(This is an updated version of a previous blog post that had some errors. Read it all again sure, it’ll be fun! Your reward if you do is some pics of the Wee Tram in a very very nearly completed state…)
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 the Honesty Box Cafe wouldn’t provide my salary – or that of any of the other Dock Chaplains. We all support ourselves in other ways – mostly through ministry in local churches around Belfast. Since the early days of the Dock, my main source of support has been the Church of Ireland Diocese of Down & Dromore, alongside other local churches where I’ve served as a temporary or part-time minister (and for one memorable summer, a Titanic Walking Tour guide).
The Diocese took the unutterably, wonderfully bonkers step back in 2009 of providing seed-funding for a Chaplain (me – look at my little young smiley face! Bless) to start a blue-sky Something (The Dock, as it turned out) in the new Titanic Quarter – which was at that stage still a load of building sites and bright ideas. The adventure that has evolved from that risk has been the most breathtaking, faith-inspiring, constantly-surprising roller-coaster ride of my life (so far…). But what starts with seed funding has to find its own feet sooner or later – and that’s where the Wee Tram comes in.
On 15th March 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. From now onwards, The Wee Tram will start to provide some of the beans-on-toast on my table at the end of the day. The Diocese is still providing some support in the near future – but it’s time to start preparing for The Dock (and my place within it) to stand on its own two feet.
So that’s the background to the Wee Tram. 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:
And at the end of March, complete with beautiful oak-slatted seats and roll-down rain covers (ha! as if they’ll ever be needed), they look like this:
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.
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…