for the company Inside Track. A quick change of plans saw me at Port Jack to photograph the trams pass, and car 2 return empty. The group continuing on to Ramsey with car 1 and trailer 59.
I then took car 19 and trailer 40 to Groudle at 10.10am to sample the steam railway in the glen, returning to Douglas with car 20 and trailer 41 and concluding my MER activities for the day.
Service tram allocations:
D1 – 20+41
D2 – 19+40
D3 – 6+47
L – 32+58
R – 5+56
Special: 1 with 59 onward from Groudle to Ramsey*
Special: 2+59 to Groudle*
* Private hires by Inside Track
Nice to see two Winter Saloons in service and car and trailer combinations changing.
Sunday 28th July
Another highlight with an intensive eleven set service on the scenic northern section of the line from Laxey to Ramsey. Tram allocations as follows:
D1 – 9+44
D2 – 7+48 (trailer left at Ramsey for middle run)
D3 – 32 (used on tram driver sampler courses from Ramsey to Lewaigue during day)
D4 – 2+59
D5 – 16+60
D6 – 5+46
D7 – 22+40
D8 – 1+51
D9 – 19+57
L – 6+47
R – 20+41
My plan for the day was to sample as many sets as possible and visit some of the more unusual stops on the northern section, something that is difficult to do on a normal service day with only an hourly frequency. Today’s 15 minute interval service made it all possible with all sets used and stops at Skinscoe, Burns Crossing, Dhoon Glen, Thalloo Mitchell, Corkhills Crossing, Ballasholague, Watsons Crossing, Murrays Road, Ballafayle Kerruish, Dreemskerry Farm, Queens Valley, Cornaa, Walpole Drive, Dhoon Glen and the termini achieved! An hectic but exciting day with very little variation from the planned timetable and most sets working perfectly.
Monday 29th July
My last day on the Island with a flight booked at 5pm. This allowed for a last trip on the MER to Laxey with car 7 and trailer 48, a return trip up Snaefell with car 4, and return to Douglas at lunch time with 7 and 48 again. Tram allocations noted:
D1 – 7+48
D2 – 1+47
D3 – 9+46
L – 20+41
R – 2+59
Special: 16+60 (Driver Experience)
PW – 32
Good to see some of the car and trailer combinations mixed up again and to note that car 32 had very quickly reverted to its normal use as lines car with the track gang.
Once again the MER put on a first class show for visitors and enthusiasts with lots of variety and very little problems during the twelve days. It was very unusual to see so little of the Winter Saloons, normally the mainstay of the day to day services. It was very nice to see car 16 in service regularly, something which has continued into August.
The one total no show was the usually reliable car 33 which is suffering with traction motor problems and unlikely to feature for another month or two. It is actively under repair in the bottom shed at Derby Castle. The only location I did not get access to during the stay was Ramsey car Shed which is used to store one service car and trailer over night plus freight trailer 26, one other trailer and ratchet 14.
The MER is still capable of putting on a first class enthusiast event and is highly recommended to all heritage tram enthusiasts.
Article by David Mee