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Last Updated Sunday 9th December 2012

The Future of British Tramways
by Andrew Waddington

Having recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of British Trams Online with a trip down memory lane, looking back at some memorable moments from the past decade, it now seems appropriate to look forwards towards the next ten years. Andrew Waddington offers a taste of what is likely to be in store for the UK’s tramways over the next few years, and provides a selection of more ambitious predictions for the future.

The last few years have been excellent for the heritage tramway sector in Great Britain, with an unprecedented number of tram loans, special events and new acquisitions ensuring that there has rarely been a dull moment on our museum tramways. This looks set to continue over the next few years, with some momentous milestones likely to dominate the proceedings. As has been widely documented already on this website, 2013 sees the 40th anniversary of the Beamish Museum tramway, and a very ambitious event is being planned to celebrate this occasion. Although final details remain under negotiation and have not yet been released into the public domain, this event is expected to feature a number of visiting tramcars, and the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society have already confirmed that Lisbon 730 is due to attend. Judging by recent events at Beamish, this is likely to be THE ‘must-see’ tram event of 2013, and hopefully will see a huge number of tram enthusiasts flock to this superb attraction.

In 2014, attention is likely to return to Derbyshire with another important anniversary, as the 50th anniversary of the first electric tram service at Crich will be reached in July. It is fortunate that the tram which inaugurated the public service all those years ago, Blackpool & Fleetwood 2, remains serviceable and hopefully it will be able to play its part in any celebrations which might be arranged. It is tempting to suggest other trams which could feature, but hopefully the Tramway Museum Society will make a serious effort to put on a fantastic show worthy of such an important milestone in British tramway history. If some of the enthusiast events held at Crich during 2012 are anything to go by, we could be in for a treat!

Back to 2013, and the Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester should enjoy a bumper year as its long-awaited second depot building should be completed during the spring, which will allow the resident tram fleet to be expanded considerably. The entry into service of Blackpool 680 at the park, expected in March 2013 (subject to the depot being completed on schedule, of course!) is sure to be one of the first tram-related highlights of the year ahead. Hopefully, fellow Blackpool tram Balloon 702 will be able to follow later in the year, whilst Leeds 6 should also return from a lengthy stay at Beamish. With several interesting events, aimed at both tram fans and the general public, planned for 2013, the best times for Heaton Park appear to be ahead of us.

There should also be a number of newly restored tramcars entering service at various museum lines across the country in the next few years. Leeds horse car 107 is likely to be the first; the Leeds Transport Historical Society have recently announced plans for this tram to be launched at the Middleton Railway next summer, indicating how much faith exists in their ability to complete its reconstruction imminently. After that, the tram is expected to move to Crich in 2014 where it should see further service for special occasions, and perhaps it will revive the lost tradition of operating two horse-drawn trams simultaneously if Sheffield 15 can be used as well.

Other long-running restoration projects which should be completed over the next decade include Lowestoft 14 at the East Anglia Transport Museum; the tram which inspired the creation of the museum in which it resides, and a car which will doubtless be much admired, especially as some eighty years have passed since it last carried passengers! The Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society should soon have two reasons to celebrate, as work on returning both Warrington 2 and Liverpool ‘Baby Grand’ 245 to a serviceable condition is well advanced. With the recent upheaval at Birkenhead, it is to be hoped that this tramway will see a major upturn in its fortunes soon, and newly restored trams are always a good way of attracting extra visitors. Hopefully Manchester 173 will also come back to life before too long – the tram currently resides at the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport, but is eventually expected to run at Heaton Park where it will surely prove to be a hugely popular attraction. The long-held intention to carry out a major overhaul on Sheffield 264 at Beamish Museum should also become a reality.

For many years there have been hopes that a tram museum would be established on the Fylde coast, and finally this seems to be a realistic prospect. However, both the Lancastrian Transport Trust and the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust have submitted plans to achieve this goal, and whether both of them will ultimately succeed is highly doubtful. Hopefully at least one of the two organisations will turn this dream into a reality and create a really special visitor attraction which the area can be proud of.

Above I have offered a glimpse of some of the exciting things which, it can be predicted with some confidence, will happen at some point in the next ten years. However, that is all too easy – and so, I am also providing ten of my own, more optimistic predictions for the decade ahead! I have been nspired by a similar feature in the Fylde Tramway News, but naturally focussing on various British tramways rather than just Blackpool. So, in no particular order, here are my personal predictions for the next ten years of UK trams:

Bid to fund Blackpool North Station tramway extension submitted
The installation of pointwork leading from the promenade heading inland at North Pier during the recent Blackpool tramway upgrade was widely considered to be overly optimistic. However, with the incredible success of the modernised tramway during 2012, a wise man would not bet against an extension to North Station becoming a reality one day. Despite the huge increase in passenger loadings though, external funding is likely to be the deciding factor in this dream turning into a reality – but I expect Blackpool Borough Council will submit a serious proposal to extend the system in order to provide a valuable transport link with Blackpool’s main railway station, and buy more LRVs to cope with this before too long.

Blackpool Railcoach 279 to run at Heaton Park
The restoration of Blackpool English Electric Railcoach 279 by the Lancastrian Transport Trust has recently been restarted following a lull, opening up the inevitable question: what will happen to 279 when it’s finished? Unless something drastically changes quickly, the dire relationship between the LTT and Blackpool Transport will probably end all hope of the tram running in Blackpool for the foreseeable future, so what about Heaton Park? With Ex-Towing car 680 due to be in service there from 2013, 279’s presence would enable the tramway to operate EE Railcoaches of consecutive fleet numbers in ‘before and after’ guises, which is sure to make enthusiasts’ mouths water! Is the 80th anniversary of the English Electric fleet in 2014 a realistic target?

Manchester T68 preserved locally
The withdrawal of the original Manchester Metrolink fleet over the next couple of years could present Britain’s tramway preservation groups with a major headache. The T68s have considerable historic value, but storing such large vehicles will be a huge challenge for museums which are all suffering from a chronic shortage of space. However, the fact that Manchester boats some excellent heritage attractions will hopefully mean that the significance of these trams is not overlooked. Perhaps a joint preservation scheme from the Manchester Transport Museum Society, the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry and the Greater Manchester Museum of Transport is the way to proceed?

Leeds 602 returns to service
Following on from the brief but successful comeback of Glasgow 1282 for the ‘Glasgow 50’ event at Crich Tramway Village in September 2012, it is to be hoped that consideration might be given to using other withdrawn cars on a restricted basis in connection with future special events. One such candidate could be Leeds 602, which last ran in 2006 before it was retired for unspecified reasons. Perhaps the arrival of the oldest surviving Leeds tram at Crich, expected in 2014, could be the incentive for a comeback from the most modern preserved Leeds car as well? This would enable the National Tramway Museum to operate an amazing selection of Leeds trams all in one place, which would undoubtedly be a memorable occasion.

More trams to visit Beamish Museum
The tram interest at Beamish seemed to have stagnated some years ago, but recent innovations have reversed the trend and seen this museum become an essential destination for all British tram enthusiasts. Having seen the likes of Manchester horse car L53, Marton VAMBAC 11 and Blackpool Coronation car 304 strut their stuff in the period town at Beamish, it’s hard to think what could be better – but I have every faith in Paul Jarman and his team at this thriving museum to continue delivering some fantastic surprises over the coming years.

Major overhaul for Glasgow ‘Coronation’ 1282
Glasgow 1282’s recent starring role at a major event has led to a great deal of discussion about this car’s future role at Crich. Whilst it has undoubtedly been proven that there is still some life left in the old girl, 1282 really deserves an overhaul to bring it back to a pristine condition, which would enable it to return to the museum’s operational fleet on a full-time basis. I believe that its recent popularity boost should be seen as the ideal opportunity to carry out the required work to make this happen, and that an appeal for funds is likely to be well supported, providing realistic targets are set. Anyone up for starting the ball rolling?

Recently sold Blackpool trams broken up for scrap
A more pessimistic prediction now. With so many Blackpool trams having escaped Rigby Road recently, and many of them now stored out in the open, it seems inevitable that some of these preservation attempts will be doomed to fail. It would be unfair of me to speculate so publicly about which trams could be most vulnerable, but those acquired by credible preservation groups seem to have secure futures. Some trams may well have been purchased by well-meaning individuals on a whim, and it is these that may not survive for long at their new homes. Hopefully any vehicles that do fall by the wayside will be of some use to the preservation movement, as those who do aspire to run Blackpool trams (and indeed, trams from elsewhere) in the long term would benefit greatly from a source of spare parts.

Lottery funds for steam tram restoration project
Tucked away at the Tramway Museum Society’s Clay Cross store, are the remains of a Manchester, Bury, Rochdale & Oldham steam tram locomotive, numbered 84, and currently stored in kit form. As this is a much more typical steam tram engine than ‘John Bull’, which is already resident at Crich, it would make a fantastic restoration project although such a task would obviously present many challenges to its owners. With financial support though, this would add a whole new dimension to the National Tramway Museum and enable Crich to demonstrate steam tram operation. The obvious source of finance would be the Heritage Lottery Fund – surely such a unique project would be worthy of their support?

Gateshead 52 restored and running at Beamish
Earlier this year, members of the Tramway Museum Society were given the opportunity to help shape the future of Gateshead 52, another tram which has languished away from the public gaze at Clay Cross. It was provisionally agreed that the tram would be released from the national collection and sent to Beamish Museum, where it would be fully restored back to running order. Although there has been no further progress since the initial vote, the tram is still expected to head back to the North East to face a more prosperous future, where hopefully it will receive the full rebuild it so richly deserves in the near future.

Bombardier Flexity trams spread across the country
Despite a lot of cynicism, Blackpool’s new fleet of Bombardier Flexity2 trams have performed extremely well in their first year of service, quickly settling down after some minor teething problems. The trams have been so successful that the Flexity2 – or updated versions of the design – could become an attractive option to other UK operators. Sheffield and Nottingham are two such cities that are likely to expand their tram fleets in the coming years, and a tried and trusted design would seem a sensible option.

So, there are my predictions for the next ten years of British trams. I sincerely hope that British Trams Online will be around in some form to review my predictions a decade from now, and see how right or wrong I was! For the time being though, readers are invited to offer their own views, especially on our Facebook page. Am I living in cloud cuckoo land, or could I be on the right tracks?

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