Mixed signals on the railways

Friday 21st August 2020 9:00 am
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Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters Association shared this picture of Douglas Railway Station last Saturday

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Residents and holidaymakers have flocked to the island’s state owned heritage railways since they reopened.

However, the Snaefell Mountain Railway has not opened since Covid-19 forced the suspension of the lines.

With the island having suppressed the virus and, with the opening of the air bridge with Guernsey, which is also Covid-19 free, the decision was made to operate the railways.

Since then, the Department of Infrastructure has revealed more than 11,500 have used the steam railway and the Manx Electric Railway.

These figures differ from a Freedom of Information response received by Isle of Man Newspapers which showed 3,163 people had used the MER and 5,045 had travelled by steam in the three weeks leading up to August 11.

According to our FoI, 1909 have booked onto the dining car so far of which 561 have travelled, bringing a total of 8,769 who have travelled on the railways. These figures tally with an answer given in Tynwald this week.

The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association told the Manx Independent the railway has ’certainly been busy with six carriages on the trains most days’.

A government spokesman added: ’We can often overlook what is right on our doorsteps, but the travel restrictions during this extraordinary summer mean most people are staying close to home.

’It is fantastic to see so many taking advantage of our tourist attractions and exploring the island while enjoying the Steam Railway and Manx Electric Railway.

’Many local families are clearly using the opportunity to find out more about what’s on offer, and they have been joined by our air bridge visitors from Guernsey who have been eager to experience the Isle of Man’s unique features.’

However, the Snaefell Mountain Railway remains closed despite an offer from the MER Society to pay £9,000 towards opening it for its 125th anniversary.

Secretary Julian Nutter said he hoped the decision would be reversed, and that the department should ’accept this gift as something which is intended to help in these difficult times’.

bitten

Mr Nutter added: ’He [DoI Minister Tim Baker] should have bitten our hand off, but we’ve heard nothing from him since, which of course, doesn’t surprise us.’

The reopening of the the railways, unsurprisingly, played a major role in this week’s Tynwald answers. While MHKs are not returning to the chamber until October, they are able to table written questions during the summer months.

Julie Edge (Onchan) asked Mr Baker what the business case was for opening each other railways.

Ms Edge’s question was met with a blunt response: ’The department does not intend to publish the business case.’

He added: ’Full costings were submitted to Treasury. The decision on whether to re-open the railways was based on an understanding that the marginal costs could be covered and that there were wider economic benefits from opening the railways.’

Another question from Daphne Caine (Garff) asked how much opening the SMR for one day would cost.

Mr Baker revealed that after staff salaries, fuel and maintenance, the bill comes to about £2,714.

To break even, the SMR would need to carry 226 passengers per day.

However, Mr Baker didn’t close the door on the railway opening in time for the 125th anniversary.

He said in his answer: ’The department is considering the options in relation to the operation of the Snaefell Mountain Railway.’

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