2004 has been quite a year for trams in the UK. There has been the opening of Nottingham Express Transit, celebrations in Blackpool for the 70th Anniversary of the streamlined trams, government rejection of light rail schemes nationwide and the shock of 25 trams being stored at the end of the year in Blackpool. In Part One of the Review of 2004, Gareth Prior looks at the first 6 months of the year…
* The tramway closed north of Thornton Gate on 5 January so that major trackwork could be undertaken. Track was to be laid to “light rail standards” on sections between Thornton Gate and Fleetwood in the hope that double deck trams would be able to return to the full length of the tramway (in 2003 they had been banned from running any further north than Thornton Gate).
* The paint shop was busy as refurbished 724 was painted in Red & Yellow Metro Coastlines livery as its overhaul came towards the end, Balloon 712 was being completed in the 1960s fleet livery and a start was being made on Railcoach 679 in 1980s Green and Cream.
* It was first rumoured that there were to be special events in September to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Streamlined trams. Events would include a cavalcade and Depot Open Day.
* There were doubts as to whether Fleetwood Tram Sunday would go ahead in July. The reason was because the local business community were not giving enough support. It was saved after 25 offers of support at a special meeting.
* 2533 and 2545 re-entered service after repairs following separate collisions with buses in 2003.
* The end of the month was hit by bad weather. Trees brought down wires in two places at the end of the month causing disruption.
* The date was set as Tuesday 20 April for the start of the Public Inquiry into Line 1 of Merseytram. At this time 70 objections had been received by Merseytravel.
* The year started with strike action after an inter union dispute. You may remember that the Aslef union were signing up Metrolink drivers and seeking to change the agreement with Serco Metrolink. However Metrolink had a single user agreement with the TGWU and so couldn’t even negotiate. Two days of strike action were undertaken with a third scheduled but this was cancelled after talks with the TUC Disputes Committee.
* 1020 returned to service after its mid-life overhaul.
* Major city centre testing commenced during the month as the “dummy” timetable started.
* The timetable and fares were revealed with 308 trams due to run from 6am to midnight each day and fares ranging from 80p to £1.20. At this time it was thought NET would open in mid April.
* An accident on NET as a van collided with a tram at a level crossing in Basford. The driver of the van was taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm.
* Residents of Rotherham rejected the idea of Supertram being extended into their town according to a survey undertaken on behalf of the SYPTE.
* Liverpool 245’s proposed move to the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society from the National Museum and Galleries Merseyside because fell through after contractual difficulties.
* Meanwhile Lisbon 730 arrived for restoration on 14 February.
* Railcoach 679 was finished in the 1980s livery with Centenary 642 pretty in pink as the basis for a new all over advert.
* The future of the tram scheme was thrown into doubt following both Labour and Conservative councillors questioning the cost. It was officially abandoned later in the year.
* Plans were submitted for a TWA order to increase capacity on the system. The main work to be included would be the strengthening of viaducts, lengthened platforms and additional vehicles.
* Alistair Darling told the Supertram promoters to think again about the plan as costs had soared far too high for the government’s liking.
* Merseytravel reduced the shortlist of consortia bidding for the DBOM to two at the start of the month. They were the M Tram and Keolis/PB consortiums. They were both given to September to complete their best and final bids.
* The first of many conflicts of the year on Merseytram occurred when Merseytravel said there was no guarantee that construction would be completed by the year of the Capital of Culture in 2008. This led the Council to not want construction to commence until after 2008. The feud continued as Neil Scales (Chief Executive of Merseytravel) and David Henshaw (Chief Executive of the Council) exchanged views – something which would be repeated throughout the year. However, this dispute was finally resolved at the start of March.
* It was announced that Cornbrook was to become a proper station rather than just an exchange between the Altrincham and Eccles lines.
* It was revealed that public services were to commence on 9 March preceded by a “Tram Celebration Day” on 8 March. This was a month earlier than was originally expected.
* Two pedestrians were struck by trams in the city centre in separate incidents. One had to go to hospital whilst the other suffered scratches and bruises.
* The first emergency exercise on the system was a success with a dummy fire on board tram 207.
* The names were revealed for the trams and included famous figures from the past and present and unsung heroes in the local area.
* Plans were revealed for an extension to the heritage tramway. It would see trams going as far as the town centre and would be built in time for 2008.
* The City council gave the go-ahead for 5 new lines to Midland Metro. All lines would cost £1 billion and was split into two phases. Phase 1 would see lines to Great Barr, Quinton, Eastside and Walsall with phase 2 featuring links for Wednesbury, the airport and Digbeth.
* The Public Inquiry into the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Line 1 extension opened on 23 March. 15 objectors were revealed including Railfuture and Friends of the Earth.
* A major derailment occurred approaching Gynn Square on 13 March from the south. A scaffolding pole was put into the track groove and when the tram hit it, it was sent off the rails crashing through a wall, only being saved by an electric box from going onto Middle Walk. The tram involved was Centenary 644.
* The HSE revealed their concerns over the shapes of Blackpool trams particularly the Balloons. They didn’t like the pointed edges and would rather see nice rounded corners.
* Paint Shop news: 646 was revealed in a new style advert for Paul Gaunt Furniture whilst Balloon 720 and Railcoach 678 were finished in black as the basis for all over advertisements.
* 2532, 2539 and 2553 received all over adverts for Ikea. These were the first all over adverts on Croydon’s trams for two years but only covered one side of the trams.
* A motorist was badly injured after his car collided with a tram after he jumped red lights. He said that barriers should be installed as lights were not safer enough.
* The TWA order was passed for the Woolwich Arsenal extension. This is to be an extension to the current construction project to London City Airport. The line would open in 2008.
* 1011 was the latest tram to undergo a mid-life overhaul and return to service.
* NET opened on 9 March after an opening ceremony the previous day with Minister of State for Transport Alistair Darling performing the honour. The first public service was operated by 203 from Phoenix Park. Trams were well loaded for the first few days as people tried them out, and they have remained well patronised ever since!
* Within a fortnight of opening two trams had come close to collision on the Hucknall branch. One tram passed a stop signal but both trams stopped within 60 metres of each other. The tram driver was suspended pending an investigation.
* It was claimed that conductors were struggling to collect all the fares on the trams but NET backed them saying that more would be employed rather than install ticket machines.
* As part of 10th Anniversary celebrations 110’s centre car received an all over advert commemorating this event, stating “Let Congestion Pass You By”.
* The first derailment since opening occurred when a tram’s front wheels came off the track on the approach to Snow Hill station. It was believed that a power failure was the culprit.
* Further disruption occurred in the middle of the month when a mysterious 9 foot hole appeared under the tracks near to Jewellery Quarter. The hole was put down to either water erosion or past mining activity. Services were disrupted for approximately a day and a half whilst the hole was dealt with.
* The Brierley Hill Public Inquiry concluded at the end of the month and hopes were high of success.
* Two trams received names with 06 becoming Sister Dora and 05 Alan Garner.
* Trams returned north of Thornton Gate on 8 April following the major trackwork. The previous day saw Centenary 647 and Balloon 711 testing the track with Balloon 726 being the first double decker in service going to Fleetwood on the 8th.
* Coronation 304 featured on a follow up Salvage Squad program on Channel 4 at the end of the month showing its progress in the past year.
* The four bidders for the Woolwich extension were revealed. They were Amec/RBS Joint Venture, MVBB Construction, WA Rail Link and Woolwich City Link. A decision is expected on which group is successful in Spring 2005.
* The West Yorkshire PTA gave permission to the PTE (Metro) to continue finding ways to continue with the Supertram scheme. They had been told by Alistair Darling earlier in the year that the cost was too great.
* Fare dodging was at a record low with just 3% of passengers believed to be involved in the act.
* 540,000 official journeys were recorded on NET in the first month but it was believed that as many as 750,000 may have actually been made. It was also revealed that 6 months later the timetable was to be improved with additional services after additional conductors were employed.
* It was revealed that £9.5 million had already been spent on the South Hampshire Light Rapid Transit scheme. The money had been used on the planning and development.
* Scaled down plans were revealed for extensions with lines for Rotherham and Hallamshire Hospital and Sheffield University only being taken forward by the SYPTA.
* The National Audit Office released “Improving Public Transport in England through Light Rail” which caused a number of negative newspaper headlines. Although it did say how things should be done better it also suggested many ways of improving the future of light rail.
* 03 was the latest tram to be named – it was named Ray Lewis.
* Coronation 660 was withdrawn from service for an overhaul. Illuminated Frigate 736 saw attention in the Paint Shop and Reel Wagon 750 was stripped for a start to be made on its biggest overhaul since construction in 1907.
* Blackpool Toastrack 166 was moved to the workshops for a start to be made on its overhaul whilst major overhaul tram Leeds 345 saw the controllers installed. The Berlin Works Car also arrived on site for dismantling for spares.
* Accident figures were revealed which averaged as 46.5 per year (less than one a week) with a total of 186 accidents in the last 4 years. Only 18 of these were described as major vehicular accidents.
* A major points failure was suffered at Church Street on 25 April trapping 2537 in the stop for a time. Repairs were not finished until 27 April with normal services not fully resuming until the following day.
* Transdev were named as the operator of the tram system. Transdev then started to move forward along with Transport Initiatives Edinburgh and City of Edinburgh council on Lines 1 and 2.
* The Council finally withdrew their objection to Merseytram, just before they were due to be heard at the Public Inquiry.
* Both Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council gave their approval to the Clifton extension.
* A conductor was robbed at knife point. As a result NET said they were looking at increasing CCTV coverage including on the trams.
* Delays were experienced on 25 May after a tram collided with a car.
* The best month yet for NET with 541,200 official journeys logged during the month.
* New tram 9 was launched on 29 May with a special run. Special tickets were sold for the inaugural run of this tram was the first new double decker in the UK for 36 years!
* Another tram naming with 13 being named Anthony Nolan.
* Jubilee 761 received an all over advert for Wilkinsons. Traditional black on white destination blinds were fitted to Boat 600 and Balloons 700, 703, 706 and 712 and their original numbers were added above the centre entrances.
* The Supertram plans were finally and expectedly officially ended during the month.
* Leeds 345 became a double deck tram again as the two decks were reunited in the middle of the month. It was displayed on the depot fan during the Tramathon.
* Glyn Wilton was named as Curator of the Museum.
* A German rail grinder arrived from Birmingham to complete the first grinding since opening. During the grinding services continued using single line working which caused some delays.
* A Police car collided with a tram in Wellesley Road on 17 June. The two Police officers suffered minor injuries.
* Public Consultation was launched into Line 2 of Merseytram. A competition was also launched to design a uniform for staff!
* Fears were revealed that the “Big Bang” would be kicked into touch due to the delays on a final decision.
* Severe delays were experienced on 8 June with as many as 6 trams failing in a short period. Problems included the failure of the automatic communication system between the drivers and the control room and air compressors not coping with high track temperatures.
* More delays on 16 June when a trams pantograph got tangled with the overhead at Stretford. This caused a major electrical fault and trams were stopped at G-Mex on the Altrincham route. Full services were not resumed for over 24 hours.
* 1014 was named The Greater Manchester Runner during the month.
* Helen Goulding, a 33 year old woman, was unveiled as the new General Manager of NET. Previous incumbent, Andy Wood, was moving to help with the development of the Edinburgh tram system.
* Both City and County councils gave approval to the NET Chilwell route.
* Two tram failures within an hour at the start of the month caused disruption. The reasons for failure were examined by engineers.
* A youth was badly injured when he was knocked off his bike by a tram near to Moor Bridge stop. Tram services were stopped for 2 hours in the vicinity.
* A new PA system was installed with a different voice for each of the three routes.
* A new lobby group was launched, South London Trams Group, concerned with seeing extensions to Tramlink as far as Crystal Palace, Tooting, Sutton and Streatham.