The much-anticipated transfer of Blackpool Coronation car 304 from temporary storage in Marton, to Beamish Museum has finally taken place after a few delays which led to its planned passenger debut in the North East being postponed slightly. After being unceromoniously dumped in an industrial yard last month following its eviction from Rigby Road, 304 now looks set to return to the limelight in the next few weeks as it celebrates its sixtieth anniversary year.
The restoration of 304 to operational condition has been well-documented before; after a nomadic existence which saw it reside at Clay Cross, and then the St Helens Transport Museum where it spent many years, the tram returned to Blackpool in 2002 to be restored as a subject of Channel 4’s popular ‘Salave Squad’ television series. After receiving further attention – including major repairs to its complex VAMBAC equipment – the tram was used occasionally for private hire work and the odd stint in normal service up to the end of 2010, when it bowed out due to the tramway upgrade. Chances of a return to use were quashed due to the increasingly strained relationship between its owning group, the Lancastrian Transport Trust, and Blackpool Transport. Happily following a brief period of storage out in the cold, this wonderful tram was accepted on loan by Beamish Museum for a short spell of operation.
The loading of the tram took place on the evening of Thursday 11th October when it was carefully winched onto a low loader provided by haulage firm Alleley’s, who had moved 304 and five other LTT trams to the yard in Marton just a few weeks previous. This was a fairly straightforward procedure and despite a minor hitch when 304‘s front bogie proved reluctant to move, the car was able to depart the Fylde Coast by 7:00pm. It is believed to have arrived at its new, temporary home the following day although surprisingly, no photographic proof of its arrival had appeared online at the time of writing.
Now that 304 is at Beamish, the tram will require some commissioning work and a period of testing and crew training before it can hopefully be approved for passenger service there, having not run for almost two years. Checks to ensure that the width of the tram will not be problematic will also be necessary, for we must remember that no tram as wide or as heavy as a Blackpool Coronation car has ever graced the Beamish tramway. However, the system coped admirably with a visit from the only other surviving VAMBAC-equipped Blackpool tram, Marton VAMBAC 11, in 2011 and so power consumption should not be an issue.
It is not known for sure how long Blackpool 304 will stay at Beamish but hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities to see and ride on it at this excellent museum. Plans are also afoot to hold a number of special photographic events featuring 304 along with the other two LTT trams on site, the Balloon car now posing as Sunderland 101, and our own sponsored Boat car 233. The loan has been made possible not only through the continued co-operation between Beamish and the Lancastrian Transport Trust, but also thanks to the generousity of TRAMS Magazine, who have sponsored the loan of this tram. This will help considerably with the high transportation costs, and should allow many enthusiasts to sample the novel example of this luxurious tramcar running again in a very unfamiliar setting.