Douglas Horse Tramway to be relaid – but only partly

It may be a new government on the Isle of Man but it really seems to be the same old decision making as the latest plans for the reconstruction of Douglas Promenade will see the Horse Tramway only relaid between Derby Castle and Broadway. Following the elections on the Isle of Man the previous plans for the Prom were thrown out with the promise that they would be revisited but the new recommendation goes back to a very similar proposal with the main change being that it will be a double track tramway in the centre of the road for the short section of line which will be retained.

There seems to be a faction on the Isle of Man who are desperate to be rid of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway – despite the fact that it has seen its most successful year for a long time in 2016. This new proposal will see the double track laid in its current position in the centre of the road from Derby Castle through to Broadway where the line will be terminated. It is planned to construct a new tramway terminus in the area around the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre. A “tramway corridor” will still be provided for through to the Sea Terminal but no tracks will be laid on this but it will be there “just in case”, although just what are the chances of this ever happening remains to be seen – the saying out of sight, out of mind comes to, well, mind. It is also planned that at Derby Castle the tracks will be joined up with the Manx Electric Railway leading to a suggestion that the MER could eventually extend through to the Villa Marina. If this were to happen it would be interesting to see what sort of future the Horse Tramway would have.

The whole Prom reconstruction is expected to cost £23 million (which includes £3 million already spent on planning and replanning and replanning again) and cutting the line short will save £750,000. In a project costing £23 million is the sum of £750,000 really significant enough to end 140 years of history in one easy step? Another reason given for not building the tramway through to the Sea Terminal is that it would mean a loss of “much needed” car parking along the side of the Prom road.

Incredibly the report which is due to go before Tynwald states that the Department of Infrastructure “does not believe that operating horse trams along the full length of the Promenade is commercially viable”. If a journey to and from the Sea Terminal isn’t commercially viable its odd to think that how a shortened journey which only goes halfway to where most people want to go is considered to be “commercially viable”. The idea that prospective passengers for the Manx Electric Railway will take a bus as far as the Villa Marina and then change onto the horse tram is a bizarre idea – if that is indeed what the DoI are truly thinking.

The plan will go to Tynwald this month and if approved it is expected that work will commence in September 2017. There is no word yet whether this date will be the last chance to ride on the full length of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway.

This entry was posted in Douglas Bay Horse Tramway. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Douglas Horse Tramway to be relaid – but only partly

  1. Paul Jefferies says:

    I’m sad to say that those in charge who want the tram gone are still determined for this service to close fully forever. I can already predict what will happen. The plans will be voted through, the tracks lifted, ready for relaying and then… oh wait, some technical hitch/funding problem/legal issue or whatever, sorry, we can’t relay the tracks, and that will be the end of it. Oh, and more valuable real estate to be sold off… I hope strong willed people will be keeping an eye on this to keep it safe

  2. Nigel Pennick says:

    After such an optimistic time, it looks like the same old story with the outworn anti-tram ‘arguments’ of the 1950s being trotted out yet again. The authorities have wasted £3 million already, so something has to be the scapegoat, and it’s the trams.

  3. Geoff, Isle of Man says:

    I write as a tramway enthusiast but also as an Island resident and taxpayer. With all due respect to your views, Gareth, and to those of other supporters of the horse tramway, most people here realize that it long ago ceased to be a public transport service, and is now mostly a seasonal novelty ride. The full length of the line is served by buses, which run more frequently than the trams, and for twelve months a year. The distance from the current southern terminus at the Jubilee Clock to the Gaiety Theatre is approximately 900 yards, whilst the northern section from the Gaiety Theatre to Derby Castle is approximately 1,900 yards. Thus, the section to be closed represents 32% of the current line, and the remaining 68% can hardly be described as ‘the short section of line which will be retained’. The tramway has to share road space with other traffic and, whether you love or loathe the motor car, it is here to stay; on-road parking is vital for the continued health of the retail sector, and the Loch Promenade section is already very congested.

    I prefer to see three positive factors in these plans, namely: –
    1. The northern section of the horse tramway will continue to be double-track, rather than being ‘singled’,
    2. It will remain in the middle of the road, rather than being shifted to the roadside, and
    3. Best of all, it is to be relaid with rail that is compatible with both horse trams and MER trams, with a physical connection at Derby Castle. Extending the MER to the Gaiety Theatre, in my view, would be of enormous benefit, and I don’t share your pessimism about the future of the horse trams if it happens; provided that schedules are carefully constructed, there is no reason why the two modes cannot coexist: indeed, running both horse and electric trams will provide a more comprehensive service. Since both lines are now under the control of the Department of Infrastructure, joint timetabling will be much easier than before.

    I am well aware that many people ‘off-Island’ wish to see no change whatsoever to the existing arrangements. Bear in mind, however, that there are many here who see the horse tramway as an annoying, congesting anachronism that costs the taxpayer money, and I consider that the present proposals represent a reasonable compromise which should ensure its survival, albeit in a slightly truncated form.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Very sensible and carefully crafted assessment. Do feel as though the heart often seems to overpower head when it comes to aspects of preservation. In fairness of course without the passion little would ever be achieved but its certainly delicate balancing act. Its my personal opinion that heritage operations wherever they are are unlikely to ever truely cover its costs and will always require some form of direct or indirect subsidy. Whilst limited knowledge of horse operation it will certainly bring with it some very fixed costs that are difficult to grapple with (after all the horses cant volunteer do it for free they need feeding, caring for etc).

    • Phil from London says:

      A quick question if I may
      When the “many” complain about the Horse trams costing taxpayers money do they mean the taxpayers like me who come and visit and are charged VAT and beer duty and the Hotels and pubs and restaurants I use pay tax on their profits etc or do they ignore this?
      If they do ( but I suspect the “many” don’t really think about this ) then I would like them to know that I am more than happy for the taxes I indirectly pay the IOM government being used to subsidise the horse trams

      • Geoff, Isle of Man says:

        The simple answer, Phil, is – no, they don’t. They also complain about the cost of upkeep of iconic structures such as the Laxey Wheel, Castle Rushen and, of course the steam and electric railways. But you must never question the sacred cow that is motor sport, whose costs and disruption far outweigh everything else combined!

  4. Ken Walker says:

    Double track Derby Castle to the memorial and single track from there to the sea terminal would make more sense.
    It’s interesting that while authorities on the mainland are introducing traffic calming measures on promenades or closing them to traffic completely during the season the Manx government wants to get rid of a long-standing traffic calming measure because it gets in the way of speeding motorists!

  5. David Mee says:

    I think Ken has hit it right on the head with his comments.

    Whilst many resorts have instituted measures to remove as much traffic from the Promenade as possible, the Prom in Douglas is still a major through route to the detriment of all other users apart from those in a car. it certainly isn’t a positive environment for those on foot.

    I wonder how much the cost of refurbishment could be reduced if it wasn’t necessary to make it able to withstand the constant pounding by cars and lorries.

  6. David Blake says:

    According to the Friends of the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway website, the sitting of Tynwald which will discuss the proposals for Douglas promenade including potential curtailing of the horse tramway, gets under way at 10.30 am tomorrow (Tuesday).

    I was delayed getting involved with this debate due to having to reapply and be interviewed for my own job which thankfully is now behind me. I have written to the Infrastructure Minister, Chief Minister and two Douglas Members of the House of Keys, Messrs Malarkey and Robertshaw, who are said to support the full length tramway, along the lines that my wife and I believe in its complete retention and hope that the lessons from the Manx Electric and Blackpool tramways, ie that the entire length is necessary to the viability and continuance of all its parts, will be learned before lasting damage is done by curtailing the horse tramway. We have also said that while having no objection to the Manx Electric Railway being extended to the War Memorial/Gaiety Theatre area, our reading and understanding of horse tramway operation is that the horse tramway should retain its own dedicated tracks as horse traction does not appear to mix well with other means both in speed terms and the behavioural characteristics of the horses themselves. We also think that on a horse tramway, another issue is that the varying speeds of different horses make journey timings more complex than with mechanical means. Therefore we consider that a double track (as actually now favoured by the government in their proposals for the War Memorial/Gaiety Theatre – Strathallan Crescent section) is preferable, being more flexible and potentially more time-saving as it averts delays awaiting trams at passing loops, and therefore makes the tramway more efficient and attractive for its users. We have also said that the horse tramway combines the role of unique heritage attraction with effective internal transport within Douglas which is a tried and tested formula and, like the Blackpool tramway, is also visible in a way that works well with visitors who, like ourselves, are less familiar with local bus networks, but in our observation the horse tramway is much enjoyed by many residents too. Indeed, its appeal to people of all ages and especially the family market (as demonstrated, for example, by the Santa Special horse trams last year which ran to capacity business) would be the envy of many heritage attractions. It also plays a major role in connecting with the Manx Electric Railway for onward journeys to Laxey, Ramsey and Snaefell Mountain, and we have expressed our opinion that this combination deserves to be recognised as one of the great rail journeys of the world. Finally we have said that we consider the horse tramway to be a potentially world class attraction comparable in rank to the San Francisco cable cars, and that we consider it the defining feature of Douglas as a seafront town, and the flagship of Douglas seafront.

    Obviously these are personal views but they are heartfelt and we will now just have to wait and see what comes out of this week in the Manx Government. The more we have come to know the horse tramway and its dedicated staff, not to mention the lovely horses, and following the superb achievements of the 2016 season which so nearly didn’t happen, we find it hard to see it being constantly dragged through so much political uncertainty, but we can only hope that the so far elusive secure future of the whole line will yet be granted, from which we are convinced that so much else can follow….

Comments are closed.