The special three-day winter service on the Manx Electric Railway, prompted due to a local bus strike, got off to a fantastic start on Thursday 20th December. As expected, MER 1 made an exceptionally rare winter appearance in normal passenger service; however, this wasn’t the only rarity as Crossbench car 32 was also used in service on this day!
As planned, a very healthy seven trams were rostered for service on the first day of the special winter operation, with pioneer car 1 being joined by Tunnel cars 5, 6 and 9, and Winter Saloons 19 and 20. Presumably, the third enclosed car, 21, which had been listed for use was unavailable and with no other suitable winter trams available, Crossbench 32 was called upon. Although open-sided trams such as 32 have often been used in an engineering capacity in winter over the years, to have one carrying ordinary fare-paying passengers in December was an incredibly rare occurance, and a serious threat to the elusive car 1‘s status as the star of the day! In addition to the seven listed motor cars, all three available enclosed trailers – 57, 58 and 59 – were also used.
The first day did not pass without incident, however. Car 1 is understood to have suffered from a failure during the day, whilst single-line working in force between Lewaigue and Laxey car sheds, due to a recent landslip at Ballure. This caused some delays, and as a result of the experience gained on Thursday, a slightly revised timetable was introduced the following day. Commendably, some advance warning was given of this, and service reductions were arranged to coinicide with off-peak times of the day.
In spite of facing some challenges, the Manx Electric Railway’s determination to provide a good transport link to Isle of Man residents must be applauded, as it would have been so much easier not to go to such great effort. Having such a healthy number of trams in operation so close to Christmas was undoubtedly a remarkable feat, with cars 1 and 32 in particular standing out as being noteworthy. It is also impressive that the MER advertised its planned tram output beforehand for enthusiasts’ benefit, which will have hopefully allowed some of the tramway’s biggest fans to sample these rare winter treats!