Bad news for two preserved Blackpool trams

Two popular preserved Blackpool tramcars have started 2015 on a negative note, after many years of reliable service. Beamish Museum’s Sunderland 101 – best known by many of us as Blackpool Balloon 703 – has recently been withdrawn from use, whilst at Crich Tramway Village, the chances of a quick return to service for Blackpool & Fleetwood ‘Rack’ 2 appear to have diminished.

Following over three years of intensive use on the Beamish Museum tramway, Balloon car 101/703 is now out of the operational fleet. During recent routine checks, a problem with one of its tyres was found which was considered sufficiently severe to enforce its immediate withdrawal from traffic. The tyre ring on one wheelset has fractured, something which as far as the staff at Beamish know has not been encountered before. Whilst the option exists to lift the tram and carry out the necessary work to get it back into service, this would require a considerable amount of effort which has not been incorporated in the current plan for the museum’s transport collection, and bearing in mind that the car is known to be in a generally poor condition, other issues may well lead to a return to service being short-lived anyway. It could be that 101 has operated for the last time in its current condition, as the tram is expected to receive a major overhaul at some point in the future which will probably see it rebuilt to more closely resemble a genuine Sunderland tram, including the restoration of its original twin destination indicators. However, at present this work is not a high priority with the restoration of Gateshead 52 amongst the other big projects which are ahead of it in the lengthy queue for workshop time and space! It has also been confirmed that the loan of Blackpool 280 will not be extended, and this tram is therefore expected to move to Heaton Park this year, which could leave Beamish seriously short of enclosed trams for the summer season ahead. Help is on the horizon though, as Sheffield 264‘s rebuild is progressing well, and it is also hoped to undertake some remedial work on Grimsby & Immingham 26 during 2015 to allow this tram to see some further use in the British Rail green livery, before a body overhaul and repaint as Gateshead 10 can be carried out, hopefully next year.

More bad news comes from Crich Tramway Village in regard of Blackpool & Fleetwood 2, which was withdrawn late last year after a brief revival for the ‘Electric 50’ celebrations. At the time it was stated that the tram had worn tyres and also requires some other workshop attention, but no indication was given as to when the required work would be undertaken. It has now been stated that the car will be moved to the Exhibition Hall for the 2015 season and that new interpretive panels are being produced to match those placed alongside the other trams which are long-term residents in the building. This does not bode particularly well for car 2 as the efforts being made to incorporate it within the exhibition would certainly imply that it will be in for a long stay there. If this is the case, then it will be very disappointing; not only is ‘Rack’ 2  one of the most popular trams in the fleet, but it was also treated to an extensive rebuild in 1998 and so presumably any attention it now needs should be fairly minor. Perhaps, if the museum cannot or does not wish to commit the resources needed to restore it to the running fleet for the foreseeable future, consideration could be given to offering it to the Blackpool Heritage Trust on a long-term loan arrangement, where it could potentially be used to promote the Crich Tramway Village to a larger audience? Hopefully 2‘s fortunes will improve sooner rather than later, but right now,  it looks increasingly likely that it will not be running again for quite some time.

A flashback to 2010, and happier times for 'Rack' 2 which enjoyed a brief spell of operation at Blackpool. Here the tram is seen on the Pleasure Beach outer loop whilst partaking in an enthusiast tour. (Photo by Andrew Waddington)


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11 Responses to Bad news for two preserved Blackpool trams

  1. Christopher Callan says:

    Have to treat the two developments in isolation.

    Beamish have been managing Blackpool 703 (In its 101 Guise) for some considerable time. Everyone can be confident that the work to it will be carried out to a very high standard and to a timetable. To their teams credit a full and frank appraisal of the tram with a honest and transparent précis in terms of where it sits in their restoration queue was posted on their blog. Am grateful (and so are all their happy visitors) that they ensured a operational Balloon graced their tramway. It will return and one day will see the mouth watering prospect of 284 (621) next to Balloon 703.

    Regrettably Rack 2 is far less certain. Ill leave it at that… Hopefully a positive solution can be find in the medium term…

  2. Steven Smith says:

    Just a thought, with the FHLT looking to dispose of Balloon 726, could this fill the gap at Beamish to compensate for Balloon 703? Also with merseytravel looking to dispose of its trams, could Brush 637 or 625 fill the gap with departure of 680 back to Heaton Park?

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      None of those trams are anything like in operational condition though – and so getting them to Beamish wouldn’t help as workshop capacity seems to be the issue here. Likewise, I believe that 680 is being moved on to clear some space in the depots (presumably for Sheffield 264 when it vacates the workshops), so a replacement tram would not be wanted.

  3. Frank Gradwell says:

    There seems to be a very “can’t do” attitude in this movement at times.

    680 is an operational car being returned to its owners so depot space will be freed up – but acquiring the likes of 625, 637, 726 673/83 or 726 as non operational items for future restorations, or a temporary source of spares to keep a high capacity people mover operational while other cars are completed could be a very strategic long term move.

    Paul Jarman has taken on some real basket cases recently and his progress with them and the many faceted activities under his hand has been remarkable. I would say never say never!

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Oh I would love that to happen, but just wanted to point out that getting any of the trams suggested will not help boost the operating fleet in the short term. I agree with you entirely that nothing can be written off completely – I’m sure even the worst Blackpool cars are a lot easier to restore than Gateshead 52 will be!

    • Paul D says:

      The point is, Beamish have no need to take on another non-runner – they already have Gateshead 51 & 52, Blackpool 621 and now 703 in store for future projects. It is very hard to find a reason to justify something that only duplicates one of the later pair except for being in worse condition and requiring greater expenditure! If anything is to fill 680s depot space (and we don’t know if there is something planned), it needs to be capable of running within a few weeks (ideally days) of arrival – that was the point of having 680 which was rather modern for their usual period in preference to a basket-case Brush car that probably still wouldn’t be in service yet!

  4. Daniel says:

    Why is it that when Crich withdraw a car they should consider loaning it out but when anywhere else does the same thing it’s fine for them to store it?

    I wouldn’t worry about it being in the exhibition hall too much. It’s a popular car and Crich’s space constraints mean maneuvers like this are not uncommon (Liverpool 869?)

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Because Rack 2 was fully rebuilt in 1998 with a complete new underframe, and so it is reasonable to assume that it is still in very good condition having not been used excessively since then. By contrast, 101/703 has never had a full rebuild, and was considered life-expired by Blackpool Transport back in 2009… so Beamish have in fact done well to get a few more years of regular service out of it!

      As for going into the Exhibition Hall, the point being made is that proper interpretive display panels are being produced for Rack 2 – something which temporary residents such as Liverpool 869 never had. This effort seems to indicate that it will be staying in there rather longer. As an aside Leeds 107 still doesn’t have such panels to my knowledge, anyone would think they didn’t care about it!

      • Daniel says:

        I thought that that was one of the new things for this year. They were doing that in depots too? I might have got things mixed up but I swear I read that somewhere.

    • Phill says:

      The flip side of that is which tramway has spare capacity to do the required work? I’ve no doubt if another tramway asked then something could be made, but I see no reason why Crich must actively try and get rid of a tram.
      Besides which, a display board isn’t a huge outlay. Personally I think it’s good that these are becoming more widespread.

    • Paul D says:

      Sometimes, some commentators are hard on Crich, not for what is done, but how it is (or more often isn’t) communicated. Beamish have clearly and openly communicated that 101 has suffered a specific mechanical failure leading to withdrawal, that there is a clear plan for it’s future overhaul and it’s position in the queue. Regarding Rack 2 there is much less information available so people are making guesses (possibly worst case scenarios) because it hasn’t been said how long Rack 2 is intended to be in the exhibition hall, or what it’s position in the queue is, or even if there are other issues in addition to the acknowledged (though I don’t think ever officially confirmed) worn tyres that may prolong its absence.
      A little more openness and honesty will generate a lot more acceptance of what the actual situation is and stop the need for guesswork which may be far off beam…

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