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. David Mee reports.
Once again the opportunity presented itself for a prolonged visit to the Isle of Man and its many and varied transport delights. The first four and a half days I enjoyed private charters and visits as part of the Isle of Man 50 group annual visit. The rest of my stay coincided with the summer Heritage Transport Festival and its many special events on both the MER and Steam Railway.
The following takes the form of a diary highlighting the main events, operations and yes a few mishaps involving trams during my time on the Island!
Friday 24th July
A normal operating day using timetables D and G which includes an evening service with two trains to Ramsey. This service comprises fifteen daytime and five evening departures from Douglas.
I travelled with Car 6+40 to Ramsey at 8.40am, just me and one other person on the train. We passed car 32 and 52 on line car duties. This now regularly timetabled early departure is a result of the decision not to have a Ramsey based set this year. It had been the intention to redevelop the Ramsey site over the winter of 2014/15, but this did not happen and the car shed still stands unused.
I returned to Laxey by bus for a round trip on the Snaefell Mountain Railway with Car 6. For once the mountain was not shrouded with mist and good views of the ‘Seven Kingdoms of Man’ were seen (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Neptune’s Kingdom and Heaven!).
I then travelled with Car 22+41 to Derby Castle at 12.25pm, purchasing tickets for the ‘Dhoon Quarryman’ and ‘Delivering the Goods’ specials the next week before taking Horse tram 45 to Sea Terminal at 13.05.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the steam railway and with dinner before returning to the MER for the evening services which now operate on Wednesdays and Fridays in July and August. I took Car 22 single motor to Ramsey at 17.40, noting SMR 2 and 5 on evening duty at Laxey. Snaefell evening services also operate on the same evenings offering a choice of dining options at the summit hotel. After a break in Ramsey I returned with Car 22 single motor to Derby Castle at 20.40. It is interesting to note that this year there is an even later departure from Ramsey at 21.55 on timetable G, but only as far as Laxey, the car then becoming the next mornings Laxey diagrammed vehicle.
PW 32+52 (line car)
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. In 2015 there is no Ramsey based car, instead the 10.10 off Ramsey is formed of the very early 8.40 departure off Derby Castle.
Saturday 25th – Wednesday 29th 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 fourteen 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 15 departures a day from Douglas, augmented by five evening departures on Wednesday and Friday.
Saturday 25th July
Much of today was taken up with a group coach trip to the Great Laxey Mines Railway for a private charter and then on to the excellent and highly recommended new Manx Transport Museum at Jurby. A vast collection of over 250 cars, commercials, steam cars etc in a purpose built display building not too far from the existing Manx Transport Museum. The latter is also worth a return visit as it has recently been re-displayed and it is now much easier to walk around and admire the exhibits.
I did manage two trips on the MER:
At the start of the day I took car 6+47 to Laxey at 9.40, and at the end of the day car 19+44 to Derby Castle at 16.10
Spl 7 (driver experience)
Sunday 26th July
Today the group had a private hire at Groudle Glen Railway. It was a very poor day weather wise and the MER was working with single motors, although trailers 48 and 40 were strategically placed at the termini just in case!
I did manage a few trips on the MER:
Car 7 single motor to Ramsey at 8.40am and return as far as Groudle at 10.10. We were delayed for 30 minutes at Laxey on the return leg due to a problem with the car not powering on notches 1 – 5. Quickly rectified by the fitters.
Car 21 single motor to Douglas at 16.43.
D1 7 (48)
L 21 (40)
Due to bad weather cars ran single motor all day.
The whole of Monday was taken up by a group private hire on the Isle of Man Steam Railway.
Tuesday 28th 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:
Car 1 + trailer 47 to Groudle and return at 9.50 with photo stop above Far End (Lag Birragh)
Car 2 and trailer 60 to Laxey at 11am with photo stops at Gellings Farm and Laxey Car Sheds
Swapped to the service car 21+44 for return to Douglas at 11.55
Service car 7+48 to Laxey at 13.40
Car 33+trailer 57+wagon 8 to Ramsey and return
Photostops to Ramsey as follows:
Above Bulgham curves
Arrived into Ramsey about 15.45. Break.
Departed Ramsey at 16.20 with photostops as follows:
Fairly quick run back to Douglas. Arrived at 17.50.
No problems and all cars ran more or less to schedule.
L 6+41 (swapped at DC for 19)
Spl 33+57+wagon 8
Wednesday 29th July
The Heritage Transport Festival started today with a parallel run of cars 1 and 2 to Groudle and return before commencement of services. After enjoying this spectacle it was back to the Isle of Man 50 group for our last event – a tour of the steam railway workshops. As a result there is a gap in my MER records for the day!
I was back on the MER in time for a specially augmented evening service promoted by the guys at Manx Electric Railway.co.uk as a ‘Victorian’ evening. In addition to the usual five service E round trips to Laxey there were three additional departures at 17.00, 19.35 and 21.15 utilising cars 1 and 2, the first extended to Dhoon Quarry. I took the following trips:
Car 20 single motor to Laxey at 18.40 – very busy, standing room only!
Car 20 single motor to Groudle at 19.40
A walk down the glen and round trip on this charming railway ensued, followed by:
Car 2+51 to Laxey at 21.27
Car 2+51 to Derby Castle at 22.00
D3 not known
D4 not known
L not known
Evening: Cars 19, 20 and 1+51, 2+51
Thursday 30th July
An hectic day on the MER. Although poorly advertised and not in the Transport Festival brochure the line was in fact operating a ten car intensive service today, plus the Dhoon Quarryman special – no room for mistakes with 21 departures from Derby Castle, 17 from Ramsey and 3 cars starting from Laxey!
I took Car 19+46 to Far End at 8.40. and then walked back to Derby Castle via the Coastal footpath – very scenic! I then transferred to the:
Dhoon Quarryman Charter
Car 32 and wagons 8 and 10 for a round trip to Ramsey at 10am on another Manx Electric Railway.co.uk devised charter.
From just after the extension of the railway to Ramsey in 1899 until the 1940’s the quarrying and transportation of stone played an important role in generating revenue for the old MER. This tour looked at some of the sites and facilities involved in that activity.
Photo stops and explanation as follows:
Laxey Car Sheds
Dhoon Quarry Sidings
The set then worked through to Ramsey, but above Bellevue developed a loud screech from the leading truck. The car was attended to by the fitters at Ramsey instead of doing an advertised single motor trip to Lewaigue and return. I used the opportunity for some intensive service day action:
Car 5+40 to Lewaigue at 12.10
Car 19+46 to Ramsey at 12.45
Back on charter for a 13.20 departure from Ramsey. Stops as follows:
Into the siding at Laxey. And instead of waiting for the charter departure to Douglas I took the following trips:
Car 5+40 to Dhoon Glen at 15.10
Car 1+47 to Derby Castle at 16.55, passing car 32 and van 4 heading north near South Cape.
A great day with no major traumas, and proving that the MER can still pull out all the stops when necessary. Pity it was not promoted earlier as some of the loadings were very light.
Spl 32+wagons 8+10
Spl 32+Van 4 noted late in day
Friday 31st July
Most of today was taken up with a vintage bus trip aboard a Leyland PD3 double decker around the disused railways to Peel and Ramsey. I was back on the MER in time for:
Car 2+41 to Port Jack at 16.10
Sustenance from the adjacent Port Jack Chippy was followed by the main event of the day, another Manx Electric Railway.co.uk devised charter:
Delivering the Goods
Car 33+Trailer 44+van 16, the most modern power car, trailer and freight van on the MER. Van 16 had been re-inaugurated into service today following a very comprehensive restoration by the Laxey & Lonan Heritage Trust at their site adjacent to the goods shed in Laxey. This very proactive group are also involved in the restoration of Ratchet Car 14 and have previously restored an Open Wagon for the MER, plus, of course, they are the operators of the Great Laxey Mines Railway.
From the initial opening of the railway to the present day the MER has carried goods in a number of ways, including the transportation of livestock, parcels, stone and mail. This activity had its own dedicated buildings and sidings. This tour explored some of those facilities which remain, and the sites of some that don’t!
Departed Derby Castle at 6pm with explanations and stops as follows:
Laxey Cattle Dock
Laxey Goods Shed
(noted and photographed vans 3, 11 and 12 behind the goods shed, all future restoration projects)
Ballaglass Power Station
Pole 706 (views to North Barrule)
Into Ramsey by 20.40, now pouring with rain, so opted to return in the comfort of a bus!
D2 21+41+Van 16
Spl 33+51+wagon 8
Spl 33+44+van 16
Saturday 1st August
It had been my initial intention to spend the day on the Steam Railway, on which most of the days festival activities were based. However, the Manx Electric Railway.co.uk guys had devised an all day charity charter on the MER on behalf of the good works of the Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust Wagon Appeal, generating funds for the further restoration of examples of MER goods stock.
Green wrong road tour
Running against the direction of travel had only previously occurred on the MER on the short section from Douglas to Groudle for parallel running events, or for times of engineering possession on the rest of the line. The aim of this tour was to take car 16 single motor wrong road in both directions over the whole length of the line. This would require a departure from Douglas ahead of the first service, and from Ramsey after the last departure north had cleared the line.
The tour departed Derby Castle at 8.30am with highlights as follows:
Wrong road all the way to Ramsey
Slow progress due to manual operation of road crossings
Right road back to Derby Castle Sheds, run into top sheds and then to bottom shed.
Car 16+60 to Fairy Cottage at 12.15 and return
Car 16 single motor to Laxey Car Shed sidings and then Laxey Station at 13.25
Pulled out trailer 52 and also hauled former trailer 45 in sidings – rare items indeed to be hauled by a passenger car loaded with passengers! A viewing of Laxey Car Sheds contents followed:
Road 1: 58, 30, 50
Road 2 : 28, 31
Road 3: 52, 26, Freight trailer 26
Road 4: 25, 27, 23
Same contents as last year, now joined by the former contents of Ramsey Car Shed.
I left the charter at this point for a brief visit to the Great Laxey Mines Railway, then:
Car 20+44 through to Ramsey at 15.40.
After refreshment at the pub, it was back to the station and on to the charter for:
Car 16 single motor wrong road all the way through to Derby Castle at 17.30.
Spl: 16 (+60)
Sunday 2nd August
A second intensive service day on the MER. Although I spent much of the morning at Groudle Glen enjoying an ‘Everything Goes’ gala featuring their varied steam, battery electric and diesel fleet, I did travel on the MER as follows:
Car 22+56+Van 4 to South Cape at 8.35am (should have departed at 8.10)
Car 32+57 to Laxey at 9.15am
Photos around the station which was being transformed for ‘American’ day!
Car 5+47 to Derby Castle at 9.55am
Car 5+47 to Groudle at 10.40am
After my visit to the GGR Railway it was back to the MER station. Noted car 32 passing northbound twenty minutes late after having earlier developed problems and tripping the circuit breakers. It had received attention from the fitters at Derby Castle, hence the delay. I then caught car 9+46 to Derby Castle at 12.13 and back to Halfway House at 12.40. Car 9 is thought to be in a somewhat fragile state and had not left the depot at all during the previous ten days so its appearance was a pleasant surprise!
Having spent the vast majority of the holiday so far on the MER I then decided to spend the rest of the day on the steam railway.
Res. 2 on display by Museum
Spl 22+56+Van 4
UDE 22 (Laxey – Garwick)
Nine cars in service, car 2 in reserve and car 22 offering ‘Ultimate Driver Experience’ tasters between Laxey and Garwick, after delivering trailer 56 and van 4 to Laxey station siding. A great day with very few operational problems.
Monday 29th July
My last day on the Island with a flight booked at 5pm. This allowed for a last trip on the MER and a return trip up Snaefell.
Having woke early and walked down from Onchan to Derby Castle for the great view over the sheds and terminus from the Steve Hislop Memorial I was surprised to see no car or trailer waiting at the terminus. It transpired that a minor problem had developed with the rostered Car 7, so it was a real treat to see car 33 run of shed at the very last moment. I took car 33 single motor to Glen Mona at 8.40am for a bus back to Laxey. With car 16 staying on L diagram all day its seemed the festival was continuing for one more day! I then transferred to SMR car 6 (again) for a round trip to the summit at 10.15am. Misty on top, but a last walk to the summit none the less! Walked to SMR car sheds to photo cars 4 and 5 outside plus car 3 in depot – first sighting this year! SMR cars 1, 2 and 6 in service today.
Car 7+48 took me back to Douglas at 11.55am. It had been repaired in time for the D2 diagram. This rounded off my MER adventures for another year.
D1 33* / 21+56
D3 20, trailer not known but not 40, 44
* Problem with car 7 first thing, so 33 did first Ramsey round trip single motor.
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. The highlights were the two intensive service days plus the great special enthusiast charter trips. The various cars behaved very well with only cars 7 and 32 requiring attention from travelling fitters, and no services cancelled.
The Snaefell Mountain trams went about their business efficiently throughout, and although there were no special events for the SMR.
The only damp squib was the complete lack of support for the Heritage Transport Festival by the Douglas Corporation Tramway. In previous years a display of horse cars on the depot fan at Derby Castle has taken place on one day. Not so this year, and although the delightfully restored car 12 was lurking in the depot it was not on display at any time and no special cars were used in service. Disappointing. I understand they had been asked to get involved but declined. I am beginning to realise that the Horse Cars operate for the benefit of their staff and not their customers! With promotion and enthusiasm this absolutely unique tramway could be a major tourist attraction. Lets hope that it emerges from the Promenade redevelopment in a strong and positive form.
Returning to the government owned railways and in particular the MER, there are exciting times ahead, including: A working Ratchet Car in form of car 14 returned to original condition in a volunteer (bodywork)/paid staff (mechanical/electrical) collaborative effort, more historical repaints, and a major celebration planned for the 125th anniversary of the MER in 2018.
All in all a fantastic holiday on this Island of transport delights – if you get the chance do visit – you will not be disappointed.
* Photos from this period on the Isle of Man can be found in Gallery 555: Isle of Man Transport Events – July & August 2015