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Friday, 22 August 2014

Douglas Bay Horse Tramway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          3'

Length:        1.6 miles (2.6km)

Opened:       1876

Location and route


Tramways Office, 
Strathallan Crescent, 
Douglas, 
IM2 4NR.


Web:     http://www.douglas.gov.im/index.php/leisure/horse-trams#.U_OvomM09rs  
Email:  enquiries@douglas.gov.im

Date of visit:     22-26 July 2014

Key Facts

  • The tramway is the oldest horse drawn tramway in the world and is unique in the northern hemisphere
  • The tramway has been run continuously since it opened, apart from during World War II
  • The tramway possesses 45 horses and 21 tramcars of which 14 are operational at present - the rest are in storage or on display in the museum at Jurby
  • Thomas Lightfoot, a retired civil engineer, was responsible for setting-up the railway in 1876
  • In 1882, Lightfoot sold the line to Isle of Man Tramways Ltd which owned the Manx Electric Railway. 
  • When the company went into liquidation in 1900 the tramway was sold to Douglas Borough Council
  • In 1927 it was decided to run the tramway only in the summer
  • The horses complete only three return journeys each day before being changed at the stables which are on the promenade near Derby Castle.
  • The journey from one end of the promenade to the other (1.6 miles) takes around 20 minutes
  • There are various request stops along the route
  • There is a flat fare of £3.00 for the journey

My Impressions

During my week-long stay at a seafront hotel in Douglas, my contact with the tramway was continuous - it was impossible to avoid seeing the tramcars as they plied their trade along the promenade. This account is therefore an aggregation of my various encounters with the trams, horses and personnel over the space of that week.

The tramway runs as a double track along the centre of the road on the promenade in Douglas. There is a terminus beside the seaport terminal in the harbour where there is a crossover to enable the tramcars to change tracks.
Tram 43 pulled by Rocky approaching the seaport terminus
Tramcar 36 arriving at the crossover at the terminus
Car 43 and Rocky negotiating the crossover
Car 43 and Rocky setting out on the return journey up the Promenade
 At various places along the from there are request tram stops where passengers can alight and board the tram, making the tram an ideal form of transportation for guests in the hotels.
Car 43 and Amby picking up passengers outside the Palace Hotel

 The traffic passes by on either side of the tramcars and at times the traffic can be quite heavy.

 The horses seem to be quite immune to the traffic flow around them and trot at a steady pace along the front.

The stables for the tramway horses is located about a mile away from the seaport terminal behind one of the seafront buildings.

The horses are changed after three return journeys and I noticed that the horses seem to be well aware of this practice and come to a halt outside the stables without prompting once their daily tour of duty has come to an end.

At the northern end of the promenade, the terminus at Derby Castle is where the tramcars are stored

 and there is an exchange station for the Manx Electric Railway. The two systems seem to be co-ordinated in that on every occasion I was at the terminus the arrival and departure of the electric and horse drawn trams seemed to coincide.

At the terminus the horses run-round the trams and although they are led, they seem to require very little encouragement to perform the manoeuvre.

The tramcar and horse then set off on the journey back down the seafront to the Seaport terminus

 During the week, the same two tramcars appeared to be on duty continuously, but on the Saturday, the last day of my stay on the island, an open topped tramcar (No. 21) was brought into service. Ironically, the weather was overcast that day whereas there had been glorious sunshine during the rest of the week.

Although there were plans to electrify the route in the early days of the tramway, it is probably to its advantage that these never came to fruition. The horsedrawn tramway seems to be a natural part of the seafront and entirely in keeping with the architecture and pace of life on the island. The horses all appear to be well cared-for and even have a retirement home in the countryside just outside Douglas.

There is only one other functioning horsedrawn tramway which is in Australia and so it is gratifying that his once common form of transportation has been preserved. While for me, nothing quite lives up to the smell of hot oil, coal smoke and steam - this tramway has a unique charm which I am glad I have experienced.

Video

[In preparation]