- Boosting income attributable to the Island’s heritage railways by attracting more visitors and increasing ridership has been done before and can reliably be done again
- Increasing fares and cutting routes and services will have the opposite effect
- YEAR OF RAILWAYS 1993 promotion brought 25,000 visitors to the ISLAND
- YEAR OF RAILWAYS 1993 INCREASED RAIL PASSENGER NUMBERS BY 130,000
A widely promoted and YEAR LONG offer - at least February-October- should be devised and seriously target international markets e.g. North America – where the heritage and technology of the Island’s electric railway is potentially particularly attractive
- The Tourism Department of 1992 dismissed ‘Year of Railways’ as appealing only to ‘a niche market’. It is worth noting that motorcycle road racing is a ‘niche market’ but the Island invests heavily in it and benefits enormously each year as a result
- Events of this summer (2023) reminded us of what was done in the 1990s – and should be done every year to help build a sustainable more cost-effective future for the island’s heritage railways
- Steps to promote the attractions of riding on and visiting destinations along the Laxey-Ramsey section should be prioritised. Other than departures on the published timetable, evidence of explicit promotion of the Laxey-Ramsey section of the MER is these days difficult to identify
- The Laxey Ramsey section of the MER is literally and metaphorically the highspot of the coastal railway - as well as providing a gateway to the attractions in the north
PROMOTION OF THE ISLAND’S RAILWAYS IN 1993 PRODUCED 25,000 VISITORS AND 160,000 EXTRA PASSENGER JOURNEYS…
Against a backdrop of 1990s recession and calls to curtail government expenditure, Alan Corlett  and a small team located in the Island’s Transport office armed only with a tiny budget, showed what can be done to dramatically increase passenger numbers on the Island’s railways. This was achieved independently of the ‘official’ tourist board campaign at that time, which focussed on other ideas and which was somewhat less effective.
It was suggested then and is repeated now in this submission, that in effect every year should be a year of railways; that the promotion and events that attracted tens of thousands in 1993 should become the normal modus operandi  and should be expanded in scope and ambition to embrace international markets.
PREVIOUS SUCCESS: 1979
The ‘Millennium of Tynwald’ promotion for the year 1979 saw the highest number of visitor arrivals since 1913, and the first time the number of arrivals had exceeded 600,000 since 1949. The success of the promotion owed much to a well-funded Tourist Board INTERNATIONAL advertising campaign during the run up to the year-long celebrations and a comprehensive programme of events put together by Betty Hanson’s Millennium of Tynwald organising committee. TV coverage in Europe and North America featured amongst other things the voyage of replica longship Odin’s Raven.
'…We had a particularly good year in 1979. I would like you to make just a note of this because I regard this as entirely a spin-off from the Millennium Year. I would just like to briefly tell the Court, at Castle Rushen our attendance last year went up by 12,500 people from 53,500 to 66,000; Peel Castle increased by 10,500 from 27,500 to just under 38,000; and Laxey Wheel, the attendance increased there by 23,000, from 60,000 to 83,000, and I would put this down entirely to Millennium Year.'
Chairman, Government Property Trustees
TYNWALD COURT, MARCH 25, 1980
'I made enquiries at the MER Offices last week and I asked them how many passengers had gone from Ramsey in a southerly direction this year and last year and the year before and they were given to me in this way - 31,000  , 39,000  and 69,000 this year. They also volunteered the information that the takings for the Snaefell line were the best that the railway company had had since the Government took it over in 1957. If you close the Ramsey line you certainly will lose out on the Douglas to Laxey and Laxey to Snaefell lines, they are complementary to each other.'
George Swales MHK (Ramsey)
TYNWALD COURT, OCTOBER 17, 1979
The 1979 ‘Millennium of Tynwald’ tourism promotion successfully boosted footfall at the castles and the Laxey wheel, and increased passenger departures from Ramsey south on the MER from 39,000 in 1978 to 69,000 in 1979.
Meanwhile on the promenade, the Horse Tramway operated daily from 8.00am to 11.00pm, with up to 16 (sixteen) trams out at peak periods (a 2½ minute headway) and a minimum of four trams at other times.
TOURISM DEPARTMENT: CAMPAIGN 1992/3
The success of ‘Year of Railways’ was never a given. ‘Great Escapes’ is included here to illustrate the appeal and effectiveness of promoting the Island’s railways by contrasting it with a contemporaneous, more expensive and significantly less effective campaign.
Throughout 1991 and 1992 Alan Corlett worked into the small hours each night, often in an otherwise empty office. Alone he was sending hand-addressed letters and invitations to railway groups and editors of principal rail publications around Europe. Elsewhere a promotional bus was ‘the focal point’ for championing the Isle of Man at a series of outdoor railway, traction engine and vintage transport meetings.
The Tourism Department of the day dismissed ‘Year of Railways’ as appealing only to ‘a niche market’. (It is worth noting that motorcycle road racing might also be considered a ‘niche market’, but the Island invests heavily in it and benefits enormously each year as a result.)
YEAR OF RAILWAYS: THE IDEA
As the centenary of the Manx Electric Railway approached, the MER Society approached Isle of Man Railways early in 1990 to enquire about their vision for marking the event. The reply: 'Maybe a special tram with some sandwiches' was considered underwhelming.
Six months later, Issue 58 of the Society journal included a 29-page pull-out centre section containing detailed proposals for a ‘Year of Railways’ (RIGHT). These were inspired by the success of the Millennium of Tynwald campaign of 1979.
This was a time of impending economic doom, even in the Isle of Man:
‘Basic budgetary requests for sleepers and track have been pruned. The MER is to have a still further reduced evening service this year, in an attempt to cut costs. Meanwhile, the horse tramway's future continues to hang in the balance, as the Corporation once again vote to underwrite its future for a little longer. Far from a time of re-investment, now we face a period of cuts.’
The proposals (appendix i) received enthusiastic support from local and national politicians.
For example, this from former treasury minister and long-time MER supporter:
And successful they became. Not least due to support from then member of the Department of Tourism & Transport David Cretney MHK:
‘I can assure you that the proposals for an Isle of Man Year of Railways in 1993 to coincide with the Centenary of the Manx Electric Railway are high on the agenda of the Department…
…I can assure you that the historic railway network on the Island is recognised as being of great importance by myself. One regret I have is that this was not the case always and some of the treasures and lines have been lost because of as short-sighted attitude. The secular decline in tourism that you refer to is no doubt caused by a number of factors, one of which was the no-reinvestment policy by both Government and some areas of the private sector in the past. Thankfully, that position has been redressed in some ways but much more needs to be achieved….
…Amongst the features that will figure highly in the tourism of the future will be a strengthened and properly marketed events programme which despite declines in the traditional tourism market continues to see growth. Historic transport systems, heritage, culture and our colourful history are also major items which are of paramount importance to the industry of the future where in a changing and often clogged-up world elsewhere people will be able to wind down and appreciate our pace of life on their visit to our lovely island.
Even so it was it was left to the Transport section alone to carry out the promotions - as it turned out, possibly not such a bad thing..
1993 YEAR OF RAILWAYS: PROMOTION
Key to the success of 1993 were the unprecedented promotions which took place during the two years before. As well as promotional literature, mail shots to enthusiasts and invitations to railway magazine editors, there was a touring exhibition stand featuring MER memorabilia. This was in addition to an exhibition bus which toured the UK appearing at a series of outdoor railway, traction engine and vintage transport meetings.
ABOVE: Showing what can be done to attract visitors to the Island. Isle of Man Railways' Rolling Stock Superintendent Mr. Daryl Gribbin, and the Steam Railway's Colin Goldsmith surrounded by MER memorabilia at the G-MEX exhibition Centre in 1992.
ABOVE: Throughout 1992 this bus was ‘the focal point’ for Isle of Man promotions in the UK at a series of outdoor railway, traction engine and vintage transport meetings. It eventually travelled in excess of 4,500 miles over several months and appeared at many venues, ranging from the south coast to Scotland and from Wales to the east coast.
The result was a programme of events which spanned most of 1993, beginning on February 3rd (Issue of Manx Stamps for the Manx Electric Railway Centenary and a
Travelling Post Office from Ramsey to Port Erin by Manx Electric Railway and Steam Railway) and culminating in September with ‘Centenary Fortnight’ described as ‘a spectacular extravaganza of special events on all five systems.’
As the events unfolded, the specialist railway press continued to keep up the publicity momentum with articles, photographs and news features detailing what was going
on such as Motorman training, illuminated tram, Groudle Glen etc.
For example, Railway Magazine April 1993, featured ‘Manx Magic’ a tribute to the railways of the Isle of Man, 22 pages lavishly illustrated, accompanied by six pages of classified advertisements offering inclusive packages, travel, accommodation, car hire, photographic and other services available on the Island. Historical features published towards the end of the year in BackTrack magazine, and international coverage in the French press along with significant (for the Isle of Man) coverage in the railway press in the USA, must have inspired more visitors to come here in subsequent years.
1993 YEAR OF RAILWAYS: PROGRAMME
In contrast to the most recent 2023 ‘Year of the Railways’, the initial MERS blueprint and to a lesser extent what finally transpired, 1993’s events spanned most of the year, with advertised activities over and above simply the operation of the trains and trams, running from February to October .
There were dozens of promoted events from Easter to early Autumn.
Weekly events included Workshop visits, Motorman lessons and special trips on MER car No. 1 - the oldest operating electric tramcar in the world. Rides on the new Illuminated tram, stationary Tram Cavalcades and film matinees added to the many special weekly events organised to celebrate the MER centenary.
Loco 23. Evening slide show and meeting & many excellent
|photographic opportunities including run-pasts
Friday June 25th
An atmospheric Island rally with visiting and local vehicles of all shapes and sizes featuring traction engines, road rollers, tractors & buses to name but a few. Stalls & other attractions will complement this event which is being staged at Noble's Park, Douglas.
A week to delight all transport enthusiasts. but with the emphasis on steam. Amongst the many events will be Workshop visits, Victorian Fair at Port Erin, Steam Double Header, Evening Concerts at the Manannan Festival, Tours & Walk of closed lines, Film Shows and our 120th Anniversary of Steam Celebration.
Friday 27th to Monday August 30th
Monday 30th August to Sunday
A spectacular extravaganza of special events on all five systems.
Trams, Depot Visits, Steam Double Header, Cable Car on the Douglas Promenade, Old Hands Day, Evening Concerts, Talks & Slide Shows, Loco Line-up, Tours, Film Matinees, Stalls, 'Planet' on MER, Opening of Line-side Postboxes, Photo & Model Display, Horse Tram Cavalcade, a Grand Firework Display and much, much more.
Steam Locomotive on the Manx Electric Railway:
“One of the main attractions of the year will be the operation of a steam loco 'under the wires' on the MER, pulling MER saloon trailers. The loco will run between Laxey and the Dhoon, climbing a 1 in 24 gradient and passing along the 588ft Bulgham clifftop."
The photo (ABOVE) shows an impressive line-up at Laxey Station prior to the trials of Steam on the
MER Pictured are MER Tramcar 1 (1893) - the world's oldest operating electric tram, I.M.R. Loco 'Loch' (1874) - one of the oldest working steam engines in the world, and Snaefell Car 6 (1895) - one of the six original Mountain Railway trams still in use.
- Sunday 11th (Tailed) & Monday April 12th
- Sunday May 2nd & Monday 3rd May
- Saturday May 8th
- Saturday May 29th & Sunday May 30th
- Saturday June 19th & Sunday lune 20th
- Saturday lune 26th & Sunday June 27th
- Saturday Sept 4th & Sunday Sept 5th (Tailed)
- Friday Sept 10th (Tailed)
- Saturday Sept 11th & Sunday Sept 12th
- Saturday Sept 18th & Sunday Sept 19th
- Saturday Sept 25th & Sunday Sept 26th
- Saturday Oct 30th & Sunday Oct 31st”
‘There were "meet and greet" sessions held at Summerland, where organisers, directors, staff and other influential people from the railways were on hand. As well as outlining the event timetables, there were slideshows, question-and-answer sessions and general chat. The majority of the events were simple railway-based activities, although the opportunity was also taken to do things a little differently.’ Wikipedia
ABOVE: Crowds of photographers jostle to capture MER No. 1 driven by the Island's Lieutenant Governor, inaugurating the Year of Railways, April 10 1993.
|ABOVE: The Island’s first ‘Illuminated Tramcar’.|
|ABOVE: Crowds of photographers jostle to capture a unique lineup marking the centenary of the opening of the line to Groudle.||
ABOVE: Saturday 26th to Monday June 28th 1993.
The Steam & Vintage Rally held at Noble's Park featured a number of vintage fairground exhibits.
|ABOVE: Cars line the main A2 road at Ballaragh once more as crowds of photographers glimpse ‘steam on the MER’.||
YEAR OF RAILWAYS 1993: REVIEWS
'You will see sights that will remain with you forever and we believe that you'll soon come back for more'
'The Isle of Man Steam Railway is a working railway in every sense'
'The Isle of Man offers a variety of railway experiences unrivalled by any comparable area in Britain'.
THE WORLD OF TRAINS
'All of the time passengers are conveyed in vintage vehicles in such a state of preservation that it seems impossible to believe that the are all 100 years old'
'One might almost consider this system to be one continuous museum stretching 40 miles'.
'The train runs the whole gamut of the range of Manx scenery, passing through wooded glens, across open fields, between the walls of rocky cuttings and over long embankments, pausing along the way at delightful little passing loops'.
Chris Bowes, OLD GLORY
'They are probably the world's oldest, the are certainly one of the most fascinating, they are accessible and they are, well, simply wonderful'.
'Put the Island in your travel plans for 1993. After all it's close, inexpensive and totally different. See you there'
'It is just incredible - its living history. At any moment you expect the scene to lose its colour and turn into sepia'.
'I have just had three days on the Island playing with trains. What a therapy - it should be available on prescription !'
John Cocking, RAILWAY EXPRESS
'It all adds up to a great party year for steam and transport enthusiasts'
Brian Gooding, OLD GLORY
'1993 promises to be quite a year for railway enthusiasts on the Isle of Man'.
Robin Stewart-Smith, RAILWAY WORLD
'One of the most remarkable sights ever seen on a railway in the British Isles' (commenting on 'Steam on the MER')
Handel Kardas RAILWAY WORLD
'The Isle of Man must be the only place in the world where three unique and very different Victorian railway systems run through such a variety of
beautiful and wide-ranging landscapes'.
'Excellent attractions for all the family can be found everywhere and after one visit to the Island, you will want to return soon'.
Chris Milner, RAILWAY MAGAZINE
'A breathtakingly beautiful bump in the Irish Sea will rattle and roll with a giant railways extravaganza'.
Richard Bean, STEAM RAILWAY NEWS
'Something as special as a centenary deserves to be celebrated in a special way, and the centenary of the Manx Electric Railway is shaping up to be something really special'
John Symons, LIGHT RAIL & MODERN TRAMWAY
'The Island where time stands still ...a late victorian paradise'
Ted Joliffe, Model Engineer
'The Isle of Man is a veritable museum for rail enthusiasts'
Pascale Desclos, La Vie du Rail (France)
'Having been privileged enough to see a vast amount of standard, broad and narrow gauge railways in my career in railway publishing, I was simply agog at what I found here'
Nigel Harris, Steam Railway
'The Isle of Man must be the only place in the world where three unique and very different Victorian railway systems run through such a variety of beautiful and wide-ranging landscapes. Excellent attractions for all the family can be found everywhere and after one visit to the Island you will want to return soon!'
Chris Milner, Railway Magazine
'To sample the Manx transport, scenic beauty and warmth of its people is a wonderful and rare delight'
Tim Rayner, Railway Modeller
'Above all, the friendly atmosphere which pervaded everyone, and everywhere. A good time was had by all, the length and likes of which would not be seen anywhere else in the world.'
'The Isle of Man offers a variety of railway experiences unrivalled by any comparable area in Britain'
The World of Trains
'The staff are friendly, the scenery lovely and locos and stock are absolutely fabulous'
Richard Bean, Steam Railway News
'The Isle of Man is one of the most delightful places in Europe. From a railway viewpoint the Isle of Man remains a victorian masterpiece'
Duncan Young, Steam Railway News
'The Isle of Man has become established as the place for really good, varied, lively railway extravaganzas'
Handel Kardas, Railway World
'Where, beyond the pages of fiction, can such a transportation utopia exist in the 1990's? The answer is the Isle of Man'
Mike Walker, Railfan and Railroad (USA)
'I'll be there - will you?'
Fred Dibnah will be joining us for the Vintage Rally & Steam Gala Week.
A small selection of comments, from hundreds received, sent in by enthusiastic railway visitors:
'The most enjoyable rail-related event that this family has ever attended'
'All the staff were so cooperative and helpful'
P.J. Whitley Bay
'We could not have been better treated, or hoped for a more fulfilling week'
'An incredible week - the holiday of a lifetime'
'I visited the Island twice during the year and enjoyed every minute'
'I had a wonderful time, fantastic…I can't wait to return'
SOURCE: Isle of Man Transport
YEAR OF RAILWAYS 1993: LEGACY
The fear that 1993 was anything more than simply a project to mark 100 years of the MER was confirmed when the Transport Board’s chief officer remarked in a radio interview that he wanted to give [his staff] ‘a year off.’ 1994 would be like 1992. The annual promotions were seen by many then, as now, as inextricably linked to birthdays and anniversaries.
Fortunately the centenary of the Snaefell Mountain line in 1995 provided an opportunity for what became an ‘International Railway Festival’. The high spot, literally and metaphorically, was IMR locomotive No.15 Caledonia running to the summit of Snaefell. Alan Corlett assisted as ever by Maurice Faragher was once again at the forefront of the year.
The year was undoubtedly highly successful in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction recorded by the thousands of people who took part. And in some respects, such as the laying of an extra rail from the Bungalow to the Summit to allow the recreation of the Caledonia’s role building the line in 1895 was as ambitious as anything that had been attempted before…
…But, shorn of the extensive pre-publicity that surrounded the 1993 event, the year could not attract the same numbers that came in 1993. Some of the events such as a proposed prestigious 'International Railway Conference proved stillborn. And as the decade wore on and with a change of management and direction11, the number of special events reduced still further.
ABOVE: On one of its memorable trips up the Mountain, Caledonia and MER trailer 57. As well as the sight of the unique combination of loco and tramcar, the sound of the 0-6-0 pounding up the 1 in 12 was unforgettable.
APPEALING TO AMERICA
An outstanding feature of the MER is the way it emulates the concept of a nineteenth century electric inter-urban railway once common in the USA, and its use of trucks (bogies) electrical and overhead equipment also sourced from the states.
This includes bogie trucks supplied by the world's largest truck manufacturer, the J G Brill Company of Philadelphia, air brake equipment manufactured by the Christensen Engineering Co. Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (not now in use), G.E. K-Type controllers, supplied by the American General Electric Company, and most if not all of the overhead line fittings originally coming from Albert & J M Anderson Manufacturing Co.of Boston, Mass., together with their "Boston Pivotal" type trolley bases and trolleyheads. Much of this equipment is still in use.
It is suggested that the continued existence of this equipment - and the opportunity to ‘drive’ with it as part of the motorman training scheme - is something that should be communicated to USA railfans.
It is also suggested that this ancient equipment should be maintained and retained where possible and not swapped out for modern alternatives, so undermining the authenticity and specialist appeal.
‘YEAR’ OF THE RAILWAYS 2023 
This year’s ‘Year of the Railways’, marking the 150th and 130th anniversaries of the openings of the Island’s steam and electric railways respectively, appears to have been met with deserved enthusiasm. This is excellent.
No figures are as yet public as to the numbers of any extra visitors or passengers attributable to this long-overdue move to emulate the success of the 1990s railway promotions. Nor can this author detail the promotional activities - international or otherwise - which lead up to this year’s events.
A brochure was produced available in both print and online and containing a comprehensive range of events.
In no way wishing to detract from this year’s initiative, it is worth emphasising that although billed as a ‘Year of the Railways’, the events were limited to just one week + two additional days and so not directly comparable with its predecessor of 1993.
The ‘Year’ was summarised as follows on the brochure cover:
SATURDAY 1ST JULY 2023
A glorious celebration of 150 years of steam to mark the official anniversary of the opening of the Douglas to Peel line by the Isle of Man Railway Company Ltd on 1st July 1873.
SUNDAY 23RD JULY – SUNDAY 30TH JULY 2023
A week-long festival on our Island’s award winning Heritage Railways with many unforgettable events to mark the 150th anniversary of the Steam Railway and 130th anniversary of The Manx Electric Railway.
SUNDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER 2023
A special commemorative day to mark 130 years of the unique Manx Electric Railway which first opened from Derby Castle to Groudle Glen on 7th September 1893.
The 1993 ‘Year of Railways’ and some other 1990s promotional events were offered over many months - from February to October 1993 for example - and supported by significant pre-publicity not least the exhibition bus touring the UK and trade stands in the UK.
Suggesting that the 2023 event can be compared directly with the originals in terms of visitors attracted and additional passenger journeys generated is perhaps unfair.
What the 2023 event does indicate is that the basic formula still works and shows the potential by expanding it to significantly improve the cost effectiveness of all the Island’s heritage railways.
2023: WHAT THE (LOCAL) WEBSITES SAID
The recently concluded ‘Year of the Railways’ was a reminder of previous promotions. It was thoroughly enjoyed by crowds of participants and a credit to the railway staff and volunteers who made it happen. Feedback as reported on local news websites was wholly enthusiastic. Sadly it was against a backdrop strongly suggesting impending cutbacks will see 2023 being remembered as something of a swan song…
Remembering Alan Corlett who died last year. A full
LAXEY - RAMSEY: PROMOTION
Other than easily missed text in the 2023 timetable, evidence of explicit promotion of the Laxey-Ramsey section of the MER can be difficult to spot. Douglas-Laxey is automatically promoted by virtue of it being the starting place for most of the electric system’s passengers and its role as a feeder to the Snaefell line, the latter a well-promoted and as a result well-known attraction in its own right.
Laxey-Ramsey and the 35 stopping places in between - not so much…
Yet, the Laxey-Ramsey section of the MER is by far the most scenic and varied stretch of railway on the Island, rising above sea level to an elevation higher than the top of Blackpool Tower, experienced via the stunning clifftop ride above Bulgham Bay.
Ramsey is the Island’s second largest settlement and the glens at Dhoon and Ballaglass are attractions in their own right - the latter then as now, best accessible by tram.
NOTE: ’The 1979 ‘Millennium of Tynwald’ tourism promotion increased passenger departures from Ramsey south on the MER from 39,000 in 1978 to 69,000 in 1979.’
ABOVE: Graphic comparing the summit of the MER with Blackpool Tower.
ABOVE: Loco No.4 Loch passes high above the rocks at Ballaragh Summit - 588 ASL, April 1995.
ABOVE: TVs Susan Calman and MER’s Andrew Scarffe disembark Car 7 at Bulgham to take a look at the view you get from 588 ft above sea level.
Susan Calman’s Grand Day Out: Channel 5 June 2023.
Vintage handbills advertising the full route of the MER with references to the attractions of the Ramsey line. NOTE emphasis on scenery. Pretty much everything featured in these charming brochures (prices excepted) applies today. Reproducing subtly updated versions of period advertising material like this makes otherwise throwaway literature a collectable thing of beauty - and saves on design fees as well.
ABOVE: 'Travel by the popular ELECTRIC CAR to ROYAL RAMSEY: Mooragh Park Lake, Boating, Tennis, Putting, Bowls, Golf, Café - FINE SHOPPING CENTRE, MILES OF LOVELY BEACHES' .
As well as going ‘all the way’ intermediate amenities such as Dhoon and Ballaglass glens should be brought to the attention of potential travellers. These should be properly promoted at Derby Castle station AND at LAXEY as part of the Electric Railway experience - particularly as part of a ‘Rover-Ticket’ purchase. These ancient sign written posters and hoardings worked in the past. Why not today?
LEFT: Dhoon Glen Cafe sits at the head of the delightful Glen: ‘The heavily wooded Dhoon Glen is one of the Island’s most picturesque beauty spots, its paths zig zag over 500 feet down the cliff side to Dhoon Beach. The walker is rewarded by the views of old mineral workings, numerous streams and perhaps the Island’s most picturesque waterfall.’
Visit Isle of man.com
ABOVE: Examples of old posters which emphasise the scenic attractions of the MER - attractions most exemplified by the Laxey-Ramsey section.
“To inculcate some notion of the line's geography the use of 'Car cards' is suggested. These would show a line diagram in a way not dissimilar to L.T. [London Transport] format, save that they should also show elevation as well and include some detail of lineside facilities and attractions and an outline of the particular car's history and equipment.” MERS 1990 proposals (9.16)
LEFT: Hanging timetable cards used to be found in every guest accommodation on the Island and in many shops, cafes and pubs.
Winter timetables produced by the MERS during the early 2000s featured a route diagram showing the many stopping places along the line - including those on the Ramsey line. These - along with stopping signs added during the early 2000s helped encourage local traffic. (See also appendix iii)
Such publicity is no longer produced. Perhaps it should be again.
LAXEY - RAMSEY: MOTORMAN TRAINING
As originally suggested in the MERS 1990 proposals (15.17) ‘For a suitable fee, it is suggested that visitors be permitted to drive tramcars under careful supervision, in much the same way as staff are presently trained. It is anticipated that the availability of these lessons would be an exciting selling point and that prices could be pitched suitably to ensure that supply is not outstripped by demand.’
This turned out to be one of the most successful and enduring ideas and was on offer again during 2023.
During the 1993 ‘Year of Railways’ these lessons were under the instruction of the late Mike Goodwyn.
It is a fact that during 1993 and years that followed, the Motorman Training tram took more revenue on days (early and late season) than all other trams and steam trains put together.
It is also worth noting that the Laxey-Ramsey section of the MER lends itself to this activity in a way that no other part of the system can, owing to its double track and absence of ‘specials’ found on the Douglas-Laxey section. This allows the stopping and starting Motorman Training tram to fit around the service cars and vice versa.
This lucrative activity could readily be more widely marketed, with more than one tram available and would contribute to the revenue earned by the northern line - as well as being vastly enjoyable.
LEFT: Mike Goodwyn was to become synonymous with the Motorman Training scheme, working sometimes 12 hours a day seven days a week to try and satisfy demand for the scheme.
Shown are just some of the delighted participants who benefited from Mike's efforts usually on board Car 26. Successful participants received a signed "Certificate of Tram Driving”
Manx Transport Review No 79 Summer/Autumn 2000
‘People will always visit the Isle of Man to do things they can’t do anywhere else…It is why the TT is so successful.’ This was explained to me by a travel industry professional with experience of the days of mass tourism on this Island.
Other motorcycle road races are available but for many, the the Isle of Man is the road racing capital of the world. The Island invests heavily in both the TT’s infrastructure and promotion, and each year we see around 50,000  visitors and benefit from the income they bring.
The Island’s railways are similarly special. It has been suggested for years and and again last month by Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury, that the Island’s railways and tramways would be given UNESCO heritage status.
The steam line survives as a genuine narrow-gauge passenger - as opposed to adapted mineral - railway , with original (as opposed to replica) rolling stock still serving the purpose for which it was built.
The horse tramway is (still) world-famous and synonymous with the Isle of Man along with the TT, kippers and cats. It must be restored back to the Sea Terminal, as agreed by Tynwald, before what’s left - isolated from its main source of passengers on Loch Prom - withers on the vine.
The pioneering electric interurban that is the MER is in many ways even more special, and has survived intact (Douglas-Ramsey) using rolling stock and equipment the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. As mentioned above, it utilises American-built technology from the dawn of electric traction. It still gathers current from an under-running trolley wheel collector invented by early American traction pioneer, Charles van DePoele.
Add to this activities such as ‘Motorman Training’, photo opportunities which still allow non-hi-viz-clad visitors to disembark to photograph their own tram as it obligingly does a run past, visits to antiquated workshops (steam and electric), not to mention the Frankenstein-esque mercury-arc rectifier (LEFT). These activities are unique to the Isle of Man.
That it also operates along a genuinely scenic route, rising to 588ft above sea-level revealing cliff edge vistas, could be considered something of a bonus.
As well as appealing to the aficionado, both steam and electric railways have a universal appeal to young and old, families and seniors, come rain or shine. They benefit visitors as well as locals, adding to the kaleidoscope of heritage and cultural activities that make living on this Island more than acceptable and without which we would all be much the poorer.
It has even been shown that given a suitable timetable and affordable fares, both lines have a public transport capacity especially north of Laxey where the MER operates through areas relatively under-served by buses.
The Tourism Department of 1992 dismissed ‘Year of Railways’, marking the centenary of the MER, as appealing only to ‘a niche market’. (This was in part an attempt to justify its own focus on ‘short breaks’.) The ‘Millennium of Tynwald’ marking 1000-years of the Island’s parliament realised the best passenger arrivals for thirty years. (Surely celebrating an ancient norse parliament is a niche market if ever there was one?) The thing is - both these promotions worked.
‘Generic’ attempts to bring people here which focus on worthy, but generally otherwise available activities such as ‘walking’, scenery, leisure (as opposed to competitive) cycling and ‘short breaks’ are destined to disappoint; these activities can be done better, elsewhere and cheaper.
As a short lived  (if eye-wateringly expensive) 1987 IoM tourism campaign put together by advertising giants Young & Rubicam noted: ‘IT’S OUR DIFFERENCES THAT MAKE THE DIFFERENCE’: The Isle of Man needs to concentrate on things it does best. And one of the things it does best are our heritage railways.
In this submission an attempt has been made to show that promotion of the Island’s railways has been proven to be effective in increasing revenue directly through ticket sales, and indirectly by bringing more people to the Island. 2023 showed - though on a less ambitious scale - that this can still be done.
Involvement of visiting enthusiasts supporting tours, marshalling events, even driving trams, can help reduce costs whilst at the same time offering involvement and ‘behind-the-scenes’ access that will attract many if offered as part of a package - as Marshalling on the TT/MGP etc. does for road racing.
Anyone taking the time to read the original 1990 MERS proposals appearing in appendix I, will see that there are still many untried initiatives which would be new and original in 2024 and beyond - for example taking 'the world’s oldest tramcar’ on a UK tour (14.12) an event comparable in ambition to the 1979 Odin’s Raven adventure. Visiting rolling stock, a major draw for UK systems, has not been attempted on the IMR/MER - though Groudle Railway did show how this could be done when locomotive Polar Bear was brought to the Island. Family-friendly events such as the Noble’s Park Vintage Rallies brought joy to visitors and locals alike.
Many people board the tramcars and trains of the Isle of Man oblivious to the age and significance of the vehicles on which they are travelling. Signage inside the trams and trains these days major on things not to do such as smoking, drinking or poking your head out of the window. As helpful would a tasteful panel telling them about their carriage/tramcar and what there is to see and do along the line.
Paragraph 12.15 from the 1990 proposals highlighted the need of a Visitors' Centre and shop: “[These] are now an inseparable component of many successful holiday attractions. Even where the attraction involved is relatively mundane, a display, a.v.presentation and museum are seen as essential in order to 'spoon feed' visitors who expect a high standard of presentation and packaging. Where the technology involved is unique, outside the day-to-day experience of most people and worthy of further explanation, a Visitors' Centre is essential.”
Whilst assessing the costs of the Laxey-Ramsey section of the MER, thought should be given to actually promoting and utilising fully this section of line to increase income. In recent years this line seems to have had little in the way of promotion other than timetable listings. Ramsey is the Island’s second biggest settlement; the Mooragh Park with its boating lake, specialist shops such as Kermelly's Seafood, Felton’s Ironmongers, Camra Pub of the Year The Trafalgar, the Pier, Milntown, Fynoderee distillery and much more, warrant a visit. The potential of some kind of rail/bus inclusive link-up with the Jurby transport museums would add value to them as well as supporting bus services in the far north.
All this and the stopping places along the way - notably Dhoon and Ballaglass - and the ascent to the summit of the line at Ballaragh top 588ft above sea level - 70ft higher than the top of Blackpool Tower - need to be front and centre of promoting the line north of Laxey.
Add in the suitability of the northern section for the operation of Motorman Training trams, and with affordable fares the utility of the line as a public transport link in otherwise remote areas of Maughold. The latter was a successful strategy aimed at increasing passenger numbers under former Manager David Howard during the early 2000s.
History tells us it is quite possible to boost income attributable to the Island’s heritage railways by attracting more visitors and increasing ridership. It has been done before and can reliably be done – again.
History also tells us increasing fares and cutting routes and services will have the opposite effect.
appendix I Original 1990 MERS Year of Railways concept
appendix ii 2023 Year of The Railways programme
appendix iii Winter service/bus fares