Is the Manx Electric Railway Conservation Policy safe?
Stored trams under threat?

MER car 15 at Laxey in happier days - it is one of the cars currently stored at the Homefield bus garage, the future of which look bleak

Press Release July 16, 2007


For many years the Manx Electric Railway Society has worked hard with the Department of Tourism & Leisure, and in particular the last Minister, the Hon David Cretney MHK to secure the long-term future of the Manx Electric Railway. At times our efforts were unwelcomed by elements of the management of the line and the realisation that something had to be done to prevent a whittling away of the charm of the MER ultimately led to the creation of a Conservation Policy designed to protect the ambience of the line and its assets. This policy was enthusiastically written by Mr. Cretney in consultation with the Manx Electric Railway Society.

Following the change of Ministerial appointments after last November's General Election, the MER Society wrote in January to the new Minister, Hon Adrian Earnshaw MHK to ascertain his intention to continue with the Department's adopted policy. At that time he was uncommittal but told the Society '…that under my leadership the Department will remain fully committed to the long-term preservation of our heritage railways'.

Almost six months later the Society (again seeking to establish his position on the Conservation Policy) was granted a meeting with the new Minister. It was with some astonishment that the Society heard the Minister admit that, despite being in office for over six months and having had the matter brought to his attention, he had not yet read the Conservation Policy, a surprising statement from someone responsible for its implementation (until such stage as he abandons it). What ought to concern the Public and indeed the Council of Ministers is that the Minister of Tourism decided to pick a fight where he did not need to; if he had read the Conservation Policy he would have seen that the final say under the policy is his.

Worse still, and in direct contradiction of the Minister's statement in January, Mr. Earnshaw informed the MER Society that it was his intention to dispose of a large number of historic Victorian and Edwardian tramcars.

It was accepted long ago that it would be political suicide for a Minister to scrap trams, but this appears the course on which Mr. Earnshaw has embarked. The Minister for Tourism is boldly marching into a political minefield, which will cause unnecessary embarrassment to the Isle of Man and its Government. Just at the very time his Department has identified a market in the charm and quaintness of the Island as a tourist destination the Minister has decided to send out another signal - that the Island smashes heritage.

The belief that no sensible Minister for Tourism would want to send out a signal to the many enthusiasts who holiday here that the Island scraps trams appears to have been mistaken. And make no mistake; these include trams that the public paid for to be removed to Homefield 'Bus Garage in Douglas and paid for to be stored there. Has Mr Earnshaw asked himself why this was thought to be essential?

Included on the list of tramcars and trailers under threat are a number which date from the opening of the Manx Electric Railway in 1893 and its extension to Laxey in 1894, as well as some of the 'newest' delivered in 1904. These are priceless and are vital as a backup fleet should some disaster befall the line - in recent history the MER has suffered the loss of a number of trams by fire. The most recent in 1991 occurred in a tram depot and could easily have spread to the bulk of the rest of the fleet. The frames of the newer cars are amongst the least used on the MER, to waste them would be tragic. Should a disaster affect the rest of the fleet these cars could run again. If the Minister has not scrapped them.

If the Minister is allowed to proceed with his decision he will write off over a thousand years of the Manx Electric Railway's heritage. He will go down in history as the man who has done more damage to the MER than anyone else. Never in 114 years has the Manx Electric Railway faced such a savage and serious threat. At the meeting the Minister asked us what they were worth? The answer is that they are priceless historical artefacts, a credit to the Isle of Man and their destruction would be fatal to the reputation of the Island as an enthusiasts' paradise. The work of millions of pounds of advertising over the years lost in an afternoon. That is what they are worth. So much for 'Treat your inner child to a weekend away' whatever that cost us. Scrapping trams would be the most damaging publicity since Summerland.

Who would have imagined 10 years ago that people would be criticised for taking holiday flights? Who would have thought of Global Warming as having any real impact on the way we live? Who can predict what the holiday business will be like in 10 years time? Who can predict whether people will be taking so many foreign holidays? And what will be the impact on the Manx tourist trade? The simple fact is we cannot say, but no-one can rule out a serious boom should foreign air travel decline, after all it is the increase in such travel that led to the slump in the 70's.

Whilst it is true that the tramcars stored in Homefield are currently not used for passenger services and the lease on the premises is due to expire in 2009, who can tell what the future holds and having a valuable stock of unique and original 100+ year old that are not offending anyone, other than the Minister, it seems ludicrous to suggest disposing of them, especially when there is sufficient space on the line to store them, and given that Tynwald has allocated funding for the rebuilding of Laxey depot, to allow it to be brought back into use.

When we raised the possibility of these trams going into Laxey depot the Minister responded 'just because you have a space doesn't mean you have to fill it'. Much better to scrap priceless historic tramcars and have a half-full shed then? And what would people think of a Minister for Tourism who had so little insight as to scrap a large part of the MER fleet that had survived over 100 years only to fall into his hands? And to scrap it when there was plenty of room for it to be kept under cover?

When the Manx Electric Railway Conservation Policy was written, it was unthinkable that a Minister for Tourism would be ignorant of the need for such a thing and the policy therefore centred on the principle of Ministerial Consent. We have now entered a different world. The Minister for fun has been replaced by a very different animal who has hit the ground running with not a proposal for discussion but an announced policy of getting rid of the reserve fleet.

In Tynwald on June 19 Mr. Earnshaw stated that he had met with the Manx Electric Railway Society and other groups and '…hopefully, I am forging a good relationship with them and we are moving things in a positive direction'. The MERS cannot have a working relationship with a man that has indicated his wish to get rid of trams. The Manx Electric Railway Society has no confidence in Mr. Earnshaw, is not convinced that '…under my leadership the Department will remain fully committed to the long-term preservation of our heritage railways', and calls for his immediate dismissal and replacement by someone who cares for the Island's priceless heritage.