Article and photos by David Mee (written 2011, advanced course information updated by Alex Fairlie 2016)
Have you ever wanted to drive a tram car? Well now you can by taking part in a tram driver experience day on the Manx Electric Railway. Learn the intricacies of the controller and air brake systems, find out exactly how a tram car works and enjoy miles and miles of driving experience under the guidance of an experienced and friendly MER instructor.
Currently there are two types of course on offer:
A ‘beginners’ course for those who have not driven before. This usually utilises one of the large UEC Open Cross bench Cars, normally Car 33, although an enclosed car is sometimes used if the weather is poor. The open cross bench is perfect for driver training experience days as it has a large open ‘cab’ area with lots of space for the trainee and instructor and good visibility all around. Trainee driving is limited to the Laxey – Ramsey section of line on this course.
An ‘intermediate’ course is also offered for those who have driven before and comprises one of the Westinghouse Brake fitted Winter saloons (Cars 21 or 22) plus a trailer. The emphasis on this course is driving plus the trailer shunt operations at either end of the line.
Sample itinerary for Beginners Course:
The day begins at about 9am at Derby Castle station in Douglas. There will be up to three participants on the course who will be invited to travel up front with the driver to Laxey. At Laxey after light refreshments and a brief health and safety talk the course continues with a visit to Laxey Sub Station and an overview of electricity supply and distribution. Then follows a ‘walk around’ of the tram car with the main systems introduced and an overview of the operation of the controller and brake system. The excitement then begins with three round trips from Laxey to Ramsey with each participant getting to drive the whole route in each direction, in sections, under the guidance of the instructor. A light lunch is provided at Laxey during the day and at the end of the day certificates are presented to participants. You are then taken back to Douglas on the tram car with the instructor driving, the day ending before 6pm.
I found the day very enjoyable and instructive. There is definitely an art to the operation of the controller and in particular the ‘lapping’ air brake, which can bring the car to a shuddering stop if you are not careful! However, by following the instructors guidance and step by step instructions it all soon becomes clear. A great day out and definitely value for money for any tram enthusiast.
Sample itinerary for the intermediate course:
Again the day begins at about 9am at Derby Castle and as you approach the station you will see a Winter Saloon (either car 21 or 22) and a trailer. The ‘hands-on’ experience starts straight away with one of the two trainees invited to couple up the car to the trailer and shunt back into the station. One of the trainees will then drive to Laxey. After light refreshment at the station cafe, its straight on to Ramsey again with one of the trainees driving. At Ramsey the participant gets to perform the trailer shunt and couple up process. The other trainee will then drive back to Douglas, perform the shunt and drive back to Laxey. A light lunch follows before a further round trip to Ramsey. Over the day each participant will have driven the whole length of the line in each direction and performed the shunt at each terminus. Certificates are presented on completion of the course which finishes at Derby Castle before 6pm.
I really enjoyed this day and it definitely builds on the skills learned in the first course. The Westinghouse Brakes are much easier to come to terms with than the lapping brakes on the rest of the fleet and this allows you to relax slightly and enjoy the driving experience. New challenges are presented in terms of the shunt operations at the termini which require concentration and a delicate hand, plus the many road crossings on the Douglas to Laxey section which require vigilance and care when approaching. The instructors are brilliant and the whole day is recommended to any tram enthusiast as a great experience.
The Advanced Course:
New for the 2016 season is the Advanced driving course, which uses a Car operating two round trips (from Douglas to Ramsey), with participants alternating in sections over 2 journeys (if only one student on the day then only one round trip will be completed).
As you can guess from the enthusiasm of my words above I would heartily recommend these courses to anyone with an interest in trams. Currently the MER are offering dates throughout the season.
To book call +44 1624 697419. As there are limited dates available, bookings are made on a first come first served basis.