In August 1968 a tram arrived at the then Crich Tramway Museum – now far better known as the Crich Tramway Village, or National Tramway Museum for some – in a blaze of publicity. That tram was Prague 180 which just escaped the Czechoslovakian capital before the Soviet tanks rolled into the city at the end of the period of the Prague Spring. Roll on 50 years and although the tram hasn’t been part of the operational fleet for a number of years the anniversary is being marked with TMS volunteers on hand to give visitors information about 180 on Sunday 26th and Monday 27th August.
It would probably be fair to say that the delivery of 180 to Crich is one of the most high profile arrivals of a tram with the story unfolding in the national press – unsurprising considering how the major political changes unfolding in that area of Europe in that period. For a time it was touch and go as to whether the tram would actually get out in time but in the end it did get out and the rest as they say is history.
180 was donated to the Tramway Museum Society and was due to depart from Prague on 19th August 1968 before spending the night in Rozvadov on the Czech side of the frontier. However, with there being strict controls imposed by the German police on movement at the time the Czech’s left earlier and thus avoided the Soviet tanks. They arrived in Nuremburg arrived early on 20th August – the same night that Soviet forces crossed the Czech frontier.
The tram then continued its journey across mainland Europe through Germany and Holland before travelling by ferry from Rotterdam to Felixstowe. It was then another trip by road to Crich with it arriving at the museum during the very first Grand Transport Extravaganza on 30th August. Showing how things have changed over the past 50 years the tram was unloaded and almost immediately pressed into use with George Brown, MP and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1960 to 1970, taking the controls and driving it up the line. 180 remained in service in most years after then before last running in 2001 since when it has joined the very large queue of trams requiring workshop attention and it can be found on display in the depots.
To mark the 50th anniversary of its momentous arrival volunteers from the TMS will be on hand between 1100 and 1600 on Sunday 26th and Monday 27th August to provide visitors with information on the history of the tram.