Every July Isle of Man Transport run a five day Heritage Transport event showcasing their four systems: Isle of Man Steam Railway, Douglas Bay Horse Tramway, Snaefell Mountain Railway and Manx Electric Railway. Ably supported by the volunteers at Groudle Glen Railway and Jurby Transport Museum plus more recently the volunteer groups that support both the MER and IMR. Always a great week of transport delights, in recent years this has become even more of a treat for tram enthusiasts due to the very positive developments on all of the tramways. David Mee reports from the Isle of Man.
All change for Douglas Promenade….
The Bay Horse Tramway at Douglas is currently being totally rebuilt, complete with a new car shed in the style of the original and a completely new running line. Several cars have been rebuilt and more are to follow. It will probably be at least another eighteen months before the line is complete and the new car shed open, but in the meantime the trams are running from a temporary Marquee on the former Summerland site to a point adjacent to Little Switzerland Road. This is likely to extend further before the season ends. Next year it should be possible to catch a Horse Tram from Derby Castle to the Villa Marina on Harris Promenade, with the line complete to the Sea Terminal in 2021.
Even more investment in the Manx Electric….
In recent years a great deal of investment has taken place in the MER, much on infrastructure, some of which was not without controversy, particularly the schemes at Laxey and Ramsey. Further recent work at Laxey has returned the site to something akin to the station of old, Ramsey on the other hand is very much still a work in progress! Last winter and into the early part of this season a long section of rail was replaced north of the Dhoon to the Garey. More universally acclaimed is the investment in the rolling stock. More and more cars are returning to the operational pool, some in historical liveries. Recent years have seen the return of a Ratchet Car, No.14, Winter Saloons in historical liveries, and several long sidelined trailers returning to service. Current activity suggests that this will continue.
Up on the mountain….
The Snaefell Mountain Railway continues to recover from the dreadful runaway incidents which blighted it in recent years. During the winter/early season a long section of line from Lhergy Veg to the Bungalow was replaced, resulting in some interesting single line working during the first few months of the season. The biggest problem facing the line at present is insufficient rolling stock. Since Car 3 was lost leaving just five cars available for traffic there has been insufficient capacity to meet the needs of cruise liner, coach tour and casual passengers. Casual visitors should note that pre-booked parties are given priority and long queues and waits are now the norm at Laxey. If rumours are to be believed this should all be resolved by four new cars fitted with modern systems and designed to enhance the travel experience particularly for evening premium customers on Summit Dining experiences. Currently Cars 1, 2 and 4 make up the core passenger fleet with Permanent Way allocated car 5 available as a last resort. Car 6 is undergoing a full overhaul.
Much of the following takes the form of a diary based on notes taken whilst on the island. I have included timetable and tram allocations when known and expanded information as necessary very much focussed on the MER but with brief reference to other events. I was on the island for the four days of charters by the Isle of Man 50 Group prior to the Heritage Transport Festival and have included these as well.
Before the events began….
Thursday 18th July
Timetable D in force on MER today and until next Wednesday
I arrived by the morning sailing from Liverpool and more by luck than judgement got to the MER in time for:
With 22+44 to Dhoon Glen at 14.40. Lovely sunny afternoon so sat in the trailer. Quick explore. No Kiosk this year at Dhoon Glen, closed for refurbishment.
With 7+48 to Laxey at 15.40.
With 9+47 to Derby Castle at 16.25.
Quick look at the Horse Tram tent with cars 45, 29, 42 and MER 34 in attendance. Not running today due to the road being dug up near Derby Castle.
Spl: 20+57 (school party)
Notes: A large marquee with clear sides has been erected on part of the Summerland Site to act as an operating base for the Horse Trams until the Car Shed is complete. There is space for six cars inside. MER Car 34 is currently based there for use in support of the rebuilding of the running line.
Friday 19th July
Evening service G operating today and tomorrow on the MER
I started the day with bus trips to St. Johns and Ramsey via Peel before transferring to the MER.
With car 22+47 to Laxey at 11.10 (act.11.20)
Photo 1+59 in siding.
With 7+48 to Douglas at 12.25
An afternoon trip on the Steam Railway followed.
Out again at 17.00 and down to Derby Castle to sample the evening trams.
Car 7 single motor to Ramsey at 17.40.
Car 7 single motor to Laxey at 20.40.
Car 7 single motor to Douglas at 22.25.
D2: 9+41 start, then 2+41, finally 6+44, 9 taken off service for UDE
D3: 22+47 (trailer swapped lunchtime for 57)
UDE: 32 to start, due to rain 9 substituted at Laxey
Evening: 7, 9, 22
Notes: UDE – Ultimate Driver Experience course. The weather rapidly deteriorated today so the open car 32 was swapped for an enclosed car. There is a shortage of enclosed cars at the moment with two Winter Cars sidelined, 19 and 21, resulting in the use of open cars even on inclement days!
Isle of man 50 Group events: 20th – 24th July
The Isle of Man 50 Group grew out of the Centenary Events held during the 1990’s. When these reached a natural conclusion, many still yearned for an annual visit to the Isle of Man. A group of friends started arranging charters on the islands transport system and the group grew to almost fifty individuals, hence the name. Traditionally four or five days of private hires and charters take place just prior to the railways own main transport event.
Saturday 20th July
IOM 50 Group Bus Hire
Today the group hired a bus from Isle of Man Transport to visit a couple of interesting sites in the South of the Island, Knockaloe Internment Camp Exhibition, a site once served by its own branch line off the Isle of Man Railways Peel line, and Cregneash, a beautifully maintained village overlooking the Calf Island, one of the first ‘living’ museums allowing visitors to experience times past. A fascinating place well worth a visit.
All this and a group get together in the evening resulted in no MER travel today, although I did note most of the trams in service:
Sunday 21st July
Half day Hires: Steam railway & Manx Electric Railway
First thing today I took time to visit and read the new Cable Tram Exhibit on the Promenade. In times past Douglas was served by another tramway, the Upper Douglas Cable Tram, which ran from the bottom of Victoria Road near the Sea Terminal, up to Woodbourne Road and back down to the Promenade near Broadway. There are few reminders today, but they are worth seeking out by walking the old route and include two concrete passenger shelters in Upper Douglas, part of the depot track fan at York Road and this new exhibit near the Sea Terminal built around one of the cable drums. By far the most impressive remaining artefact is a complete tramcar (made from parts of two vehicles which had been incorporated into a dwelling, cars 72 and 73) on display at Jurby Transport Museum.
Today the fifty group had two half days private hires, the first on the Isle of Man Steam Railway with No. 8 Fenella and two coaches F10 and F26
A Double Decker transfer to Derby Castle at lunch time before:
Manx Electric Railway
Car 2+tower 1 round trip to Dhoon Quarry
14.50 departure from Derby Castle, non-stop to Dhoon Quarry except for usual pathing stop at Laxey. Photos of the run around and then also photos at Ballaragh. Plus a bonus posed session with car 14. Then back to Douglas non-stop apart from a short stop at Laxey. Back by 17.05.
D3: 32+51 / 9 for last round trip
Spl: 2 + tower 1
Monday 22nd July
Isle of Man Steam Railway day
This was the groups main photo charter on the Steam Railway featuring Caledonia, F39, F54 and a G Van. I did manage a short MER trip first thing:
Car 7+59 to Ballagawne at 8.40
Service 3 bus back to to Douglas at 9.15 for the Steam Charter
I left the charter early afternoon and headed for the MER.
Car 6+42 to Dhoon Glen at 14.40
Car 20+41 to Laxey at 14.55. Coffee break in the cafe.
Car 1+44 to Derby Castle at 16.25
Tuesday 23rd July
MER – Triple Tram Tuesday
The main fifty group event on the MER
Car 32+57 to Ballagawne at 8.40
Service 3 bus to Onchan at 9.16, Walked back down to Derby Castle to see what was going on ‘on shed’ before:
IOM 50 Group Tram hires
Hire 1: Car 1 and trailer 51
Departed on time
Stops at: Boncomptes
Groudle Old Road
Groudle, and reverse
On arrival at Derby Castle did the following bonus move:
Horse Car round trip with Rodney and car 45
Hire 2: Car 20, trailer 60 and Van 16
Departed at 11.15
Stops at: Below Eskadale
Below Halfway House and photos across the road
Laxey Car Sheds, 16 and 32 pass
Laxey, reverse, lunch supplies
Away again by 13.30, pick up van at car sheds, stops as follows:
Hire 3: Car 7 and trailer 59
Departed 13.55, non-stop to Laxey.
Stops at: Above Washing floors, Laxey
Pole 704 above Murrays Road
Left the charter and then:
Car 22+41 to Douglas at 16.10
The journey started to unravel at Laxey when we were held ten minutes to pick up Snaeffell passengers. A Van was found abandoned on the line at Groudle Old Road causing further delay. Back by 17.45.
Spl 1: 1+51
Spl 2: 20+60+Van 16
Spl 3: 7+59
This concluded the Fifty Group activities.
Manx Heritage Transport Festival: 24th – 28th July
Wednesday 24th July
Timetable F in use on MER from now until Sunday, 20 departures from Douglas!
In recent years the MER has made almost exclusive use of 40 series clerestory fitted trailers for most services. Occasionally supplemented by enclosed trailers and lightweight trailers No.51 and 60 on specials. This was to change today with the return to service of not one, but three further lightweight bulkhead trailers – 37, 49 and most remarkably 54.
I decided to concentrate today on haulage from the new trailers and therefore missed the early morning parallel run by cars 14 and 16.
Bulkhead Trailers launched
Car 2+49 to Ballagawne at 8.40
Service 3 bus to Liverpool Arms at 9.15
Car 16+54 to Laxey at 9.30
Car 16+54 to Groudle at 9.55 (10.00 act)
Car 20+37 to Ramsey at 10.22
Car 20+37 to Groudle at 11.40 (11.48 act)
Walk down the Glen
Groudle Glen Railway
Rumours that the ‘new’ loco Brown Bear was out and about today led to this detour. It was indeed in service and made for an impressive sight.
Car 22+56 to Douglas at 15.43 (15.55 act)
Horse Car 45 to TT Shirts.
* Parallel run to Groudle at 9:10, Car 14 then on Onchan Head and Groudle Shuttles
Note: Trailer 49 still wears the special livery applied in the 1990’s to match that then carried by cars 1 and 2. It has been subject to a heavy clean and re-varnish. Trailer 37 has received a full repaint in standard fleet livery. The most remarkable returnee is trailer 54, long sidelined and now the recipient of the latest joint volunteer and staff rebuild. It looks stunning and rides very well on its new wheel sets. Trailer 36 is the next project. The aim is to generate a much larger pool of trailers which will be rotated in service to even out wear. Trailers 50, 53 and 55 are options for future rebuild.
Thursday 25th July
Tunnel Car parallel run
Car 32+61 to Howstrake at 8.40
Photo 6+59 and 7 on the parallel run
Car 20+48 to Laxey at 9.45. Very busy.
No.4 Caledonia and Foxdale coach plus the Port Erin based set. Nice commemorative name boards.
Good photos and then travel one way to Port Erin at 11.50. Very busy train.
Service 1 bus to Derby Castle at 13.18
Car 33+62 to Ramsey at 14.40.
Car 33+62 to Derby Castle at 16.10. Good spirited run.
Cock o’ the North Dining Train
IOM 50 Group reserved coach on this train. 7pm from Douglas
Knew immediately that this was not going to be a good experience. Train very hot and cramped.
* Parallel run with car 5, then UDE
Friday 26th July
Lost trams in service plus shed tour
Several trams masquerading as sister cars lost in the Laxey Car Shed fire. Car 2 became car 3, car 6 became car 8, car 7 became car 4 and car 16 was turned out as car 24.
Car 3+49+van 4 to Ramsey at 8.40.
Car 3+49+van 4 to Douglas at 10.10. Van 4 shunted to siding at Laxey. Trailer developed a hot axle box noted en route from Laxey and repaired at some length at Derby Castle, delaying our arrival by 10 minutes and departure appreciably. Walked up to depot for:
Tour of Derby Castle Sheds
Booked on 12.15 tour from MER Museum
Arrived just after 12 noon and noted cars 29, 53 and Horse Car 36 on display in yard
Top Shed: R1: 33, 32
R2: 5, 20, 19 (on jacks)
R3: 37, 56, 17, 15
R5: 51, 62, 41, 48, 18
R6: Horse Car 18, 40
R7: 57, 58, Horse Car 27
R8: 42, 43, 44
Bottom Shed Paint Shop: 29
R1: 21 on blocks
R2: Van 16, 14, 1
R3: T1, 55
Workshops, former boiler house
Finish in Museum
Car 4+60 to Laxey at 14.10.
Snaefell Mountain Railway
Round trip on the mountain with car 2. Up at 15.15 (delayed to 15.25), back at 16.10, arriving into Laxey at 16.35. Cold and windy at the summit, but clear.
Car 24+59 to Derby Castle at 16.55
Tunnel Car Photography Evening
Featuring cars 4 , 5, 8 and 9
Photos on shed and at Derby Castle, then as follows:
Car 9 to Laxey at 18.05
Parallel run with car 4 to Minorca, good photos
Posed shots at Laxey Station – included service cars 24, 32, 1
Parallel run to Ballaragh at 7.45pm, sat in car 5
Posed shots at Ballaragh and shunt to allow service to pass
Travelled in car 8 to curves below Ballaragh
Posed shots on the corner
Parallel run to Laxey, sat in car 4
Photos of services passing – 20 and 1
Parallel run back to Douglas – 4 and 9, sat in 4
Back by 22.14 at end of great event, four cars sampled and good photos.
D1: 3+49(+van 4) 
L: 4+60 
D3: 8+61  later 32+61, then 20
D4: 24+59 
D5: 33+51 later 1
Evening cars: 5, 6, 7, 9 on specials
1, 20 on service
Note: A general upturn in traffic has led to the decision to prepare car 29 for a return to service. This is seen as a medium term goal, although much work has already been undertaken.
Saturday 27th July
Car 9+37 to Ballagawne at 8.40
Service 3 bus to Douglas at 9.16.
Tour of Steam Workshops and Signal box
Starts from Douglas Station at 10:00
The highlight being No.1 Sutherland being returned to original condition for display in the museum.
MER 1970’s Photography
Departs Derby Castle at 12:50, car 20+trailer 57
Actual departure was at 12.55, non-stop to Laxey and sadly in the rain. Stops as follows:
Direct to Ramsey and shunt into old station.
Depart from old station at 15.20 and stops:
Cross over to let service pass at Lewaigue
Ballaglass and passed by 9+37
I then left the charter at Laxey after it shunted to sidings to let service past.
Car 2+59 to Douglas at 16.55
Shunting at the Station
Featuring locomotives 8 and 15
L: 32+42, later 6
D3: 33+43, later 7
Note: some delays today due to car 22 bringing down the wires near Queens Valley in Ramsey. Cars having to coast through a missing section of wire.
Sunday 28th July
MER Intensive service and Jurby bus running day
Very wet start. Heavy and persistent rain leading to the cancellation of the planned intensive service and the substitution of timetable D. A change of plan:
Special service 18X bus (184) to Jurby at 9am via Mountain Road. Wet and poor visibility.
Jurby Bus running day
Quick look around the museum and then took a round trip on the Douglas Corporation liveried Olympian 64 to Ballaugh, Wildlife Park and Sulby, then return.
Special service 19 diverted to Ramsey MER. No service for 40 minutes so:
Service 3 bus to Laxey at 12.18.
Great Laxey Mines Railway
Round trip with ‘Bee’
Walked to Laxey MER station, just missing the 125 celebration which was scaled back due to weather, but featured car 7, suitable headboard, window vinyls and trailer 60. Got some photos.
Car 9+58 to Groudle at 13.25. Walked the very wet Glen.
Launch Celebration: Otter and Brown Bear
Suitably adorned locomotives. Speeches by Chairman Nick Rall and guests Charles Guard and the President of Tynwald. Each unveiled a loco name.
Walked back up Glen.
Car 5+42 to Douglas at 15.43
Horse Car 29 and Douglas to Little Switzerland.
D1: 6+59 / 2+59**
Spl: 7+60 Laxey 125 Celebration
* Didn’t run, intensive service cancelled due to weather and replaced by Timetable D
** 6 ran a hot box and was replaced by 2
Another great week of festivities on the time warp transport systems of the Isle of Man. The GO Card Heritage Explorer tickets give great value, much better than rovers for tram events elsewhere in the UK – £50 for seven days unlimited travel, including bus services and Groudle Glen and Great Laxey Mines Railways, an absolute bargain! Yes there are additional charges for a few of the events, but most things are included.
The dates of next years Heritage Transport Festival are slightly later, starting on Wednesday 29th July and running until Sunday 2nd August 2020. MER highlights should include the return of car 19 and trailer 36. Hope to see you there!
* Photos from these events can be seen in Gallery 822.