Following a lengthy debate and proposed amendments Tynwald agreed this week that Isle of Man Railways will continue to operate the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway for a further two years (in 2017 and 2018) whilst a further and more detailed case is prepared by the Department of Infrastructure for the long-term future of the tramway. The original proposal discussed was to see no initial commitment for the relaying of the full length tramway as part of the Promenade reconstruction works but an amendment made during the debate saw a commitment to the full relaying of a single track tramway all the way from the Sea Terminal to Derby Castle.
As we have reported in depth throughout this year Douglas Borough Council pulled the immediate plug on the tramway at the start of the year due to escalating costs but following much debate in both public and private it was agreed that the Department of Infrastructure (through the guise of Isle of Man Railway) would operate the tramway for its 140th anniversary season in 2016. At this point there was no guarantee that there would be any further operation of the historic line but after extensive behind the scenes negotiations a proposal was drawn up which would see the DoI formally taking control of the line whilst acquiring some of the trams, horses and infrastructure from the Council.
As we reported at the time the proposals were revealed it is proposed that a smaller fleet of trams moves into the ownership of Isle of Man Railways which will include a total of 11 trams – seven of which will form the core fleet with four as part of a “museum” fleet only seeing use on special occasions. The remaining trams would remain owned by the Council which they would then presumably dispose of. The stables and tram depot would continue to be used by the newly nationalised operation for 2017 and 2018 with continued discussions to decide on a new facility – preferably at Derby Castle – beyond this two year period. It was also proposed that when the much delayed Promenade reconstruction takes place that no tracks would be relaid between Villa Marina and the Sea Terminal – probably the most important section of the tramway – but an amendment made at Tynwald threw this idea out and the plan is now for the full length tramway to be relaid.
So where does this decision leave us? Well for the remainder of 2016 it is business as usual with a full length double track service operating until the end of the extended season. For 2017 and 2018 details have not yet been released as to what service will run but it is expected the new operating pattern – which has so far proven to be a success with increased passenger numbers – will continue although if the reconstruction works have commenced it is looking likely that a full length service will not run (something which has been on the table for at least three years now!)
2016 so far seems to have been the best season for a long time for the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway with the Department of Infrastructure confirming that between 30th April and 3rd July the horse trams carried a total of 22,173 passengers, an increase of 7,707 (52%) compared with the same period in 2015. This led to an increase in cash revenue of 64%.Other reports have also shown that operating costs have been decreased.
So far this year seven trams have been used in passenger service – 1 and 27 as the wet weather trams, 36, 43, 44 and 45 for the bulk of services and 42 has been the toastrack of choice. In addition 21 has been in use on a few new horse training runs but isn’t believed to have been used with passengers on board. Further trams are expected to see use over the next few weeks as the transport events start off with the Manx Heritage Transport Festival and continuing with the 140th Anniversary in August.
Thanks to the Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway for information contained in this article.