Isle of Man Railways has paid tribute to its teams of volunteers who have provided more than 1,000 hours of unpaid assistance during 2015. Volunteer groups on both the steam and electric railways undertake restoration of rolling stock plus assist at key events such as the Manx Heritage transport Festival and Rush Hour on the Railways.
Phil Gawne MHK, Minister for Infrastructure, said: ‘I’d like to personally thank each and every one of the volunteers. They range from the organised groups who give so generously of their weekends and evenings to various projects and assisting at the steam and MER museums to other individuals who enhance passengers’ experience by routinely planting flowers and maintaining our smaller stations.
‘Their assistance has a big impact on our services and I am grateful to all who assist.’
Twelve volunteers on the steam railway, co-ordinated for IoM Railways by Mike Buttell, have notched up more than 800 hours work between them including:
l Restoration and painting the Douglas signal box, including the Dutton lever frame. The box once controlled a myriad of lines and signals at the railway terminus. Work will continue on this historic building through 2016.
l Enhancing the Railway Museum, Port Erin, including input into the Railway Museum Guide leaflet
l Assisting with the planning and delivery of the Winter Photography, Rush Hour, Manx Heritage Transport Festival events, including co-hosting a film show at the Manx Museum and leading the tour of closed lines
l Providing guides for evening and weekend tours of the Museum from July to September plus for the Heritage Open Days in October
l Providing on board commentaries and a film show for special charters, events and groups
l Working with IOM15mil modellers to put on two model exhibitions during 2015 at the Railway Museum
l Working with Braddan Commissioners providing information and photographs for the refurbished Heritage Trail and exhibition at Union Mills Station
l Working alongside IoM Railway Walks, providing extra guides for walking parties.
Volunteers on the Manx Electric Railway include teenagers William Collins and Cade Williamson who have manned the MER Museum every Sunday during the 2015 season plus for other festivals and events. The two are responsible for the museum’s dedicated Facebook page which has increased visitor numbers.
The main volunteer group assisting on the electric railways is manxelectricrailway.co.uk, which operates a comprehensive website and Facebook page providing history and news items relating to the MER and SMR.
The group’s major project during 2015 has been the restoration of Manx Electric Car 14, involving six volunteers.
MER volunteers co-ordinator Andrew Scarffe explained: ‘This open car is one of five purchased for the opening of the line between Laxey and Ramsey in 1898. One of the five cars was re-equipped in 1903 but the other four retained their original electrical equipment and motors which are now the oldest on the MER. These four cars were not equipped with air brakes and were reliant on hand operated brakes giving the cars their nickname “ratchet” cars due to the ratchet mechanism fitted to their handbrakes.
‘As Manx tourism declined in the late 1960s and early 1970s the ratchet cars were gradually taken out of service. Car 14 was last used on passenger service in 1978 and none of the cars is now in use.’
The decision to restore car 14 to working order was taken last year. It will be used on the advanced sessions of Ultimate Driving Experiences where members of the public pay to spend a day driving one of the MER’s vintage tram cars.
The restoration project is the first time that volunteers and the MER’s in-house engineers are working together on a restoration project. Volunteers are restoring and repainting the bodywork and MER engineers will concentrate on the refurbishment of the motors and electrical equipment.
During the initial stages of restoration, removal of the traditional MER red and white livery revealed the original varnished woodwork which the car carried when new in 1898. It has therefore been decided to restore the tram to as near as possible its 1898 condition, with varnished bulkheads, uprights and seats; ivory roof; maroon dash panels and gold lettering.
It is hoped that the car will be operational during 2017.
This year MER volunteers have additionally:
l Assisted with planning and operation of Rush Hour and Heritage Transport Festival events
l Planned and operated the MER Winter Photography event
l Provided guided tours around Derby Castle and Laxey car shed
l Operated guided evening tours on the MER and produced event souvenir booklets
l Co-hosted film show evening at the Manx Museum
l Promoted events through the website and Facebook page
l Provided publicity and support to the restoration of MER Car 14.
Lastly there is a group of eight volunteers drawn from Lonan and Laxey Heritage Trust who began restoration of withdrawn MER goods stock in 2010. Since that time volunteers have fully restored open wagons 8 and 10 dating to 1898 and mail van 16 dating to 1908. All are now operational.
This has involved countless hours of volunteer work to restore the rolling stock and raise the necessary funding.
Van 16 was restored with the assistance of sponsorship from IOM Post Office and was officially launched back into service during the Heritage Transport Festival in July this year.
In conjunction with Isle of Man Post Office, the volunteers are also creating an exhibition to the rear of the MER goods shed at Laxey recording the story of the Manx Electric Railway’s conveyance of mail between Douglas and Ramsey. A replica of the old Lewaigue waiting shelter has been constructed as part of the exhibition.
Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust has placed tubs of bedding plants and hanging baskets at MER waiting shelters in the area for the last five seasons.
Volunteers from this group have also carried out litter picks on the MER line and recently tidied the area surrounding Dreemskerry halt and repainted the waiting shelter.