Before I tell you all about the Wee Tram, a bit of explanation… Don’t worry, I’m not leaving The Dock, giving up on my faith, or any of the other stories I’ve heard doing the rounds… In fact, the Wee Tram is my best attempt to make sure that I’m still able to remain one of the Chaplains to the Titanic Quarter and play my part in The Dock for many years to come.
Y’see, part of the deal of The Dock from the beginning was that it wouldn’t provide a salary – for me or any of the other Dock Chaplains. We all support ourselves in other ways – mostly through ministry in local churches around Belfast.
In the life of The Dock so far, while I’ve enjoyed working in different churches, I’ve always felt torn between the ever-exploding opportunities of Dock-world and the needs of the other churches I’ve served. And so on Sunday I preached my last sermon in St Clements, the friendly little East Belfast parish where I’ve been part-time minister for the last three years.
So The Wee Tram, among many other things, will provide a place for me in the Titanic Quarter, as a Chaplain who is also a local businessman, while also putting beans-on-toast on the table at the end of the day.
So, what is it?!!
The Wee Tram is a hop-on-hop-off tour around the Titanic Quarter, on board carriages modified to echo the beautiful red-and-cream tram cars that ran down the Queens Road in Titanic’s day. (Yes, on top of being a Titanorak, I am now a Tram Nerd – Tramorak?!)
The pic on the right shows one of the 1912-era tram cars in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. In Titanic’s day, the tram lines that criss-crossed Belfast city like a spider’s web carried rich and poor alike between the quiet suburbs and the grinding industrial metropolis of the shipyards… A city connected by the tram.
We’re not trying to connect up the whole city (yet…?) but the Wee Tram is a response to a clear need in the Titanic Quarter – to connect the hordes of visitors at Titanic Belfast to all the heritage assets such as the Dry Dock, SS Nomadic and the Drawing Offices – as well as more recent visitor attractions such as Cable & Wake, T13, PRONI or the Odyssey and W5.
So the tram will operate on a constant loop, 7 days a week in the Summer (and weekends and school holidays in the Winter), connecting up the Titanic Quarter – as well as providing a quirky, fun and evocative way of taking a tour of the old shipyards.
There will be video commentary on board, which we’ve been shooting over the past few weeks – a kind of Titanorak’s guide to all the amazing things to do and see around the tram route – with the aim of encouraging passengers to ‘hop off’ at the next stop and see some of the amazing things the Titanic Quarter has to offer.
If you still can’t imagine exactly what it looks like, think of ‘Le Petit Train’ that you often see in towns and villages in France. (That was where the germ of the idea came from – what is ‘Le Petit Train’ when translated into Belfastese? The wee tram!) It’s also been compared to the Portrush Puffer, if that jogs your memory!
The carriages are under construction as we speak, by a fantastic Dungannon-based company called George McIvor Ltd – this is what they looked like in January and February respectively:
Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn the Dock blog into a Wee Tram advert – if you’d like to know more as time goes on, the tram has its own website at www.theweetram.com (not just yet – it’s still under construction), and its own Facebook page and Twitter account (@theweetram)
But since I’ve dropped lots of hints and allusions while the whole thing has been simmering away for the last few months, here are the answers to Frequently asked questions about Tram Travel:
When will it be up and running?
Where are the tram rails?
It runs on tyres. I’m not that much of a Tramorak.
Can I be a tram driver?
Only if you have a full Category D (coach driver) entitlement on your Driving Licence
How much will it cost?
£6 adults, £5 concessions, £20 families for a 2-day unlimited hop-on-hop-off ticket – with discounts for anyone with a ticket from one of the local attractions such as Titanic Belfast, W5 etc.
Where will it go?
On a continuous loop Titanic Belfast – slipways – HMS Caroline – Thompson Dock – Samson & Goliath – Drawing Offices – SS Nomadic – ARC apartments (including Dock Cafe (woo hoo!)) – W5 – Odyssey (& footbridge to City Centre) – PRONI – Titanic Belfast
Does this all mean you’re not a minister any more?
Absolutely not. I’m still a Dock Chaplain, still an ordained minister, still feel that my life’s work is to be part of building Life in the Titanic Quarter. The only difference is that my salary will now start coming from my own business in the TQ, rather than part-time work with nearby churches and funding from church HQ. The technical term is ‘Non-Stipendiary Minister’ (imagine how much fun it is telling that to people at parties).
How do you feel about starting your own business?
Petrified, stressed, excited, exhausted, energised, exhilarated beyond belief
What’s the best thing about doing this?
Going into business with my wife. Susan is one of the co-directors of the company (along with my friend Chris – so between the three of us there are two Chrises and two Bennetts, just to make life easy for everyone) and I’ve never really realised before what a truly remarkable businesswoman she is. How cool to find a whole new side to someone you’ve been married to for 17 years!
So hey! See you on the tram…