Event Review: Seaton Tramway End of Season Gala 2007

The Seaton Tramway in East Devon is unique in that it runs on a 2 foot 9 gauge. It also has the newest double deck trams in the UK, with three that were built back in 2002. Over the weekend of 27th and 28th October they held their annual End of Season Gala which promised behind the scenes tours, works cars in action, driver experience trams and an extensive public tram service. British Trams Online Webmaster Gareth Prior reports from the Saturday of the event.

I personally haven’t been to Seaton for 13 years and when the chance to attend the End of Season Gala was there I leapt at the chance. In those intervening 13 years the tramway has received four new trams and the Seaton terminus has been remodelled with a permanent shop/ticket office. Although to be perfectly honest I can remember very little of my last visit and have very little photographic evidence as it was pre a decent camera!

The End of Season Gala promised to be a good day with a basic three tram service “plus extras”. The publicity also stated there would be a Tram Driving Experience, that Works Car 02 would be out and about and there would be guided tours of Riverside Depot and a chance to inspect tram 15. This was a mystery as according to all the fleet lists I had seen they did not have a number 15, so I had presumed this was a typo, but was to find out later it wasn’t.

On a normal day at Seaton a three tram service is in place which allows for a tram every 20 minutes. But on Gala Day an enhanced service is operated with “Service Extras” put into use, normally running six minutes after a departure from Seaton. The three trams operating the normal service were 2, 9, and 11 with 6, 8, 14 and 17 providing service extras and 12 was operating a Seaton to Colyford shuttle. For some reason the timetabled service seemed to go all wrong quite early on in the day when 11 was delayed by 20 minutes on a departure from Seaton. Luckily this delay was not felt too badly as it just meant everything was running one journey behind.

The Tram Driving Experience was available from Colyton throughout the day and was actually timetabled to run 10 journeys as far as Colyford with a £5 cost for a single journey and £10 if you wanted to get back again. The tram involved in these trips was 16, which seems to be the tram of choice for driver experiences if photos in the guide book are to be believed.

Whilst I was on one journey from Colyton back to Seaton the Works Car 02 passed with the Bucket Wagon as promised in the publicity. The tram presumably went all the way to Colyton and was noted returning to the depot a little bit later. 02 then made another appearance on its own in the afternoon, being seen at Colyford heading towards Colyton.

The highlight of the day though probably had to be the guided tours of the Riverside Depot. It doesn’t matter what or where the event is a behind the scenes tour of the workshops is always good and this was no different. In order to get to the Depot you had to get off a tram at the Riverside loop and this was just a normal service tram – in my case it was 14, the former Metropolitan Tramways car. The guided tour was very informative with all the details you could ever really need about the trams and the tramway itself.

Of course, with it being Gala Day there was not a lot in the Depot but there were three trams and some works vehicles hanging around and 10 was also there initially but just after arrival this departed heading for Seaton where it had been reserved for a Private Hire. At the front of the depot was 4 – based on a Blackpool Boat car – which was available for service but due to the fact the weather was pretty dismal it had been decided to leave it at home – as our guide for the tour said it was a nice weather car!

Also in the depot were two trams currently out of service – 19 and 7. 19 is a former Exeter tram of the same number and was receiving attention to its trucks and was jacked up at an angle to allow the pony wheels to be removed. 7 is one of the older trams in the fleet and has been out of service for over a year now undergoing overhaul. It is very similar to the operational 6 and 8 but is currently finished in a brown and cream livery. It is hoped 7 will return to service in 2008 but it has not yet been decided what livery it will be released back into service in. One possibility is the livery carried by the Jurassic Coast Bus Link!

After we had been shown round the actual inside of the depot it was time to be shown the pièce de résistance which was out the back of the main building. Once we were out the back it was plain for all to see that the mysterious tram 15 did exist – it was an unrestored tramcar! The tram in question was Bournemouth 101 which the Seaton management have known about for a while with it being in use as a caravan in Dorset. It was moved to Devon in September this year after they were told the land it was on was needed for something else. It is planned that the tram (which started off life as a 3’6” double decker) will be restored along similar lines to 16. It will take around four years for the restoration to take place, which should start after the completion of 7’s overhaul.

Also in the Depot complex was a memrobilia stall showing photos and items from the tramway’s history. After the tour was over (which lasted approximately 50 minutes) it was back out to the Riverside loop to wait for a tram heading either to Seaton or Colyton.

The remainder of the day allowed the chance to spend time riding all the different trams out, with a little bit of waiting here and there at the many loops on the three mile trip. Of note in the trams being used were the three “new” trams built by Bolton Trams in 2002 – 9, 10 and 11 – the newest double deck trams in the UK and also of note was 8 one of the older trams but now in a two tone pink livery to help Breast Cancer Research – it is certainly an eyecatching tram.

All in all it was well worth a days visit to Seaton for their End of Season Gala with practically all of the trams out and about and the guided tours of the depot allowing photographs of all the others. But of course the highlight had to be the discovery of Bournemouth 101 and we will wait and see the progress Seaton make with its restoration to a 2’9” gauge tram. The only disappointing aspect of the day was the weather which was pretty dank and miserable throughout with some rain falling. Unfortunately many of the trams are not really designed with this weather in mind with open tops and open sides! But this did not detract from an excellent day.

A visit to the Seaton Tramway can certainly be recommended to anyone with an interest in trams, particularly if you want a nice long ride. It also allows you the chance to see a level crossing in action at Colyford – which much surely be the only such crossing on a traditional tramway in the UK.

Trams in Service During the Day:

2, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 17

Trams also out:

10 (Private Hire and Bird Watching Trip), 16 (Tram Drivin Experience), Works Car 2 (“Out and About”)

Trams in the Depot:

4, 7, 19, Bournemouth 101 and numerous works vehicles

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