Thursday, 28 January 2016

Four Legs Say Farewell To Three?

A Sad Farewell Suggested
Magnus III, King of Norway, was also known as King of Mann and the Isles between 1099 and 1103. In 1266, the island became part of Scotland by the Treaty of Perth. After a period of alternating rule by the kings of Scotland and England, the island came under the feudal lordship of the English Crown in 1399. The lordship revested into the British Crown in 1765, but the island never became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain or its successor the United Kingdom, retaining its status as an internally self-governing Crown dependency.

The Island once had an extensive railway network as shown on this map (click to enlarge).
The line from Douglas to Port Erin remains run by steam and traditional stock.
The line has a chequered history of ownership but was taken into state control in 1978. Essentially a tourist line, its main claim to fame is a huge range of special event days to attract the paying customer.

Storytelling Trains (children's themed event on the dining trains,
started in February 2015)
Winter Photography (at the end of February or beginning of March
since 2011)
A Night At The Opera (black-tie event
serving an evening's entertainment at the Erin Arts Centre)
Commuter Club (since 2015, an early morning and
early evening service with the on-board bar open)
Rush Hour (an enthusiasts' event held over the Easter weekend
annually since 2010)
Thanks, Mum (Mothers' Day special dining train, several services)
Southern Bell (dining train excursions
themed around an historical service on the railway)
Island At War (the annual wartime-themed trains
and events usually held mid-August)
The Queenie Express (train services
tie-in with the Queenie Festival in Port St. Mary)
Dining Trains Of The World (a series of dining trains
with menus themed around worldwide cuisine)
Rail Ale Tour (bar train service to Port Erin tie in
with the beer festival at Falcon's Nest Hotel)
Southern 100 Shuttle (occasional road closure
replacement service between Port Erin and Castletown)
Manx Heritage Transport Festival (the main summer festival,
usually at end of July or start of August)
Teddy Bears' Picnic (various themed events
centering on Ballasallam, usually early September)
Night At The Museum (Thursday evenings
with late opening of the railway museum in Port Erin)
Shoebox Special (a special service
for Operation Christmas Child charity, usually November)
Family Fun Weekend (weekend in late August
featuring bouncy castles, face-painting, etc.)
A Musical Gala (tie in with the Erin Arts Centre
for an evening of old-time musical hall)
Manx National Week Trains
(commemorative headboards in the first week of July)
Hop-Tu-Naa** Express (since 2010, themed ghost train event,
end of October with dining trains)
Ride The Rocket (the end of season train
serving the fireworks & bonfire in Port Erin)
The Santa Express (visiting Santa in his grotto
at various locations, Castletown or Santon)
Christmas Shopping Express (a direct shopping service
to Douglas from Port Erin in December)
Blow Away The Cobwebs Train (out of season one-off
special services prior to the New Year)

The range is larger than most UK heritage lines and you have to assume that these "specials" make good money for the State and keep the railway going. Indeed, over recent years the tourist "season" has been extended and now runs from March to November with just a few gaps. It used to be Easter then May to September!

Looks like a great success.

Then, running north from Douglas is the Manx Electric Railway. After a series of financial crises this too was nationalised in 1957.
Again, running from March to the end of October a variety of frequencies is offered from hourly (with gaps) on slack dates ...
... to half hourly during the busiest August week.
At Laxey the trams (trains?) connect with the spectacular Snaefell Mountain Railway.
The Snaefell Mountain Railway runs from 24th March to 30th October 2016.
Trams depart from Laxey and the journey to the mountain’s summit takes around 30 minutes.
A return journey from Laxey to Snaefell costs £12 for adults and £6 for children.

At those prices it ought to be financially viable.

From steam railway to electric along the prom at Douglas is the fourth ferro-equinological delight; and in this case the equinological is the appropriate term. It is, of course, the Douglas Horse Tram.
but a visit to the company's web site reveals the sad bad news.
Press release issued by Douglas Borough Council on Thursday 21 January 2016 at 20:07.

It is with very great regret, following detailed discussions and meetings, that Douglas Borough Council is to discontinue the Douglas horse tram service because of the increased financial burden on Douglas ratepayers. 

The decision follows a proposal by the Council to amalgamate the Tramway Terrace stables site with the tramway hub at the Strathallan site, a scheme estimated, as of December 2015, to cost in the region of £2.9million. When this was received at a joint meeting of the Executive and Regeneration and Community Committees in December, Members determined the scheme was not financially viable and presented a number of unresolved issues, and therefore decided not to progress the project.

The Council will be relocating the service’s horses to good homes and offer the rolling stock to transport museums, either in the Island or the UK, while the Tramway Terrace/stable site and the Strathallan site are to be offered for sale. This will therefore mean that the horse trams will not operate for the 2016 season.

But there may yet be hope. There has been a public outcry and the BBC has reported ...

On Friday Douglas Borough Council, which has operated the 1.6 mile (2.6 km) service since 1876, said the trams were "no longer financially viable".

A committee has now been established by members of the House of Keys to examine alternatives to axing the service. "We need to examine all the different options to save this iconic service," said Kate Beecroft MHK.

Those options, she said, could include "forming an independent trust, private sector sponsorship or a reduced service - I'm sure there will be more options which haven't been looked at." Despite about 60,000 local people and visitors using the horse tram service last year, it still ran at a loss of £263,000.

It would be interesting to hear what the financial returns are for the other railways on the Island. If they were regarded as one business, would the total operation be viable? Is some pencil pusher in State HQ seeking to make a name as a saviouR of financial ruin by removing an important part of the Island's tourism? What next? Pull down the Laxey Wheel?
Turn Peel Castle into time-share executive appartments?
Replace the TT race with scooters?
Politicians can be very daft and ignore the wider view. Life is not always about sucking every last penny out of the tourists.

Maybe the Lord of Mann (the Island's ruler) can be persuaded to intervene.
Please Ma'am command your Manx minions to change their minds!

But if all else fails, enjoy this video of the ride!

Thanks to correspondent Peter for briefing fbb on the news.

** P.S. For modern Hop-tu-Naa, (celebrated in the Isle of Man on 31 October) children dress up and go from house to house with the hope of being given sweets or money, as elsewhere.

The children carry carved "turnip" lanterns (actually swedes, which are known as turnips or moots by the Manx) rather than pumpkins; and sing Hop-tu-naa songs. In older times, children would have also brought the stumps of turnips with them and batter the doors of those who refused to give them any money, in an ancient form of trick or treat. This practice appears to have died out.

 Next (delayed) bus blog : Friday 29th January 


  1. Andrew Kleissner28 January 2016 at 07:44

    This is slightly more encouraging:

  2. Andrew Kleissner28 January 2016 at 08:02

    Nothing to do with the Isle of Man but something to encourage you! As I've mentioned before, "Suffolkonboard" is a comprehensive website for all public transport in the county, I think it's maintained by the Council. Anyway, certain bus service changes for late February were published by the Traffic Commissioners last week, and the website already has the new timetables. I don't know what they do about printed copy, but I think that's pretty impressive!

    1. Suffolk CC produce printed timetables twice a year (usually March and September). Whilst they are to be applauded for this approach, the quality of the timetables is (IMO) poor, with layout and code notes difficult to follow.

  3. The Douglas Horse Tram has always been one of my favourite things on the island. I am thankful I managed to introduce my 2 year old daughter to it last year. In fact she loved it so much we sat up front with the driver listening to the sound of the horse trotting along. I really do hope this unique form of transport can be saved.