The Association's annual general meeting took place on the evening of Saturday 29th July at the Columba Catholic Club on Circular Road in Douglas as part of the Summer Transport Festival and was very well attended. The following is a transcript of the report by chairman William Cubbon:-
This year sees two important events taking place at the same time. The most important is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the original line to Peel in 1873. Speaking near the end of the events I must say we have been treated to a full catalogue of excellent events on both the railway and the M.E.R. The Year Of The Railways event guide has been bursting with a whole range of what have turned out to be successful well supported events. The longer event period has also been a success and I am sure the higher spend will be welcomed by the whole tourist trade. Its popularity has in some cases shown that the railways need more capital expenditure not less, as we really need to increase the number of carriages and trams to carry all those wanting to travel.
Early in the planning of the 150th celebrations, we made a comprehensive set of proposals which included a cavalcade of as much rolling stock as possible based around Castletown Station. This to a certain extent was seen this year in the display of locomotives and rolling stock not in general service. It was, I am sure you will agree, a great success. The success of this year should not be a one-off event and should include the best elements next year. The display of locomotives and rolling stock was very well received in Port Erin and should be repeated next year. The simple inclusion of the necessary stock movements in the event timetable was also a success and made a virtue out of necessity in returning stock to Douglas.
Turning now to the ongoing review, the Government is to be congratulated for the major investment made over the years. However, the decision by the Chief Minister to conduct a major review in the very year of a key celebration is to say the least potentially damaging. Management have been diverted away from important work and are no doubt having to provide lots of facts and data for the review team. The railways and public transport in general are a major part of retaining a tourist and leisure sector on the Island and those who press for closures to save money miss the point that the Island has depended on tourism since the very start of the railway network in 1873 and still needs that tourist pound to help earn a living for the whole Island in 2023 and beyond.
The railways also have the great advantage of linking major tourist attractions and spreading out the tourist spend throughout the whole economy. The excellent range of rover tickets popular with visitors and local alike appear to be only marketed on the Island, not as for example in Switzerland, where promotion appears up front on all websites before you get there. The railways in conjunction with the buses enable visitors to leave the car at home, have a good value holiday with excellent public transport. It should be one of our key selling points but seems to be missed by other agencies. Most promotion of the Go Card options appears to be targeted at island residents with little or no attempt to promote this off-island. That needs to change.
At a recent meeting when we met with SYSTRA the consultants conducting the review, all those invited pressed home the total failure to capitalize on the Island’s strengths and that the railways were a principal factor in still having a tourist sector left. Many of you may remember back to the days when we had a government-financed Tourist Board, you might even have written to Mr. Len Bond for a brochure. The team at the time only had a small backroom staff and a few salesmen, but did a very good job with limited finance, they saw the value of the railway back then and pushed for Lord Ailsa’s Isle of Mann Victorian Steam Railway to be give a helping hand with a very small subsidy from Government in the region of £13,000.
The private enterprise of Lord Ailsa, the Supporters’ Association and the group of enthusiasts who either worked for free or worked for wages which could be said to be on the low side, was failed by the politicians of the day who would not grant a relatively small increase. As you know Lord Ailsa withdrew, which ultimately paved the way for the old Railway Company who rather reluctantly, and at short notice, operated the railway again, but even so it came very close to total closure at that time. Finally, after many years of persistent pressure, Supporters’ Association and others succeeded in getting the government to take over the railway, this should have been the start of a team effort on behalf of everybody.
However, the government board of the day disagreed and went their own way. This has cost the government dearly; without a core of railway interested, trained staff, it has gradually rather lost its way. The current survey being conducted by SYSTRA has a term of reference which can be viewed on the government website and I urge and encourage you all to seek it out as it is similar to the previous terms from the last review five years ago but asks for far greater detail and a review of progress. The review also includes a survey which appears to be only available online, I am sure many of you have participated.
However, the survey could be rather a distraction and, in my opinion, you need to also write or email to the Chief Minister Alfred Cannan. M.H.K. for Ayre & Michael, the Manx- equivalent of the Prime Minister in the U.K., and express your concerns directly. His e-mail address and other contact details are published on government website and in any telephone, directory. Make your views known. ’Phone 685518 and leave a message on his answerphone or e-mail him at email@example.com. Residents should also e-mail their M.H.K.. I have had it said to me that one or two contacts is just random but if they get five or six each, they pay far more attention.
The railways need a strong nucleus of paid staff and management to provide the basic framework. As the original body formed here on the Island to save the railway we stand ready to assist where we can and as a Manx registered company and charity would help if asked. Our Memorandum & Articles of Association and Company regulations were originally created so that we could follow the preserved railways in the U.K. but sadly that day never came. Recent legislation had ensured that charitable organisations can no longer lobby politically for their cause, one reason that the M.E.R. Society had recently dropped its charitable status.
Our most recent project, the cosmetic restoration of No.5 Mona has been a big project for a small team, which included the purchase and reuniting of one of the original nameplates with the locomotive. This finally saw a fitting benefit to the railway during the current events. More can be done with No.9 Douglas being the next in line for cosmetic restoration. This involves the complete reassembly of the major components hopefully ready for next year’s events, we need your support if this is to happen. Work is already well in hand with a small but dedicated group. Some members have already expressed the view that we are “wasting our time” and that we should rebuild to working order.
The removal of No.16 Mannin from the museum has reduced the number of larger exhibits and with the rail connection it is intended to rotate larger items on display providing added interest which will see No.5 and No.9 take on a useful role on show. In addition, we would also like to replace the pipework and several components taken from No.6 Peveril over the years, so giving a more complete locomotive. It is intended that she will have the snow plough refitted to create a winter locomotive appearance. Ongoing projects we have been asked to do include a replacement signal for Port St. Mary and repainting slotted-post signal at Castletown. We also plan to erect a Peel Road running-in board at the station.
Last year we purchased at auction a very old broad-gauge crane which had been in use near Union Mills. The design is very similar to early cranes used by the railway. The counterweight has been repaired and work is currently centered on the wooden jib, it is hoped it can be displayed at a suitable location in due time. Members will remember that last year we had quite a long conversation about the railcars and afterwards we had a meeting with the lines engineer Mr. Andy Cowie during which he suggested that we held off any major suggestions for progress on the matter for the time being.
To succeed in these challenging times, we need more volunteers, more money and more people willing to volunteer to fill key posts. If you can help, please get in touch. Finally, can I thank all the current board and officers for their help and support over the last year.