One of the biggest bugbears for many fans of Blackpool’s heritage trams, has been the lack of an operational Coronation car in the fleet. All three survivors are currently stored at Rigby Road, in need of varying levels of work before they can be considered for a return to service – but now it seems that this may be a little closer for the pioneer member of the class, car 304, thanks to its owning group.
304 is of course the only one of the surviving Coronation cars to retain its original VAMBAC equipment, and was restored to a very high standard with assistance from the Channel 4 ‘Salvage Squad’ prior to a period of occasional service on the Blackpool tramway. However, it has been inactive since 2014, due to some issues with its complex equipment which had proved difficult to cure.
Earlier this week, the tram was visited by a representative of its owners, the Fylde Transport Trust (previously known as the Lancastrian Transport Trust) with a view to trying to find out what work is actually required to get it serviceable. On testing the car at Rigby Road depot, it was discovered that its batteries were not holding charge, and with the inverter not charging the batteries either, this prevented the VAMBAC equipment from being fully assessed. Sufficient power was in the batteries for the VAMBAC to be tested in acceleration mode, but not in braking mode. Two new batteries have now been ordered and once these arrive, further analysis can be carried out with a view to identifying why the inverter is not functioning as it should.
It is well known that 304 has offered a poor ride quality since its restoration, and this is a result of the lower rubber suspension blocks which have gone solid. The FTT has very generously offered to cover the costs of producing a pattern for new suspension blocks, so that three brand new sets can be produced – benefiting not only 304, but also its sister cars 660 and 663.
Although the progress made so far is relatively small, the efforts being made to return one of Blackpool’s most stunning trams to an operational condition are well worth documenting and deserve to be applauded. It is to be hoped that the hard work will pay off, as 304 would undoubtedly be a wonderful addition to the active heritage tram fleet, and help to add some much-needed variety to the available pool of vehicles.