Concluding the Review of 2004 Gareth Prior looks at the months of July to December 2004. These were the months where major news came from Whitehall over the future of many light rail systems and in September, Blackpool took centre stage for some celebrations…
Government Rejection of Light Rail
* The end of the month saw the BIG news of the second half of 2004 – the government basically threw all current light rail projects out of the window over cost. Those affected were Blackpool, Leeds, Manchester and South Hampshire. Fortunately all groups involved said they would continue their fight to get funding back.
* Two trams collided on 5 July with Gateshead 10 and Beamish 196 involved. The trams were quite full at the time with a school party on board. 7 people with minor injuries were taken to hospital. The HSE launched an investigation as to how the two trams were on the same single track section at the same time travelling in opposite directions.
* Warrington 2 was moved from St Helens to the Taylor Street depot for a start to be made on restoration.
* In the paint shop Centenaries 643 and 647 received extra signwriting for their respective all over ads whilst Balloon 723 (half repaint for Paul Zerdin) and Railcoach 680 (Central Pier) saw a start made on their liveries.
* 2532, 2539 and 2552 lost their half all over ads for Ikea.
* Support was received from government over plans to convert the heavy rail North London Line to light rail standards. It would see extensions to Stratford International and Woolwich Arsenal with places such as West Ham served by DLR for the first time.
* The Public Consultation into Line 2 started on 12 July.
* It was reported that both of the bidders for the Merseytram franchise wanted to buy out Glenvale, a local bus operator. This was to try and ensure services were well integrated.
* At the start of the month it was reported the continuing delays in the awarding of funding for the “Big Bang” extension was costing Greater Manchester up to £1 million each day.
* 1012 was back in Manchester after refurbishment in the revised livery.
* 2003 was noted in the revised livery – the first second series tram to receive this style.
* The trams were officially named on 1 July. There were special events held on this day as 9 of 15 received names (all had received names by the middle of the month) at Wilkinson Street depot and Station Street terminus. Of course the names included major figures such as Brian Clough, Torvill and Dean and Robin Hood as well as “unsung heroes” such as Erica Beardsmore.
* The Public Consultation started during the month. Ken Livingstone, Mayor for London, urged everyone with an interest to give their views in the 3 and a bit month consultation.
* The HSE released their report into the July collision saying there had been a breakdown in safe working practices but they were satisfied it wouldn’t happen again.
* Midland Metro were to pay out compensation to people who lived near to the line at Western Avenue, Tipton. Only a few residents were to receive the compensation though – some had claimed they could here announcements on board the trams.
Black Country Museum
* Restoration was completed on Wolverhampton 49. The tram had been withdrawn from service in 1924 and for the past 25 years has been under restoration.
* Unimog 939 returned to the resort following modifications.
* Centenary 642 was released from the Paint Shop in a light blue repaint of its existing Mecca Bingo all over ad.
* Balloon 702 was finished off in 1970s Green and Cream fleet livery.
* It was revealed that Blackpool Brush 298 was to be moved during the winter from Salford to Crich as the Mode Wheel workshop operation was wound down. Meanwhile at the Museum progress continued on Leeds 345 and Blackpool Toastrack 166.
* Major engineering works commenced between Arena Junction and Harrington Road. The trackbed was excavated and in places was discovered to have hardly any foundations at all. A revised tram service was used during the period of closure. The Beckenham Junction line reopened one day early at the end of the month.
* Following the announcement at the end of July that the “Big Bang” had lost their funding the Manchester Evening News got into full flow with the “Get Our Metrolink Back on Track” campaign. They started with dozens of articles condemning the government’s decision and urging people to support them.
* The GMPTE also joined in the campaign with a section on their website telling people how they could help. It enabled people to download a campaign pack.
* 1008 was back in the city after its refurbishment in the revised livery.
* An improved timetable from September was announced. The new service would see trams running every 6 minutes in the morning peak (instead of every 7 and a half minutes). There were also improvements at weekends whilst the fares were simplified. 80p between Royal Centre and Station Street and £1.10 for all other journeys.
* The first tram in the fleet received CCTV.
* Approval was given by the SYPTA for extensions to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and Meadowhall to Rotherham.
* Figures released showed that light rail journeys had increased by nearly 5% in 2003/4. All light rail systems saw an increase with Stagecoach Supertram leading the way with 7% (up to 12.3 million) and the DLR, Croydon and Midland Metro also enjoying increases of above 5%. The figures also showed that Croydon was now enjoying more passenger journeys than Manchester for the first time.
* Severe disruption was felt for over a week after 16 September when vandalism caused a fire in cables at Priestfield. For a week services could only run from Snow Hill to Wednesbury Great Western Street.
* The resort took centre stage as the 70th Anniversary of the streamlined trams was celebrated. Events took place over the weekend of 11/12 September and featured a procession of trams, the launch of Illuminated Frigate 736 and a depot open day. The weather unfortunately didn’t play ball and torrential rain and windy conditions were the main feature.
* It was reported that the whole tramway could be closed in the winter as track renewal was required around Manchester Square meaning trams would not be able to get out of depot.
* The first whispers came out of BTSL that the tram fleet was likely to be radically reduced during the winter period. No firm details were revealed at this time though…
* Blackpool Toastrack 166 was relaunched at the Enthusiasts Day on 25 September following workshop attention under the joint TSO/FTS scheme. Meanwhile Leeds 602 was moved to the workshops for major attention to bring it back into the full time operational fleet.
* Ken Livingstone said that the extension to Crystal Palace would definitely go ahead at a Council meeting.
* Serco Docklands won the Best London Suburban Operator at the National Rail Awards. This was the fifth successive year they had won an award at this ceremony.
* Thieves stole around £100,000 worth of tramway equipment from a secure compound near to the tramway. The equipment – mostly track – had been collected over several years from around the country.
* Merseytravel and Liverpool City Council clashed again over whether Line 2 or 3 should be built after Line 1. The City Council suddenly decided that Line 3 to the airport should be constructed first but Merseytravel told them it was far too late to change the plans.
* 15 September saw chaos as a power failure caused 5 miles of track to be closed. A broken wire at Brooklands station was the cause and this led to tram services abandoned between Altrincham and Old Trafford for 6 hours.
* 1015 became the first tram out of a Metrolink livery when it was unveiled in an all over advert for the “Get Our Metrolink Back on Track” campaign. A banner was also put up on the side of the GMPTE’s offices in Portland Street.
* In other campaign news several rallies were held across the Metrolink planned area and a delegation travelled to London to present the mass petition.
* 26 September saw severe disruption on the Eccles line when a bin truck collided with 2005 near to Exchange Quays stop. The line was shut for 3 hours. 2005 then spent the rest of the year at Crewe receiving repairs.
* Hong Kong 69 spent a period of time out of service whilst it underwent a comprehensive truck overhaul.
* The row over city centre extensions reared its ugly head when it was claimed that Centro had agreed to give £50,000 to a feasibility study on using tunnels in the city centre.
* Both Centenary 645 and Jubilee 762 were withdrawn from service and starts were made on major overhauls. In addition Railcrane 260 was moved for assessment to see what modifications were required to bring it to modern safety requirements.
* Twin Motor Car 675 was completed in Line 5 Red & Yellow Metro Coastlines livery.
* Centenary 643 and Balloon 719 were used on the Princess Street track as a tester to see whether it could be used during the track work around Manchester Square early in 2005.
* TfL revealed that the Centrale stop would open in 2005 and that funding would be provided for an extra tram so that services could be amended accordingly.
* A letter was sent out by the Supertram promoters saying that the scheme was on target to make savings as outlined by the government.
* The “where should Line 2 go?” debate continued on Merseytram with both consortia failing to submit their Best and Final Offers on time at the start of the month. They both demanded that the dispute was sorted before any decisions were made. The Council then said that there views should be ignored and it looked as if everything was back on target. However this was swiftly followed by the withdrawal of M-Tram who said they could not trust that things were not go pear shaped again. This left just MET as the remaining bidder.
* On Tuesday 19 October MET put their final offer in with just one hour remaining on the deadline.
* Tram shortages were felt when a technical fault saw one have to taken out of service. After the accident at the end of September there was no spare capacity in the fleet.
* 1010 was the latest tram to return after its Mid-Life Refurbishment.
* A female driver somehow managed to drive her car onto the NET only viaduct. The car did not stop until it was 80 feet from the stop at Station Street and blocked one of the platforms.
* 116 received an all over advert for Meadowhall whilst 120 lost its all over ad for Meadowhall in favour of fleet livery.
* It was reported that Swansea was to look at having a tram system to relieve congestion in the southern Welsh city.
* Jacobs Consultants were employed to look into the underground railway idea at the same time as Alistair Darling said that the plan was holding Midland Metro extensions back. Centro revealed that they would not be contributing a third of the cost as had been claimed in October.
* There was a minor collision between a tram and a HGV between Priestfield and Wolverhampton on 22 November causing delays for around one hour.
* Twin Trailer Car 685 was completed in Metro Coastlines Line 5 Red & Yellow livery to match its Towing car.
* Leeds 602 was successfully recommissioned into service after work was completed.
* The museum won the BBC East Midlands Today Best Day Out Award for 2004 and was also awarded the Silver Award in the East Midlands enjoy England Excellence Awards Visitor Attraction category.
* 08 was unveiled in an all over advert for the Back the 2012 Bid campaign by Ken Livingstone. Several trams have since received this livery.
* The Supertram was officially relaunched at a breakfast meeting with the slogan “Supertram, It Adds Up for Leeds”. Costs were cut to around £1/4 billion. The main savings were from cutting the Tingley line to Balm Road (7km of track axed).
* A delegation went to London to show the reasons why Metrolink had to get back on track as encouraging signs were starting to show a decision was expected before Christmas.
* Fares rose on 29 November due to an increase in operating costs.
* 1010 returned to service after its overhaul with 1003 back in Manchester although still stored at depot.
* 202 was renamed Pudsey for a couple of weeks as NET became involved in fundraising for the BBC’s annual Children in Need campaign. The tram reverted to its normal DH Lawrence name after the event in mid November.
* It was announced that NET would increase services still further from 31 January 2005. An extra 10-20 trams a day would run in peaks with the peaks seeing trams every 5 minutes rather than every 6.
* A decision over whether to approve Lines 2 and 3 would be delayed until after the May local elections by the councils even if government gave permission.
* A number of speed restrictions were introduced on the line to ensure they could run to a greater level of reliability.
* NET staff first threatened strike action over the Christmas timetable. They were unhappy that trams were running normally on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve whilst other transport in the city was run down from around 8pm.
* 204 was fitted with extra poles for passengers to hold on to.
* Mark Horner, Managing Director, announced that he was to leave the tramway in March 2005.
* 10 made its first test run on 26 November.
* A revised bid for the South Hampshire LRT scheme was submitted to the government. Savings would be made by deferring the proposed loop between Fareham train station and bus station.
* Initial plans were being discussed over the possibility of trams for the city. However light rail plans were not to be treated as the utmost priority as they tried to alleviate congestion.
* The National Tramways Forum – UK Tram – was set up to try and answer the criticisms and suggestions of the NAO report from earlier in the year. The Passenger Transport Executive Group, Confederation of Passenger Transport, Light Rapid Transit Forum and TfL London Trams were all involved in it.
* The Midland Metro extension to Brierley was given the go-ahead by government after the Public Inquiry outcomes were announced. The next stage is for funding and Compulsory Purchase orders to be given permission from Parliament.
* It was finally revealed which trams were to be stored in a major fleet review. Including the three Balloons which were already stored it meant that 25 trams were in store. Included on the list were all Boat cars, all but 3 of the Brush cars, 2 Twin sets, 1 Railcoach, 2 additional Balloons and Sheffield 513 and Stockport 5.
* It was reported that Blackpool were told by the DfT that they would hear about the funding for the Supertram upgrade several months before other towns and cities after the money.
* The LTT and BTSL got together as it was reported that OMO 8 was to get a cosmetic restoration in the Blackpool workshops during the winter. However its sister 10 looked like not being as lucky as it was revealed it was to be scrapped at its Reading Conference centre after several years in use as a café.
* Balloon 721 was released from the Paint Shop in all over white as the basis for a new all over advert.
* Jonathon Fox was revealed as the new Director of Docklands Light Railway Limited as a replacement for Howard Smith who moved to the TfL.
* After a year of confusion and arguments the year ended on a positive note with the government giving approval to Line 1, subject to funding. It was hoped that construction could now start as soon as April 2005.
* The government gave news that was welcomed in the city, but it was not the total good news they wanted. They were told that the £520 million previously awarded to the Metrolink “Big Bang” was still available but that there would be nothing extra.
* It looked as if there would be strikes over Christmas after staff voted to go on strike over the holiday working. The strike was finally cancelled at the last minute after a compromise was reached between staff and NET bosses.
* Two trams broke down at the peak of rush hour on 14 December causing travel chaos in the city centre.
And what about 2005?
Well, what can we expect to see in 2005? On the first generation side, Blackpool will be a different place this year with less trams in service although Balloon 713 will return to service after its major overhaul. Meanwhile Leeds 345 is scheduled to return to service at Crich in September after its major restoration whilst LUT 159 and Blackpool Brush 298 are to move to the museum for their respective restorations to commence/continue. On the “light rail” side many towns and cities across the UK will hope for better news to be forthcoming from government whilst in Croydon a new stop will be opened in Tamworth Road meaning a brand new timetable. Croydon and Manchester would also hope for good news regarding further trams. Whatever happens in 2005 BRITISH TRAMS ONLINE will be there to report it!