Although the M.E.R was one of the pioneering electric railways in the British Isles, the line has seen it’s fair share of steam power both as part of construction works and enthusiast events.
The line has seen two main periods of steam running. The first from 1898 to 1900 saw three locomotives used for the construction of the extension from Laxey to Ballure. The second period ran from 1991 until 1998 with locomotives borrowed from the IoMR for use as part of the various enthusiasts events throughout the 1990s.
In total, seven steam locomotives have ran on the M.E.R:-
*not in steam
The M.E.R steam story begins with the purchase of an Andrew Barclay Locomotive, No.713, by the IOMTEPCo in February 1898 for construction work for the extension of the line Laxey to Ballure, and alongside it, IOMR No.2 ‘Derby’ was hired in from the Isle of Man Railway to northwards with it. M.N.R No.1 ‘Ramsey was also hired from the Manx Northern Railway to work downwards from Ballure to Laxey.
Both the IOMR and M.N.R locomotives had interesting journeys to get to the M.E.R, with ‘Derby’ shipped by sea from Ramsey’s Manx Northern station to Laxey, and then taken up from Laxey Dock to the worksite by a road wagon hauled by traction engines. ‘Ramsey’ was delivered to the Ballure end from Ramsey M.N.R by walking it through the streets with rails!
‘Derby’ and ‘Ramsey’ were returned to their respective railways upon completion of the work, although the Barclay remained. No.713 was sold to the Douglas Corporation in October 1900. The locomotive then operated the first steam-hauled passenger train (consisting of two of the contractors wagons) on the Manx Electric Railway, a round trip from Derby Castle to Laxey to demonstrate it’s capabilities to the officials.
No.713left the railway for the West Baldwin Reservoir Railway in January 1901, ending the brief ‘steam era’ on the M.E.R.
The return of steam on the M.E.R was announced as part of the 1993 ‘Year of Railways’ Celebrations early in the year and preparations quickly gathered pace. It was intended that steam services would run between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry, with work beginning on improving the land-side track to handle the heavier locomotive.
The first steam locomotive to appear on the M.E.R for over ninety years did not run under it’s own power. As part of the preparations, the rolling chassis of IoMR No.8 ‘Fenella’ was transported to Laxey and, on the 15th July made a trip to Bulgham summit and return, with power being provided by Car No.26.
Trials were held on the 29th of November and 5th of December, with IoMR No.4 ‘Loch’ hauling ‘Winter’ Trailers No.57 and No.58. Car No.19 performed the shunt manoeuvres at Dhoon Quarry to allow No.4 to run-round the Trailers. Posed runpasts were also shot in Laxey Station using the Loco/Trailer/Trailer formation, Car No.1 and Snaefell Car No.6.
Operations for the ‘Steam on the Electric’ saw the laying of a siding at Dumbells Row, the Weighbridge Siding at Dhoon Quarry altered to become a run-round loop, and watering and coaling facilities installed in the former Loading Dock Siding. A water tank was also placed on Wagon No.1 outside Laxey Car Shed. All operations on the M.E.R saw the use of the land-side line.
IOMR No.4 ‘Loch’ operated with Trailers No.57 and No.58 between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry, with crew training runs commencing on March 29th to the 2nd of April. After two round trips on the latter day for a private party, the first public steam hauled passenger trips on the M.E.R operated on April 11th and 12th. After these finished, ‘Loch’ remained at Laxey Car Shed throughout the month to operate trips to Dhoon Quarry on May 2nd and 3rd, returning to Douglas by road transport on the evening of the 3rd.
On May 7th ‘Loch’ was moved back to Laxey by road transport, and operated on May 8th, May 29th and May 30th. Again it was kept in Laxey Car Shed throughout June to operate trips on the 19th, 20th, 26th and 27th, moving back to Douglas IOMR on the 29th, hauled by two traction engines.
‘Loch’ returned to the M.E.R on September 2nd, operating three round trips on the 4th, and four on the 5th, working in parallel with Car No.1. On the 7th ‘Loch’ participated in the ‘Centenary Day Parade’ at Laxey, hauling Trailer No.57 from Dumbell’s Row through the station and on the 8th, hauled a ‘construction’ train consisting of Wagon No.8, Wagon No.21, Van No.11 and Trailer No.52 for photography in the Laxey Station limits.
Staying in Laxey Car Shed after these events, it again ran parallel with Car No.1 on the 10th to Dhoon Quarry, and ran on the 11th and 12th, 18th and 19th, and 25th and 26th, returning to Douglas IOMR on the 27th.
The final operations of Steam on the M.E.R in 1993 to Dhoon Quarry were performed on October 30th and October 31st, with ‘Loch arriving from the steam railway on the 29th, returning from Laxey Car Shed to Douglas IOMR on November 3rd.
On the 22nd of February the rolling chassis of IOMR No.15 ‘Caledonia’ was moved by road to Laxey for tests between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry, to ensure that a 0-6-0 wheelbase could operate on the M.E.R. Pushed by Car No.27, the tests were successful, ‘Caledonia’ returning to the IOMR later the same day.
The year started for steam operations with No.4 ‘Loch’ visiting the railway again to work four trips daily between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry on April 15th and 16th with Trailer No.57 and No.58, and again on May 5th and 6th, although this time only Trailer No.58 was used (Trailer No.57 had been refitted for operations between Bungalow and Snaefell Summit). ‘Disabled Access’ Trailer No.56 was also in the train during the May weekends.
Although more prolific for it’s operations on Snaefell that year, IOMR No.15 ‘Caledonia’ worked a small amount of dates on the M.E.R, running on the landside line between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry with Trailer No.58. Moving to the M.E.R on August 16th and after operating a Laxey to Dhoon Quarry return test run, ‘Caledonia’ operated four trips on the 17th, three on the 18th, and four on the 19th. A demonstration freight was also operated on the 18th, with ‘Caledonia’ hauling Trailer No.52 and ‘Tower’ Van No.12. Caledonia moved back to IOMR Douglas on the 20th.
IOMR No.4 ‘Loch’ was moved back to the M.E.R during early October to operate a private hire for the tour group ‘Inside Track’, working with Trailer No.58 and No.56 between Laxey and Dhoon Quarry on the 2nd of October, the last trip to date by a working steam engine north of Laxey.
In early 1996 the Water Tank from Dhoon Quarry was relocated to Ballasalla on the IOMR for further use.
For the 125th anniversary of Steam operations on the IOMR, the idea of Steam on the Electric was again put forward. During the period between 1995 and 1998, a relay of the track over the level crossings north of Laxey Station had taken place, and was feared too tight for a 2-4-0 to traverse. A test was held with IOMR No.4 ‘Loch’ propelled by Car No.27 on the 4th of March, with the locomotive swiftly derailing on the curve. This confirmed that operations to Dhoon Quarry could not take place.
Instead, runs to Fairy Cottage southward from Laxey were put forward instead, with IOMR No.4 ‘Loch’ moving to Laxey again on the 22nd of April, and propelled by Car No.27 between Laxey and Fairy Cottage. These tests were found to be successful, and steam operations on the M.E.R could resume, using the restored 1873-built IOMR No.1 ‘Sutherland’.
Watering and Coaling arrangements were now exclusively carried out at Laxey Car Shed using a tank mounted on Wagon No.1. During the operations ‘Sutherland’ was based there, with coaching stock for the runs being formed of again just Trailer No.58 (Trailer No.57 was out of traffic due to damage suffered during the Snaefell Operations). This was tripped to and from Derby Castle each morning and evening by Car No.1, which was in turn used to follow the train in parallel between Laxey and Fairy Cottage, and run-round the Trailer for ‘Sutherland’ using the crossover.
Operations ran on the following dates: May 7th and May 8th, August 9th-11th, and August 20th-21st, with ‘Sutherland’ and Trailer No.58 operating up to 4 trips per day. Photography sessions were also held at Laxey using all three No.1s: Snaefell, M.E.R and IOMR, and the newly-completed Snaefell No.7 replica. These also consisted of ‘Sutherland’ running light-engine parallel with ‘Illuminated’ Car No.9.
The final steam run on the M.E.R to date was an Inside Track private hire on October 24th, again with ‘Sutherland’ running parallel to South Cape with ‘Illuminated’ Car No.9.