When the Douglas Horse Tramway resumed operation for the 2015 season it was known that the arrangement for Isle of Man Railways to run the service was only on the table for one season and that the long term future of the tramway was still very much up in the air. Over the past few months discussions have been ongoing between interested parties over securing a more long-term future for the tramway and to this end a proposal will be put to Tynwald next month which would see the Department of Infrastructure take permanent control of the line, in whatever form the line may take.
The proposal to be put to Tynwald would see the Department for Infrastructure:
* Acquire approximately 11 of the trams and the stud of horses from Douglas Borough Council
* Operate the line as part of Isle of Man Railway heritage operations (alongside the Manx Electric Railway, Snaefell Mountain Railway and Steam Railway)
* Reach agreement with Douglas Borough Council over the use of Strathallan Depot and Summer Hill Stables for the 2017 and 2018 seasons (beyond 2018 a new combined structure would be built at Derby Castle)
The proposal would see a request for no more than £5.5 million to provide new tramway infrastructure on the Promenades, stables and depot facilities.
The 11 trams to be acquired would see seven trams forming the service fleet with the remaining four being museum items which would eventually be restored to authentic historical condition, hopefully with volunteer assistance. Obviously as things stand at the moment there are considerably more than 11 trams at Strathallan so some of the long withdrawn trams would likely to be disposed of in some form by the Council although it is far too early to say for certain what will happen in the future with the fleet.
If Tynwald approve these plans a review would also be undertaken of the current stud of 22 horses and consideration will be given to running a longer season but with trams not running seven days week except at peak times. 2016 has seen a shorter working week for the horses and so far this seems to have been a success with increased passenger loadings reported. Of note Isle of Man Railways have also managed to drastically reduce the operating subsidy from the £268,000 of the Council in 2015 to no more than £65,000 this year.
Tynwald is due to sit from Tuesday 19th July when these plans will be discussed and hopefully approved so the historic and unique Horse Tramway can continue to operate for the next 140 years!
There is of course still the elephant in the room (or should that be horse in the room?) of the redevelopment of Douglas Promenade which could see the tracks ripped up and not immediately replaced in the section between the Villa Marina and Sea Terminal. In recent talks between the Department of Infrastructure and the Friends of Douglas Bay Horse Tramway the Minister has said that although the initial plans do not include the provision of tram tracks this would not preclude their construction in the future. 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.
Obviously this would not be the most ideal plan as if the proposals to redevelop the Promenade without the tram tracks are approved it will be all too easy never to put them back – especially if all the work was completed before the decision was made as it would mean even more disruption on the Prom. However a commitment from the Department of Infrastructure to run the horse trams is surely a step in the right direction and if this is achieved in July then is the time to start putting further pressure on to ensure a full length tramway can be retained in the future.
We will of course continue to follow this story and will provide updates following the Tynwald sitting in July.