2011 has certainly been an action-packed year for Britain’s tramways for various reasons – some of them good, some of them best forgotten! With more tram loans, Blackpool trams entering preservation, new arrivals at Heaton Park & East Anglia, and of course the unveiling of Blackpool’s new trams, 2011 has been anything but dull… but the signs are all suggesting that 2012 could be even more eventful! In this special feature, Andrew Waddington takes a look at some of the likely highlights for the year ahead and starts polishing the crystal ball to try and predict what the highlights of the next 12 months could be!
During 2011, the Blackpool tramway has been the main focus of this website as the system has gone through one of the most difficult periods of its 126 year existence. 2012 will be the year when, finally, the results of the previous upheaval can be seen. Whilst many enthusiasts have been dreading the launch of the ‘new’ Blackpool tramway, at least we should be able to enjoy a full-length ride from Starr Gate to Fleetwood Ferry for the first time since September 2009. I will admit that I’m dubious as to whether this will happen at Easter, when the entire upgrade project is due to be completed, but certainly this will be something to look forward to at some point next year. Opinions on the new Flexity2 trams is also divided amongst enthusiasts, but I for one am really looking to sampling the next generation of Blackpool trams.
It’s impossible to predict what role the retained heritage cars at Blackpool will play in the operation of the tramway in 2012 and the years to come, but I remain optimistic that the lucky few that are being kept will still have an important job to fulfil. Whilst I fully appreciate that the opportunities to see the likes of Standard 147 and Boat 600 in passenger service will probably be rather limited, I’m hopeful that these popular trams will be utilised at key times – and a run from Pleasure Beach to Bispham through the illuminations on a vintage tram is something that no museum can really compete with! Likewise, the 2012 season should see the return of some old friends missing in action last year, hopefully including Bolton 66, Boat 602 and Coronation 660. Frankly, if these trams run half a dozen times then that will be a 100% improvement on 2011 and I plan to make the most of it!
For many fans of Blackpool’s trams however, all eyes will be fixed on the preservation groups who have acquired some of the redundant heritage trams. This year we should finally see the opening of a tram museum on the Fylde coast, thanks to the Friends of Fleetwood Trams, and with their collection set to be displayed in the former tram depot at Copse Road, this has the makings of a great attraction if it is well supported. The Lancastrian Transport Trust are also making good progress to properly display their trams and buses after a long and difficult battle, but with many hurdles still to be overcome the Trust will have to face further challenges in the months ahead. Hopefully they will come through 2012 stronger and be able to look ahead in a positive way.
For those of us who prefer our trams to be running, there should be plenty of opportunities to ride on an ‘old’ Blackpool tram without even visiting the seaside. The launch of Brush Railcoach 623 at Heaton Park in January promises to be an unusually early highlight of the year, and all being well the building of a new depot at the tramway will allow Ex-Towing Railcoach 280 and Balloon 702 to join the operational fleet there later in the year. Crich should also have a fantastic selection of Blackpool trams to enjoy, with Brush Railcoach 630 and Jubilee car 762 already on site and Open ‘Boat’ 236 set to join them in the summer. Despite some reservations, it appears that all of these trams will actually be running this year and perhaps this is a sign that the Tramway Museum Society are trying to impress enthusiasts this year. If so, they’ve timed it perfectly and I’m sure that many people will travel to Derbyshire to catch up with these old friends, especially in light of the Blackpool upgrade.
Of course, there is a lot to look forward to this year other than Blackpool trams – and if you find Blackpool overrated then thanks for sticking with this article, your patience will be rewarded as I’m actually going to look at some other systems now! As I briefly mentioned above, there are high hopes that the Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester will have a new depot up at some point in 2012, and if this happens then it will be massive step forward for this fast-rising heritage tramway. As well as new arrivals, this should finally allow Leeds 6 to return home from its extended stay at Beamish Museum, along with Blackpool works car 752. A larger running fleet will not only mean more variety for enthusiasts and a more suitable selection of trams for operation in bad weather, but will also give more chance for cars to receive some workshop attention as there will be plenty of other vehicles to run the service.
Another destination that has become a ‘must-see’ for enthusiasts over the last few years, is of course the Beamish Museum and Transport Curator Paul Jarman has already hinted that he still has lots of exciting ideas for future transport events, including more tram loans. The memorable visit of Blackpool VAMBAC 11 last September will be hard to top, but that doesn’t mean that the Museum isn’t going to have a damn good try! Although not confirmed yet, one likely visitor is Birkenhead 20 and this will of course give the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society another chance to showcase its wonderful collection of vintage trams. The home fleet won’t be forgotten either – Beamish 196 is set to emerge in a totally different livery from the one it previously carried, though again details are not confirmed yet, and hopes are high that Gateshead 10 could reappear in its former guise of Grimsby & Immingham 26 for a future event, although this will probably depend on sponsorship. Of course Beamish is a great place to visit even without these very welcome extra attractions, and if you want a taste of the past and a good long tram ride, this is definitely the place to be!
The Birkenhead heritage tramway has had a rough time in 2011 and at the time of writing, it’s difficult to tell when things will improve. I for one am hoping that the future of the line will be secured soon, and hopefully with Merseytravel taking control of its operation. Not only would this allow the existing tram fleet to return to service, but would also mean that Blackpool 626 would be able to stretch its legs on the tramway, and looking further ahead, extensions and more trams could be on the cards.
Another museum tramway looking upwards for the year ahead is the short line at Carlton Colville. A few big events are planned at the East Anglia Transport Museum, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and although these are not tram events as such the tram fleet there are sure to be an important part of these events. Hopefully the recent Santa Tram events will also set a precedent for a museum that has previously had a relatively short season, and with five trams currently active and the restoration of Lowestoft 14 progressing well, this attraction seems to have a very bright future ahead of it. With successful trolleybus and motor bus events already an established part of the museum’s calendar, maybe someday we will see a special day for tram enthusiasts added to the schedule?
Last but by no means last, 2012 has massive potential to be a very exciting year at Crich Tramway Village. As well as the new additions from Blackpool mentioned earlier, the summer should see the long-awaited launch of LUT 159 which is sure to be one of the year’s big stars! With Blackpool 167 and Leeds 345 expected to return to service, it should be a good year for the operating fleet, and another highlight will be the return of Berlin 3006 in its original, mainly cream livery.
There are several significant tram-related anniversaries in 2012, including the 60th anniversary of the closure of London’s first generation tramway which will be marked by special events at both East Anglia and Crich. Even more significant is the 50th anniversary of Glasgow’s last tram in September, and a lavish commemoration of this historic occasion is being planned at Crich, which will hopefully allow the actual ‘last tram’ itself, Glasgow 1282, to operate again after a lengthy absence. It is also expected that Paisley 68 will be repainted in its latter-day Glasgow orange & blue livery, which should be an unmissable sight. Hopefully further photo opportunities will also be arranged to make this a truly spectacular event! Finally, returning to Blackpool the popular Brush Railcoaches celebrate their 75th year of service. Unfortunately it’s doubtful that any of the class will run in Blackpool, but it is highly appropriate that the year will see the first of the trams run elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be fantastic though, if preserved Brush car 632 could be resurrected for some final trips on its native system to mark this milestone? Even a few appearances from refurbished car 631 would be nice, and as both trams are already fitted with transponders it is certainly not impossible.
All of the above is of course only a guide to what’s in store during 2012. If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. For example, who could have possibly predicted that Cardiff water car 131 would operate in Blackpool whilst the tramway was closed for winter? I’m sure that there will be more surprises to keep us all interested during the year ahead, and long may it continue!