The Department of Infrastructure is proposing to operate the Douglas Bay horse trams for a further two years while discussions continue about the long-term viability of the service.
Tynwald Members will be asked to support a package of measures that would see the trams run from Strathallan to the War Memorial during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The Department says this will allow a decision to be made on the future of the horse trams based on analysis of three years of operational data.
Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK said:
‘The horse trams are an iconic symbol of the Isle of Man and rank as one of the most historically important transport systems in the world. They are also a key part of our heritage transport offering, which makes a substantial contribution to the Manx economy.’
‘I accept that significant investment will be required to ensure the long-term viability of the horse trams, with funding required for a new track, stables and depot. By supporting the Department’s recommendations, Tynwald Members will ensure we can make a fully informed and considered decision on whether to continue the service.’
The Department, with support from Culture Vannin and Manx National Heritage, stepped in to run the horse trams this year following the decision by Douglas Borough Council to end the service. Plans have been put in place to reduce operating costs and to maximise income through the Department’s heritage railways marketing expertise.
Figures for the opening weeks of the 2016 season have been encouraging. Between 30 April and 3 July, the horse trams carried a total of 22,173 passengers, an increase of 7,707 (52%) compared with the same period in 2015. Cash revenue is up by 64%.
Subject to Tynwald approval, Douglas Borough Council will be asked to transfer ownership of the Strathallan tram depot to the Department. The building will then be refitted and repaired at a cost of up to £150,000 for use as a temporary depot and stables.
In tandem with running the horse trams in 2017 and 2018, the Department will seek to redevelop the Douglas Promenade highway from the Sea Terminal to the War Memorial. This will support the regeneration of the capital and enhance the appearance of an area described as the gateway to the Isle of Man.
While there is no intention to provide a tram track in this section of the Promenade, the scheme submitted by the Department allows sufficient space for a track to be laid in future years if Tynwald considered this to be desirable and affordable.
Basic highway works will also be carried out at the northern end of the Promenade to improve the ride quality for vehicles.
Looking longer term, Tynwald Members will be asked to support a recommendation to install a single tram track from Derby Castle to the War Memorial as part of a Promenade redevelopment scheme. Investigations would also continue into creating a new combined depot and stables and to establishing a charitable trust to operate the horse trams at arm’s length from Government. The cost of the new track and facilities is estimated at £5.4 million.
Minister Gawne said:
‘An independent report in 2012 revealed that heritage railways contributed £11 million to the local economy, and we have invested to grow the sector since then. The Department is confident it can further capitalise on the success of the transport-related travel market, which in 2015 saw 55 groups visit the Isle of Man. This equates to 8,800 bed nights and represents a massive boost to our economy.’
‘While other destinations have heritage transport systems the presence of the horse trams sets the Isle of Man apart from the rest of the world. I am passionate about preserving our culture and heritage and believe the horse trams should remain an integral part of an enhanced Douglas Promenade.’