The Douglas Horse Tramway will run after all in 2016 but the future of the line beyond this season is still to be decided. The Department of Infrastructure have announced that they will take on the operation of the line for this year with a service set to operate between 30th April and the end of October – a later end to the season than has become the norm in recent years.
It has been 62 days since Douglas Borough Council had shocked everyone with their sudden announcement that it was not viable to continue with the operation of the historic Horse Tramway and in the intervening period there has been much discussion between interested parties as to whether some sort of service could continue to run and this has culminated in the latest announcement.
The Department of Infrastructure have described this as a temporary solution to enable the interested parties to continue their discussions about the possibility of “preserving the long-term future of the horse trams”. No extra funding is to be sought from central government to run the service with the DoI putting in place a plan aimed at reducing operating costs and generating additional income. Additional support is set to be provided by the Department of Economic Development, Manx National Heritage and Culture Vannin.
The horse stables, tram sheds at Strathallan, horses and tram cars will continue to be owned by Douglas Borough Council and will be used by the DoI under a proposed licence.
Making the announcement Phil Gawne, Infrastructure Minister, said: “I am delighted that many different parties have been able to work together to secure a temporary reprieve for the horse trams, especially as 2016 marks the 140th anniversary of the service. The horse trams are an important visitor attraction and an iconic part of the Isle of Man’s cultural heritage. This short-term solution means we will be able to honour visitor bookings for the summer season. It will also allow more time to consider any workable options to retain the service beyond 2016.”
Details of the timetable to be operated and exact details of the season are set to be announced next week.
The only fly in the ointment is that although 2016 has now been sorted there is no agreement in place for any sort of service beyond this year. In the statement from the DoI Phil Gawne commented: “It is clear that substantial investment in new track and buildings is needed if the horse trams are to continue in the years ahead. Planning approval for a new route for the tram tracks would also be required. Those are major considerations for the future, but for now I wish to thank the politicians and officers who worked together to achieve such a positive outcome in a very short timeframe. I would also encourage people to seize this opportunity and make the most of the horse tram service this summer.”
A spokesperson from the Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway said: “’As a group we are delighted to have confirmation that the Tramway will be operating this summer, the 140th anniversary year of the Tramway opening. The news is to be welcomed and as a group we hope it will encourage potential visitors to confirm their plans to visit the Island this summer. This outcome has been the result of a lot of hard work by the Government’s Committee (set up in January to look at options for the Tramway). Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway remains committed to the long-term future and looks forward to continuing to work with other stakeholders in the coming weeks and months. Looking at the immediate future we have extended our offer to the new operators of the Tramway to assist at special events to celebrate the 140th anniversary. We hope to develop a positive working relationship with them.”
But in the meantime we can rejoice that the 140th anniversary of the Douglas Horse Tramway will actually see the horse trams running along Douglas Promenade again. And as we said when Blackpool’s heritage tram service seemed in jeopardy a couple of years ago the message is to clear to everyone – use it or lose it!