Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway (FoDBHT) last week attended a meeting at the Sea Terminal with Minister for the Department of Infrastructure Mr Phil Gawne MHK. The meeting was to discuss our views regarding proposals for the refurbishment of Loch Promenade, and to discuss proposals for the future of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway itself which will go before Tynwald next month.
Image: One of the newer trammers, Kewin, heads along Loch Promenade on a training run
earlier this week, pulling extended 'Toastrack' No.42 (Credit: FoDBHT Collection)
The July sitting of Tynwald is scheduled to commence on Tuesday 19th July and will include a vote on a motion to secure the long-term future of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway beyond October 2016. As Friends will be aware, the tramway is currently being operated by Isle of Man Railways (a division of the Isle of Man Government - Department of Infrastructure) on a season-long license from current owners (and former operators) Douglas Borough Council. This license includes the use of tramcars, tram horses and the facilities at Strathallan Depot and Summer Hill Stables. The current license agreement, which has allowed the tramway to open for its 140th anniversary season, expires on 31st October 2016.
The motion that will be put before Tynwald would allow for the Department of Infrastructure to acquire eleven or so tramcars and the stud of horses, and to operate the horse tramway as part of the Island’s heritage railways network. Agreement would also need to be reached with Douglas Borough Council for the use of the current Strathallan Depot and Summer Hill Stables for the 2017 and 2018 seasons to enable services to run. Beyond the end of 2018, alternative provision would be made for newly built facilities to house both the tramcars and horses at Derby Castle.
Of the eleven tramcars to be acquired, seven would form the ‘service fleet’ with a further four cars being retained as ‘museum items’ – tramcars with historical significance. It is understood these would be restored to authentic historical appearance, hopefully with assistance from volunteers.
A review of the current stud of twenty-two horses is also planned as is operating a longer season but with trams not running every day of the week (except at peak times) – a method of operation that has proven to be very successful so far during the current season.
FoDBHT have expressed concerns in relation to the proposals for Loch Promenade and the recent planning application from the Department of Infrastructure, namely the absence of tramway rails from the Sea Terminal to Harris Promenade in the application. The Minister has provided reassurance that the scheme does not preclude reinstatement of the tramway back to its current length – this would be achieved by changing the orientation of parking spaces along the landside wall of the Marine Gardens to create a single track tramway corridor.
Image: The current parking arrangements on Loch Promenade (Credit: FoDBHT Collection).
FoDBHT believe that a tramway running the full length of the Douglas Promenades offers far better scope for increasing revenue and future security – provision of a proper passenger waiting area in the vicinity of the Bottleneck Car Park (near to the Sea Terminal) would allow for a ‘destination terminus’ with easy interchange between the Island’s extensive bus network, facilities at the Sea Terminal and only a short walk away from the Steam Railway. Shortening the route would put current journey fares under pressure. These concerns have been raised and we hope to be able to discuss them further with the Department of Infrastructure as plans are progressed for Loch Promenade.
The Tynwald proposal will request new capital project funding of no more than £5.5 million to provide new tramway infrastructure on the Promenades, stables and depot facilities. This is balanced against the proven benefit to the Island’s economy from people visiting because of the heritage railways – a contribution that is upwards of £11 million per year. This is separate to the operating subsidy, reported by Douglas Borough Council as £268,000 in 2015 but now forecast to be not more than £65,000 in the current year under Isle of Man Railways management, with the prospect of further reduction in future years. The capital investment would likely secure the future of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway for generations to come – beyond the next 40+ years, and continue to provide the Isle of Man with a unique vintage transport attraction that cannot be matched in terms of social, cultural and historic significance.
Next month’s Tynwald vote offers what is arguably one final chance to save the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway. With the operating license due to expire at the end of October this year, there is no sign of a reversal of the decision of Douglas Borough Council to divest itself of the tramway assets. The Council may understandably wish to have a plan in place with regard to the future of the horses and tramcars.
The vote offers the Island the chance to invest in and secure the future of an heritage attraction that is unique in the world – nowhere else can offer original Victorian & Edwardian horse trams running the route for which they were built. 140 years on, the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway is a unique survivor.
Image: Una amidst the summer flower planters (Credit: FoDBHT Collection).
The View from Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway:
The last six months have undoubtedly been the most turbulent time for the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway in recent years. This proposal is the outcome of many months of hard work by those involved with the working committee (set up at the January sitting of Tynwald), staff and management at Isle of Man Railways and the Department of Infrastructure. While we know that many Friends share the desire to see the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway retained along the full length of the Promenades (including Loch Promenade), we believe that this is the first step towards that ultimate goal – the Loch Promenade scheme is by no means a done deal. Should this proposal be supported by Tynwald, FoDBHT will continue to campaign for the Loch Promenade section to be retained.
Putting all the proverbial eggs into one basket and demanding for the complete tramway to be rebuilt in one go is a high risk tactic and one that, should it fail, would potentially put the very existence of the tramway under threat. We are keen to continue the progressive and positive work that has been undertaken during the last six months and work towards the goal of a 1.6-mile tramway along Douglas seafront.
Since the very existence of the tramway came under threat, correspondence from around the world and the positive start to the current season shows that the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway is held in very high regard - by many Island residents, regular tourists and those who visit the Island specially for the unique heritage railways. FoDBHT are already receiving enquiries about the 2017 season and beyond.
We would ask Tynwald members to take the long-term view of what can be achieved by saving the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway, to benefit the Island at a time when diversifying the economy has never been so important. The Government has stated it wishes to grow the visitor economy by 20% in coming years – the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway will be a key component to achieving this.
Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway (26 June 2016)