The following letter has been published by Isle of Man Newspapers following the news that the Isle of Man Government has commissioned another report into the economic value of the Island's Heritage Railways. This is not the first time such a study has been undertaken on behalf of the Government, some 50 years ago TRANSMARK was engaged to perform a similar function which resulted in the the (thankfully temporary) closure of the MER's Laxey/Ramsey section. Further information can be found by reading Mike Goodwyn's epic publication 'Is This Anyway to Run a Railway'.

"So, the Isle of Man Government has commissioned a new ‘Independent Review and Economic Impact Assessment for the Heritage Railways’, although why another review should be needed is a mystery.

The Terms of Reference for the review make interesting reading.

The document opens by asking what the ‘true value’ of the heritage railways is, which is like trying to assess the ‘true value’ of the Mona Lisa to the Louvre.

The answer should be ‘priceless’, but politicians seem endlessly capable of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The subtext here is the need to analyse ‘the nature, extent and justification of the public subvention to heritage railways’.

This is emphasised with the comment: ‘The need to provide safe, efficient and reliable transport for the island remains, but the new reality is the need to keep an ever tighter control on costs.’

The need to provide ‘safe, efficient and reliable transport’ is a given, but is there really a ‘new reality’?

This is akin to every generation thinking it invented sex.

At no point in history has any transport manager ever said to a department head: ‘Just spend what you want, there’s no need to worry about costs.’

There was never an ‘old reality’ where money was no object, so we are not talking about suddenly needing to operate within a budget. The term ‘new reality’ is simply code for operating within a restricted budget. Cutbacks, in other words, are the expectation.

Having primed – or skewed – the terms of reference, one vacancy that we know will not be filled is that of director of transport services.

The de-merging of the transport services division is because it is apparently ‘extremely difficult to articulate precisely what each service costs, or to determine with any clarity what revenue each generates, and consequently, where efficiencies could be made’.

This dubious assertion, which is surely down to poor use of spreadsheets rather than any structural departmental deficiencies, again seeks out ‘efficiencies’ – although it seems a novel idea to cut costs by replacing one head of service with three.

But does it follow that more management (including a new ‘advisory board’ for Bus Vannin and Heritage Rail), will result in more effective management?

Or is this just another example of what governments seemingly do best – undertake endless reviews, reorganisations and ‘transitions’ instead of just getting on with the job in hand. After all, who wants the boring job of actually running a transport system when there’s a shiny new logo to design?

Two of the terms of reference are particularly troubling.

The first is the apparent need to have an ‘evaluation of the impact of the length of the horse tramway and extending Manx Electric Railways [sic] operations to the War Memorial’.

This seems to be a case of selective amnesia, since Tynwald has already clearly stated that it wants the horse tramway to be reinstated to the Sea Terminal.

Why is this even still being presented as a legitimate discussion?

As for extending the MER to the War Memorial, sure why not.

And why not build a viaduct across the bay to carry trams to the Tower of Refuge while you’re about it? It would be just as useful a terminus for any intending passengers arriving on the Steam Packet.

Douglas seafront has already been made to look as charmless as a supermarket car park, so why not go all the way and entice arriving visitors with a confusing array of buses and taxis instead of the welcoming sight of a horse tram?

The second troubling comment is the stated need for ‘consideration of the alternative use of any railway assets found to be no longer required’.

Well, how about turning any ripped up tracks into soft landscape corridors (also known as allotments) so they can be used to grow potatoes?

After all, the island’s going to have to export an awful lot of them to replace the tourist pound it seems hell bent on destroying.

And to answer that initial question posed by the document: you only know the value of something when it’s gone."

Manx Independent

Since the above letter was published by Isle of Man Newspapers, the following comments have been posted on social media:

Chris Wilkinson: “Here we go. The Excuse Group coming up for more “savings”. I was only asked yesterday if the trains were still running. Soon we won’t have any ‘Heritage’ to draw people or so cut back it’d be useless as an attraction. There’s always a grin on the faces of people riding the trains and trams that you don’t see elsewhere.

Paul Heavy: “Pretty much everything unique about the island is gradually being thrown away. Apart from Tynwald of course. Now just imagine the savings we could make there?”

Chris Wilkinson: “Paul – They could always change the building into a Comedy Club. Oh no wait, someone has thought of that already.”

Gary Gtn Christian: “Is Isle of Man Government policy to sponsor/keep afloat the independent report and consultancy sector?”

Ian Edwards: “Speaking as a ‘railway tourist’, does Tynwald still see any value at all in its tourism offer? The IoM’s two ‘unique selling points’ are the magnificent TT, which attracts visitors for only a few weeks each year, and the heritage railway NETWORK. Which brings in trade and employment to hotels, eateries and other attractions over a season lasting several months. I emphasise the word ‘network’ here, as that vital core element is currently under threat, due to the continued truncation of the historic Horse Trams. While Tynwald certainly needs to seriously rethink its priorities, I’m not sure it needs an expensive report to achieve this. They seem to be falling into the Westminster fallacy, of creating an illusion of action while kicking the real issue into the long grass! “

David Tarrant: “Ian Edwards they keep falling into the trap of getting rid of anything that doesn't make a profit , very soon there will be nothing left to attract visitors, profit is not always created at source, but by indirectly employing many other businesses !”

Sam Killey: “Well I have just bought a season ticket for the trams and trains (first time I have ever done that) so I intended to be on the trams and trains a lot this year with my two kids. My daughter loves the trains so she will probably want to get a season ticket every year.”

Tell the MERS what you think, contact us at: [email protected]


Powered by Quesmedia Sites