Santa Trams and Strike Services – December 2012

Car No.6, decorated with 'Santa Tram' transfers, awaits use at Derby Castle. © David Martin

Car No.6, decorated with ‘Santa Tram’ transfers, awaits use at Derby Castle. © David Martin

At a time of year when the M.E.R. is usually closed, the final month of 2012 instead saw the system in use for no less than eight days, with events rewriting aspects of M.E.R. history even after 120 years of the lines existance.

The initial operating period was just six days, with the first two occuring on the first weekend of the month. December 1st/2nd saw a half-hourly service running between Derby Castle and Laxey in conjunction with a winter fair held in Laxey. With a large section of line undergoing work at Groudle, and a further landslip at Fairy Cottage, single line operation was in place between Howstrake and Groudle, and Fairy Cottage and Laxey. Services ran using Car Nos. 5, 6, 9 and 19.

Two further weekends of M.E.R. running saw the first ever Santa Trams on the system, with the 15/16 December seeing a half-hourly service between Derby Castle and Laxey. Both these locations were dressed with Christmas trees and decorations for the occasion, with Santa’s grotto located inside the Working Mens institute at Laxey. Car Nos. 5, 6, 19,20 and 21, along with Trailers 57, 58 and 59 had special transfers applied for the event, and Illuminated Car No.9 also put in an appearence (although, in the end, No.21 was never used). With the seaside line at Fairy Cottage still out of operation, single line working was in place between Laxey Car Shed and Fairy Cottage.

Car No.19 at Groudle with the single line in use clealy seen, during the first weekend of M.E.R. operation in December. © David Lloyd-Jones

Car No.19 at Groudle with the single line in use clealy seen, during the first weekend of M.E.R. operation in December. © David Lloyd-Jones

In the week prior to the 15/16, an announcement had been made regarding two further days of running in December, however the circumstances were entirely different. Following a breakdown in discussions between Isle of Man Transport and the islands Bus Drivers, a bus strike was scheduled for 20-22nd December, with a very minimal bus service provided for parts of the island not on the rail network. Along with the steam railway, the M.E.R. was called upon to provide an intensive bus replacement service between Derby Castle and Ramsey. With departures as early as 06:05 and arrivals as late as 20:00, the M.E.R. saw some of its most operationally long days in many years along with the earliest scheduled services in the lines history. The timetable was designed to cater for not only the requirements of commuters, but also the several schools along the route.

With seven cars required for service, attentions turned to augmenting the ‘Santa’ fleet with further enclosed Cars. With No.7, No.21 and No.22 out of use, the five Cars used over the previous weekend were joined by Car No.1 and Car No.32, both making exceptionally rare passenger appearences in December. Car No.32 was utilised to haul closed Trailer No.57 on what were three wet days. Unfortunately, with the wet weather and a single line section between Lewaigue and Ramsey, delays were inevitable. Despite this, the M.E.R. proved that it could still act as a light transport system as opposed to a mainly tourist operation for which it has become known.

Further flooding by Saturday 22nd became an issue by the mid morning, with waterlogged areas at Groudle and Ballagawne. The line was shut between Derby Castle and Laxey by mid-morning, with a replacement bus(!) service provided between Laxey and Derby Castle. The weekend was also scheduled to be the second featuring ‘Santa Trams’ however the intended timetable for the Saturday was replaced initially by an intensive service similar to that over the past two days although this was altered as the day went on and the line was closed and reopened later in the day.

Saturday 22nd saw Crossbench Car No.32 in use without a Trailer during the morning, starting with an 07:55 Laxey - Derby Castle service. This has undoubtedly never happened before in the lines history and is one of the rarest occurences on the M.E.R. in the 21st century so far... © Andrew Scarffe

Saturday 22nd saw Crossbench Car No.32 in use without a Trailer during the morning, starting with an 07:55 Laxey – Derby Castle service. This has undoubtedly never happened before in the lines history and is one of the rarest occurences on the M.E.R. in the 21st century so far… © Andrew Scarffe

The final day of operation on Sunday 23rd saw a return to solely Santa Tram operation, with this day also seeing operation to Ramsey (all other Santa Trams ran solely between Derby Castle and Laxey). Although the previous days floods had rescinded, the single line section between Lewaigue and Ramsey remained in operation. With Cars Nos.5, 6, 19 and 20 also in operation, the honour fell to Car No.9 to close the door on M.E.R. services in 2012 with an 18:25 arrival at Derby Castle – seven weeks later than the familar early November end of season.

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