Tram crewing crisis at Crich

Despite some very positive developments at Crich Tramway Village during 2012, an ongoing shortage of volunteer tram crews has been a serious cause for concern this summer. There have been claims for the last few years that volunteer numbers have been in decline, which have been rubbished by some quarters, but recent evidence clearly shows that the number of available tram crews has fallen quite significantly.

Efforts have been made to operate three trams each day as much as possible during the school summer holidays, but even this has not always been possible. Recently a two-car service was provided on an August Saturday, which led to the unwelcome sight of large queues of visitors waiting for a tram at Town End. On a few occasions the Access Tram, Berlin 223-006 4 has been brought into service with just one crew member, as the only serviceable tram at Crich able to run without a conductor, and this has provided a small but welcome capacity boost. Indeed, it is only thanks to the dedication of some members of platform staff who go the extra mile to ensure that a good level of service is provided for the enjoyment of visitors that things have not been even worse.

The lack of willing volunteers to crew trams was all too apparent on August Bank Holiday Sunday, 26th August. The annual Vintage Transport Gathering may not be such a big draw as it once was, but it remains a highlight in the annual events calendar. Your writer recalls his first visit to this event back in 1991 when a whopping 14 trams were in passenger service, and although this figure has never since been matched on an August Bank Holiday weekend, visitors could confidently expect about ten trams to be in service around a decade ago. This year the Sunday saw a dismal five-car service in operation, and to add further insult to injury, one of the chosen trams was Blackpool 630 which offers just 48 seats. Some years ago I recall a Duty Inspector expressing displeasure that a crew had brought out a single-deck car with ten trams running, so for 630 to be chosen when so few trams were out on such a busy day was most disapointing.

It is sad to see Crich struggling for crews, particularly at a time when other departments, such as catering and the workshop, seem to be excelling themselves. Indeed, other organisations are showing the exact opposite trend – for example, the Heaton Park Tramway has welcomed a large number of trainee guards this year and at times the tramway has been over-staffed! Hopefully the cause of this decline in volunteer numbers in the Traffic Department at Crich can be investigated and resolved, as this could become a serious obstacle to the Museum’s drive to increase visitor numbers and stage more impressive special events.

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18 Responses to Tram crewing crisis at Crich

  1. Geoffrey Ryder says:

    I am not surprised that the TMS are short of volunteers since the EGM, which I attended. It was a very sour meeting at times with some harsh comments from the floor to the Board. It was sad that the omnipotent TMS Board appeared not to see that there is a serious problem. Other people have commented about the lack of younger volunteers to carry the museum’s success on into the 21st century. I think that some of the volunteers of the past have become disillusioned with the way in which the museum is run. It is a great pity that at least two of the EGM resolutions did not receive sufficient votes to be adopted. If management policies do not change quickly, the membership and dedicated band of volunteers will no doubt continue to decline.

  2. David Holt says:

    If the National Tramway Museum does go down the plug-hole (I’ll see you at the auction; eg Lot 379 – one state-of-the-art light rail crossover, hardly used, the starting price is its scrap value), ordinary members like me will have to share part of the blame for persistently failing to be vociferous/convincing/eloquent enough to reverse the decline. Calling it The Business hasn’t helped set the right tone for survival. Correctly calling it The Society would sustainably encourage volunteers. And calling it Crich Tramway Village is small-minded and uninspiring. How can there be a “Town End” in a village? Since when would there be a huge assembly rooms, a town pub, a bandstand, an enormous depot complex and, one day, a Grand Union, in a village? Call it Tram Town or Tram City – that would fire everyone’s imaginations with thoughts of great things to come.
    I was deterred from crewing many years ago, by displeasure unjustifiably and publicly directed at me by “officialdom”.
    Got to go now – I’m off to Heaton Park to do some volunteering.

  3. John Hewitt says:

    Every time I’ve been to Crich in the past few years I’ve been disappointed to see the same combinations of trams out in service. These are usually:
    Southampton 45
    Glasgow 22
    Blackpool 40
    Sheffield 74
    Leeds 180
    Chesterfield 7
    and if there’s any disabled passengers – Berlin 3006.
    Glancing at my “haulages” book, I have ridden on Southampton 45 more times than any other tram in existence (apart from the vehicles on the tramway where I work as a volunteer restorer and conductor).
    There are tramcars there which I have never seen turn a wheel in anger at all!!
    I feel it to be a waste of time and effort to travel over 200 miles there and back from the North West only to see again the same combination of trams at work.
    If you look at the excellent Ffestiniog/Welsh Highland Railway site, there is a weekly locomotive rosta published. So, if you go on a visit, you know exactly which locomotive is going to be hauling any particular train. Why can’t something similar be done at Crich with the trams? And get a bit of variety in the rostered vehicles!
    The last two occasions I’ve visited the museum, I’ve just looked over the fence by the car park and seen the usual suspects in operation and then gone off somewhere else without entering the museum – usually to the Midland Railway Centre and Peak Rail – where at least you tend to get some variety in the action.
    A friend of mine visited Crich a week or two ago and, when he told me he’d been, I told him exactly which trams he would have ridden on. I was 100% correct.
    In addition to this, I don’t find the people who work there to be “enthusiastic” about what they’re doing or in their interaction with visitors. This certainly put me off when I did a volunteer’s weekend a few years ago. I felt like an interloper; someone who was being merely tolerated, rather than a prospective volunteer. So, it doesn’t surprise me in the least when I read that Crich is struggling to crew trams.
    I have been a conductor now for a number of years on another tramway and have enjoyed it immensely. I have undergone excellent training for the work I do and treat my time on the platform in a professional manner. Yet, I find time to interact with visitors and exude enthusiasm and enjoyment. Nothing would please me more than to come to Crich and volunteer to crew a tram. I’d also like to train and qualify as a driver. But I don’t think that Crich would welcome that. So, I’m afraid, I shall stick to what I’m doing and regrettably, won’t be coming down to Crich in a hurry; that is of course, unless there’s a huge change in the way the place is run.

  4. Geoff Lomas says:

    It is a pity that volunteers are not coming forward to perform operations duties, especially as this is now arguably the last ‘department’ at Crich, apart from the Board, where the manning is 100% by volunteers, and therefore ‘enthusiasts’; anybody you see in uniform at Crich will be a volunteer member. I well remember the times when you had to get in a queue to do a platform duty. No booking duties in those early days – you just arrived on site early, and spoke very nicely to the Duty Inspector! I wonder if one of the problems is that the Museum has become over proffesionalised. By that, I don’t mean there are too many paid staff but that the strictures and disciplines being imposed are making volunteering being a little bit too much like working in one’s ordinary day job: it is all becoming a little bit too ‘coroporate’ and doesn’t have the same relaxed atmosphere that made one feel one was enjoying a hobby with like-minded people, rather that going to work. That said, it must be recognised that the Museum is now much more closely monitored by everyone from the Health & Safety Executive to the Railway Inspectorate and must be seen to be acting safely and professionally. But, in my view, this could be done with a much lighter touch without the ‘gold plating’ that is so evident at Crich. For instance, such things as drivers having to present their car driving licence every season for inspection and photo-copying by the Operations Department. And you only have to read some of the Operations Department advertisements in the TMS journal for volunteer staff, which are full of jargon and ‘management speak’ with expressions like ‘you are a customer focused individual’ and generally ends with something like ‘The National Tramway Museum is an equal oportunities employer’. Although safety and care for visitors and staff can never be compromised, those in authority at Crich need to approach things with a much lighter touch and realise that you can’t expect people to come to the Museum to work when it feels just like….well, work!

    • Ken walker says:

      Some good points there. If the management at Crich are behaving like “normal” business managers – and Geoffrey Ryder’s comments suggest they are – they need to realise they have a big problem. There are many employees who have been made to detest their jobs by bad management, and whose sole motivation in staying in their jobs is to earn money to pay the bills. The ‘employees’ at Crich, being volunteers, do not have that motivation, and will in fact SAVE money by not going to the museum. After all that has been achieved at Crich it seems a shame that the management appears to be throwing it all away by their attitude to people who have been giving up their free time.

  5. I would like to add an alternative view on some issues, if you don’t mind. I am writing from my perspective of a volunteer at another tramway museum (Wehmingen in Germany to be precise) and a “volunteer on leave” at Crich.

    In reply to David Holt I would like to point out that from personal experience I have to say that the relationship between senior volunteers in the Traffic Department, i.e. instructors and inspectors, and “ordinary” volunteers has improved dramatically. People really try hard to make things possible.

    The tram crew situation at Crich is currently in a vicious circle. The age structure has lead to a decline in the number of volunteers as many of the people who created the museum are slowly reaching the age limit for tram crews and some had to bow out early because of their own health, the health of relatives or even death. At the same time the workload has increased, I believe due to the Woodland Walk meaning more passengers alighting and boarding at Wakebridge, the Access Tram and visitors getting less accustomed to public transport in general. Fewer crews also mean a lack of relief crews and fewer breaks. An extended running time due to more time needed for boarding and alighting means less of a breather at Town End terminus.

    Because of the additional workload it feels more like work to me. I feel exactly like Geoff Lomas here. Others might feel the same leading to less enthusiasm and social activity. You are just too tired! So in the end people might bow out because of the workload (it certainly was one of the reasons for me) leading to more work for those remaining. I leave any ideas to solve the problem to all other reader. I do not intend to stick my head out too far at the moment.

    On the positive side I have to say that there are many great people at Crich who I really like to meet and who I miss in the current situation. The first impression might be misleading. Some things have to be tolerated but I think Crich really is not compareable to any other tramway museum in the world, it is just that much bigger it is operation!

  6. As far as the tram output is concerned, the trams are seleted each morning based on availability, suitability for the weather and visitor numbers expected, driver ability and preference of the crews. With one exception the cars mentioned by John Hewitt are all-weather cars popular with crews and easy on maintenance, so it is no wonder that they are out frequently. Recently Leeds 399 and Blackpool 630 joined the list of popular cars.

    The museum has started publishing the cars each morning on Twitter: http://twitter.com/crichtramway

    • David Taylor says:

      In reply to Christoph,’s note to twitter I have just checked. On 1st Sept at 13.06. Are there no trams running as the last entry was 31st August which means it is a record of what ran and not what is running. If I was to use this facility I would need to know well in advance as it takes me 3 hours traveling to get from Runcorn and people from further afield will take longer. Perhaps someone in authority(?) could decide what is available the night before. Just a thought but it may help even if 4 were on offer and only two crew’s then they could swop over every two hours. It seems to work at other museums.

      • Jack Gordon says:

        • Trams were running on 1st September. As the Twitter feed is operated by the Museum’s Marketing department it is not likely to offer this facility at the weekend at this time, unfortunately. There are numerous other ‘gen’ sources on the Internet that often include the Crich trams at the weekend. No other Museum yet offers this facility through official channels, so please don’t criticise (though I realise that, because you’re all moaning enthusiasts, no-one will pay the faintest attention to that.)
        • If you would like to know what trams are out you can ring the Museum any time after around 10AM and they will tell you what is running on that day. If you are further afield that that’s not an option then you have no choice but to chance it – this is the case at all of the country’s Museums and is not exclusive to Crich.
        • It is not possible or feasible to “decide” what trams are in service the night before. For reasons that have appeared on the Internet countless times before, tram selection will only ever happen on the day at Crich – as it should, in my opinion. The full fleet is available for service each day, and that presently stands at around 20 vehicles.
        • Swapping trams over is fine – provided that the maintenance regimes, crews and passenger numbers allow for it. If you are running a two-tram service it could take 20 minutes to swap a car over, effectively cancelling a journey. If it is a busy day the queue at Town End would soon build up. Additionally, Crich’s maintenance regimes are based around each car completing a day in service – not swapping them over half way through. This would increase the workload for the already stretched workshop team through further maintenance on cars that may not require it. For the record, Beamish also operates in a similar manner (as in, running by ‘days’ rather than swapping cars over) and will always bring an additional bus out over a tram (if available) if required. That said, though, this is something I agree with – particularly on quieter days – and I know that neither of us are alone in that thought. I concede that this is one that just needs a little bit more of a pro-active attitude to make happen.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          Could the maintenace programme at Crich be updated, I wonder, and be based on half-day shifts? That way it would be possible to swap trams over mid-day without the programmed maintenance and checks increasing. I also wonder if a Duty Inspector, or possibly even someone from the workshop, could take a tram to Town End for afternoon service and then drive the one it is replacing back to the depot once the crew has transferred onto the replacement? Granted, it would be a bit of hassle, but would add to the variety, and maybe encourage some visitors to stay a bit longer, so they would be more likely to visit the cafe, gift shop etc. It would also allow open cars to come out on days that started off cool or wet, but then brightened up later – something which would be well received I’m sure.
          Finally, may I remind those who post comments on this blog that, although we like our readers to share their opinions whether we share them or not, we don’t want anyone to post any aggressive comments aimed at other readers. Terms like ‘all moaning enthusiasts’ do nothing to help the cause and in future I will be inclined to remove any comments of this nature.

  7. And finally, I would like to mention again that there is an unofficial internal internet forum for TMS members where matters can be discussed which are not for the public domain, such as the recent EGM. Registration and proof of TMS membership is required. Visit http://tmscrich.iphpbb.com to see the forum.

    I hope Gareth and Andrew don’t mind this blatant advertising.

  8. I am incredibly dissapointed to see so many negative comments about the Crich tramway museum. Where are those who are willing to volunteer to be drivers or to volunteer in another capacity??

    As a former Tram driver on the Croydon Tram system,London Tramlink, (Croydon Tramlink when I was there) I would love to volunteer driving trams at Crich. It is a dream I have had since I was a child to drive traditional trams. However what stops me is the distance and costs involved of volunteering, as I live in South East London and certainly could not afford to travel to Crich a couple of times a month along with the hotel bills, though I have been known to sleep in the car or a tent when travelling on holiday.

    I am tempted to contact the museum and say I am a former tram driver and am willing to do a couple of days a year to help. If everyone took a similar attitude then surely there would not be this shortage of drivers or other volunteers. With regard to the production of a valid driving licence every year the trams at Crich and tram drivers fall under the same regulations as any other tram system. When I worked in Croydon, we had to keep a clean driving licence, and if you got points on it then you faced a disciplinary hearing and possible dismissal.

    However, in the mean time I must restrict myself to volunteering closer to home and I am off to the Epping and Ongar Railway. Admittedly not trams but they do run on rails.

    • Geoff Lomas says:

      With reference to Nathan’s comments, I live deeper in the South East than even he does (Maidstone) but still manage to get up to Crich a few times a year to drive, conduct or do what I can, which I admit is pitifully little these days what with work and family commitments and, yes, the sheer distance and expense. However, if he is thinking about volunteering it might help to know there is basic – but nowhere near as basic as sleeping in a car! – accomodation available to TMS members at £4 per room per night – hot and cold provided, and not even ‘sixpence for cruet’. You start as a conductor but can soon move on to driving. Should suit an ex-tram driver nicely!
      As regards the observation that all tram drivers, contemporary or heritage, have to present their licences every year, my understanding is that this need not necessarily apply to Crich because of ‘grandfather rights’ (the tramway has been operating for nearly fifty years!) or a similar dispensation – but I confess the exact reason escapes me.

    • Jack Gordon says:

      Nathan,

      Just to link in to what Geoff has said, it does not matter whether you can give one day a year or one day a week – contrary to popular belief from people that have never made any effort to get involved with the TMS we are always grateful for the help that anyone can give us. Whether you want to get involved with operations, workshop, events – every little helps and we’re all working towards the same end goal at the end of the day.

      I don’t think anyone can deny that Crich’s volunteers are declining, and that it is often the same faces all the time – particularly midweek. But we all do what we can to help and, frankly, it’s the scare stories from people not involved with the TMS who have never been involved with the TMS that put people off volunteering. In the past few years a good few young volunteers have come up (I’m one of them myself) and, although not many, we make our mark, I think. There is also a steady trail of new recruits, albeit perhaps not as many as I think everyone would like. Certainly not all doom and gloom at all.

      Finally, not in response to your comment directly, but to avoid sending another reply…
      In response to the comments above about tramcar output: drivers select cars each morning, based on what they can drive, what the weather is doing, and personal preference. Inevitably this will lead to some of the same cars out repeatedly, as drivers will have their favourites, which I think is understandable if you have to spend all day on the vehicle. That said, there is a ‘laziness’ attitude amongst some crews that means they will take what is at the front, or behind another car that is going out. So, once a tram comes to the front (Often because the one previously at the front fails or comes off for maintenance!) it can stay there for some time. Not ideal, I admit. My best advice if you want to see large numbers of cars out, and a selection, is special events – even non-enthusiast based ones. Larger crew numbers and people who are in more occasionally allow for a greater choice, I tend to find.

      Anyway, just my 2p’s worth.

      Jack
      TMS Workshop, Operations, Events & Library Volunteer

  9. David Taylor says:

    Recient complaints from visitors to my museum seems to indicate drivers have to pass a test every year especialy if they do ot drive on a regular basis.

    I was told I was too old at 63 to pass a test yet I can still drive buses and wagons until 70. If I had not retired from the railway I could go on until 70 and drive safely at over 100 mph.
    There seems to be a gap between the management and the workers that needs to be resolved before the tramway can improve.
    In the past I have critisised the trams stored at Clay Cross. That situation needs also to be looked at. During a conversation at Crich with two members They told me many members wanted Clay cross closing and the trams bringing to Crich but the managment disagreed.

    • Jack Gordon says:

      Who is going to pay for the construction of depot storage at Crich, and for the cars to be transported from Clay Cross? It’s not a case of the management don’t want it, it’s pure-and-simple the fact that THERE ISN’T THE MONEY.

      Many things would be easier were the collection all on site and in one place.

  10. Frank Gradwell says:

    Mr Ryder – of Wessex Branch fame????

  11. Dan says:

    I would really like to volunteer here but living in Sheffield it isn’t a particulary easy place to get to without a car or drivers license.