Convert railway lines into cycle paths

The Electric Railway loses £1.5million per year, the Horse Tram loses £60.000 pa. and, though I don't know the figure, I would be amazed if the Steam Railway loses much less than £2million every year - amounts that require significant subsidies from the Government.

Despite the evidence of these loses, there are still some who believe that these relics are popular with tourists. Clearly tourists are not impressed - the trams and trains are neither quick, nor comfortable, nor unique. And they prejudice the residents of the island who also don't use them but who have to subsidise them.

Tourist preferences have moved on from being fascinated with machinery that once impressed Victorians. More recently, a market for active holidays has arisen - holidays that are healthy as well as interesting - such as seing a country by bicycle. In addition to the cycling, nowadays tourists would expect to stay in hotels and eat good local food in restaurants. A heady combination of exercise and indulgence ideal for families.

To date, nothing suitable has existed on the island. We have narrow crowded roads that are the very antithesis of a safe environment for cycling. Motor vehicles travelling at 50mph exist on the same piece of tarmac as bicycles travelling at a quarter of that speed and pedestrians who are slower still.

We do, however, have a network of existing and disused tram and railway lines that would be ideal for conversion into cycleways. The networks were built to follow contour lines and so are relatively flat and join most major towns on the island and places in between. Also they are often some distance from the fumes and jostling of the road system but link the same conurbations. Naturally in urban conurbations motorised traffic, cyclists and pedestrians would merge again but with a 30mph speed limit at least some of the inherent danger would be avoided.

Major towns would be about one hour's cycling distance apart - ideal to tour the country and perfect for island residents who want some exercise whilst commuting, shopping or visiting friends. Once again children would be able to enjoy a practical form of fresh air and exercise in safety.

The cost of grading and tarmacing the old railway tracks would be partially offset by the sale of the rails and the sale of the sleepers. Once constructed, sign posts installed, white lines painted to divide the two-way traffic and mark the kerbs and signs installed for safety, there would be little extra maintenance. Traffic would be light weight and lighting can be omitted provided the road markings are clear. For cycling, the track needs to be at least a normal road carriageway wide to allow for two-way traffic, if even more is available then a wide pavement could be added for walkers and runners.

At which point the island might be promoted and become known as a cyclists paradise. Travel companies would soon start arranging pre-booked tours with routes, activities, hotels and restaurants all booked in advance with a motor vehicle on hand to transport the participant's luggage to the next destination. Hotels might start offering bicycles for hire to their guests.

All of this and a saving of £4million per year.

Many thanks,

Mervyn Hills


PS. On 1st March 2016, I wrote to Mr Bischert with a similar suggestion but in more detail.

Why the contribution is important

How important is this idea? That depends on how serious we are about cutting out waste and £4million subsidies and whether we are interested in finding something other than ineffectual 19th century curiosities to attract tourists.

For the Steam Railway - Groundle Glen would still continue and Douglas station might be converted into a railway museum.

For the Electric Railway - the mountain tram would continue to carry residents and tourists to the summit of Snaefell.

And curtailing the Horse Tram would resolve the Promenade conundrum at a stroke.

In days gone by, the Manx tourist industry progressed by bold initiatives - this may be the time for another.

Mervyn Hills 

by mervynhills on April 12, 2017 at 12:57PM

Current Rating

Average rating: 3.6
Based on: 5 votes


  • Posted by dpfellows April 12, 2017 at 13:36

    Before doing this it would be a good step to see if those people who operate what you want to pull up could come up with ways of operating more effectively and without subsidies (see comments on removing subsidies).

    It's amazing how the threat of closure can focus minds and sharpen pencils!

    You didn't mention walkers but if you made the changes the tracks should be jointly available to walkers and cyclists - with the appropriate requirement on the latter to cycle in a manner that is safe for walkers.

    The other option is to make them into paid cycle ways if they are so attractive and popular. That would pay for their upkeep.
  • Posted by keshvane April 12, 2017 at 13:37

    There is a post elsewhere recommending this. I fully support the idea.
  • Posted by dpfellows April 12, 2017 at 13:42

    Apologies you did mention pedestrians - but why a seperate more costly arrangement? Can't cyclists interact with pedestrians responsibly here? Elsewhere they can from experience. Surely we don't want a MAMIL racetrack do we?
  • Posted by Hard_Pressed_Taxpayer April 12, 2017 at 13:46

    Haha. We need less lycra louts, not more on the Island!
  • Posted by madeleine April 12, 2017 at 13:54

    There is some worth in opening up parts of the Peel to Ramsey line for walkers and cyclists, notwithstanding farmers and landowners will need compensating. However, I'd be more inclined to sell off the buses before the railway and horse trams.
  • Posted by ntaverner April 12, 2017 at 14:21

    Have posted this comment in similar suggestions, but as the owner of a tourist accommodation business I have to say that almost all our guests use either the MER or Steam Railway, and love them. A much smaller proportion use or mention the horsetrams. (And an even smaller proportion attend the TT!)

    However we are seeing increasing numbers of walkers and cyclists, and facilities for these need to be drastically improved, as they are often unimpressed. The Millennium Way is a mess. We had some mountain bikers staying recently and they were very unimpressed with plantation tracks, compared with similar ones in the UK.
  • Posted by ManxVoter April 12, 2017 at 14:30

    Unused Douglas - Peel & Peel - Ramsey lines should become 'Greenways' to attract tourists
  • Posted by Manannan April 26, 2017 at 20:21

    @ntaverner re: MTBers
    UK bike parks have much larger catchment areas than we have. Some make millions per year.
    They cost a lot to develop in the first place, more than can be justified here.
    Many volunteers and Govt. staff have put a lot of hard work in getting MTB trails to where we are now from nothing not so long ago. Doesn't happen by magic.
  • Posted by ninjadispenser April 30, 2017 at 00:20

    No one seems to have mentioned contributions from actual cyclists in all this.They use the roads without tax or insurance and some,not all, can be a positive menace to drivers,veering across the roadway with no signal or thought and undertaking cars at junctions. Someone else proposed a cycle test after which they wear a high viz jacket with identification on it so that bad riding can be reported just like car /motorcycle drivers are held responsible AND cyclists should have insurance and pay road tax. I think the old railways should be used for cycling and walking as well as horses and with the advent of mountain bikes why do they need Tarmac ?
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