“A call to replace one of the Manx Electric Railway’s twin lines with a cycleway and footpath has been dismissed as a non-starter.
Infrastructure Minister Ray Harmer rejected the suggestion on both financial and safety grounds.
The proposal came from Middle MHK Bill Shimmins who asked the Minister: ’What consideration has he given to changing the Manx Electric Railway to single track operation and re-using the space occupied by one track to create a safer walking and cycle route between Douglas and Ramsey?’
He argued that such a move would make cycling safer and bring health and environmental benefits.
But replying to Mr Shimmins’ question in the House of Keys on Tuesday, Mr Harmer said the idea of converting the MER to a single line would reduce the service to 33% of its current timetable, cutting income.
The creation a cycle path would have ’absolutely immense’ capital costs that would reach into ’many millions of pounds’.
He said there would be issues such as changing the signalling and even legal issues with leases where the tracks run through land not owned by the MER.
It would be a ’massive undertaking’ with several safety concerns connected to having a footpath or cycleway next to a railway line that would need to be addressed.
Mr Harmer pointed to proposals to upgrade the former railway line between St John’s and Ramsey to create a cycleway, as a sign that the government was committed to getting the Manx public out and exercising.
He added: ’We are looking at so many other things to do with cycling, walking and active travel and cycle, for example linking up St John’s with Ramsey, that will be fantastic.’
Mr Shimmins argued that the government already spends about £1m per year on maintaining the MER tracks.
’Clearly safety needs to be a priority,’ he said. ’Many people are concerned about the safety of vulnerable road users.
’Segregated routes, which could be established along the MER railway, are safer and encourage more people to participate in active travel, which is proven to deliver considerable health and environmental benefits.’
Mr Harmer said he was a ’massive fan’ of active travel and there were other opportunities for segregated routes.
’This is not one of them,’ he added.
The Manx Electric Railway Society said Mr Shimmins’ suggestion would amount to a rebuilding of the MER at ’vast public expense for the benefit of his friends; the cyclists and walkers’.
It would, the enthusiasts’ group maintained, be a ’triumph at public expense for the Children of Lycra’.
’Were he to get his way a valuable piece of our tourist infrastructure presently in excellent condition would be destroyed so that he could pursue his hobby,’ a spokesman for the MER Society said.”