British summer time is officially here, and it has been greeted with some glorious spring weather. Happily some of our heritage tramways have been quick to exploit the last few sunny weekends with one open-top tramcar seeing extensive use already this year, whilst others are prepared for service as the core season approaches.
As is so often the case these days, the Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester has led the way with Stockport 5 being used extensively during March. Although the arrival and launch of Blackpool 623 has given the park a more suitable winter car for the first time since early 2010, the last few Sundays have been blessed with beautiful sunshine which has prompted 5 to join it in service. Despite 623 still being the new ‘baby’ at the park, 5 has very much upstaged it on fine days with many visitors snubbing the Brush car in favour of an open-top tram ride through the park, carrying considerably more passengers than 623 when both cars have been running together. The popularity of Stockport 5 and the availability of suitable trams for different weather conditions is certainly welcome and should help the tramway to attract more passengers, which is essential to ensure that it continues to develop.
Open toppers should also start appearing more frequently on the Beamish Museum tramway, now that Sunderland ‘Balloon’ 101 has been moved to depot track 4, making it less accessible. This was partly done to encourage tram crews to take out open cars in fine weather, with Blackpool 31 and Newcastle 114 soon to be joined in the running fleet by Blackpool ‘Boat’ 233 giving a superb selection of trams for the summer season. Of course Birkenhead 20 is also expected to join in with the fun when it arrives from the Wirral shortly, so hopefully there will be some more good weather to come this spring!
Even Blackpool have got in on the act with open-top Balloon ‘Princess Alice’ 706 making an appearance for conductor training on 22nd March when newly trained staff were given some experience of turning the trolley pole on the car. Although confined to a few movements on Hopton Road and the depot track fan, this may well have been the first time that 706 had moved under power since it returned from Heaton Park in November 2010 as it had been stored since then with its trolley tied down. Alice is included in the operating fleet for 2012 although it is not known whether it has been fitted with transponders, but hopefully the tram will be available for service at Easter or soon afterwards.
All of this leaves Crich Tramway Village, an attraction which has been a little slow to exploit the popularity of its open trams. Southampton 45 has however visited the workshop for commissiong recently and received a through clean on 24th March, indictaing that a return to use for this popular tram is imminent. Neither of the Blackpool toastracks have yet been prepared for service and of course, London United 159 will hopefully enter service later this year to give two serviceable open-top double deckers at the Museum and take some pressure off 45. Finally, Blackpool ‘Boat’ 236 should also be a welcome addition to the active fleet this year although the delivery of this tram to Crich has now been delayed again. 236 is currently in the Paint Shop at Blackpool with a move to Crich now expected in late April.