News on Birkenhead 20 has been in short supply of late, with little being heard about the tram for much of its time spent in Blackpool – where it arrived on loan from the Birkenhead heritage tramway well over a year ago. However, the tram is expected to make a belated entry into service imminently, with its first duty being a private tour for its owners, the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society, on Thursday 18th October.
It may be remembered that British Trams Online sponsored the loan of car 20 to Blackpool which was originally planned to last for 12 months, commencing in July last year, during which time it would also receive a new set of tyres. However, there were a few concerns raised during early test runs and the car also reportedly suffered a defect, which resulted in it being sidelined until the planned re-tyring work could proceed. Unfortunately, due to high pressures on the workshops, this wasn’t tackled until this summer – rather defeating the idea of the loan in the first place, which was to provide a boost to the operational heritage fleet in fine weather. Indeed, it was always our intention to help boost interest and revenue for Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours, by supporting the visit of this attractive open top vintage tram at a time when only one open car was available for service (Boat 600). Sadly, for whatever reason, getting 20 into service didn’t seem to be much of a priority, perhaps due to some concerns being raised about its suitability for operation in Blackpool following its previous trials, but during the summer it was finally lifted allowing its truck to be removed.
The new tyres for 20 were delivered at the end of September and, after fitting, the car was taken out on test on 16th October. This went well enough for the tram to be approved for use on a tour for its owning group on 18th, which should see it perform a few journeys through the illuminations, offering the treat of an open top ride through the lights for the first time since 2016. It is hoped that the car can see some limited use for the remainder of the 2018 season, with British Trams Online offered a hire of the tram as part of the aforementioned sponsorship arrangement, which is still being negotiated at the time of writing. However, it has been confirmed that it will be restricted to operating between Pleasure Beach and Bispham only.
Hopefully there will be some opportunities for readers of this website to see and ride on Birkenhead 20 in Blackpool, as we had always wanted, although as the MTPS have requested its return to Birkenhead after the illuminations, it is clear that the tram is not going to achieve its full potential. We will aim to provide further information about any plans for 20‘s use in Blackpool when, or if, this becomes known.