It was supposed to be the crowning glory of our 10th anniversary celebrations, the chance to help a tram return to the rails and to be enjoyed by the British public again for what, we thought and expected, would be many years to come. But it now appears that the £1500 we donated towards the repaint and resurrection of Blackpool Boat Car 605 was all in vain as the Lancastrian Transport Trust have decided to cash in on their precious asset and sell it to America.
A few weeks ago I wrote an editorial when I bemoaned the amount of negativity in tram enthusiasm in recent times and stated that British Trams Online would always try to look at the positives of any situation but unfortunately this case is one of those where very few positives can be found in the UK. The Lancastrian Transport Trust are meant to be preserving a “representative collection of vehicles to portray the development of public transport on the Fylde coast” and it seems rather at odds with this that they decide to sell one of their vehicles to go halfway across the world!
British Trams Online first became involved in sponsoring the tram at the beginning of 2012 when we signed a two year deal whilst the tram operated at Beamish. We had initially been in discussions with Beamish about sponsoring another tram but when this opportunity was offered to us it seemed too good a chance to miss and we duly signed contracts with Beamish to sponsor the repaint for a two year period. The first year of our sponsorship was not exactly a roaring success thanks to the Great British weather which saw rain, rain and more rain during the summer of 2012. However this year has been much better and 605 – or 233 as it was renumbered during its repaint – has seen regular use and by all accounts has been a very popular tram when operating at Beamish.
When we first signed the contract for the sponsorship there was no mention that shares would be sold in the tram but shortly after we were contacted by the Lancastrian Transport Trust telling us that they were planning in offering shares in the tram. At this stage we felt we had no option but to agree to this as surely it would be good for the tram in the long-run to have a regular stream of income. Part of the agreement here was that in return we would receive shares in the tram, which you would expect as shares cost £500 each would equal three shares. This is where things started to go a bit off as we didn’t receive the shares for a long time and it was only when the LTT were chased that we did receive our shares – over 12 months after the initial deal had been done. To compound matters we only received two shares but decided at the time not to make a fuss as the tram was the important thing and at least it remained safe in the custodianship of the LTT. Oh how wrong we were it turns out!
I first heard rumblings of the deal to sell 605 to America in early July this year but to be honest didn’t think a huge amount about it at the time as surely if such a deal was to be done the LTT would inform the shareholders and/or sponsors of the tram first? Surely? No! From the reaction of enthusiasts across the internet to this news shows pretty much why it seems the LTT didn’t want the news leaking out – it is not a popular move and they knew full well that this would be the case. You would have thought that it was common courtesy to inform people who had put money into helping the tram return to service what you were planning at the very least and it would be preferable if shareholders – don’t forget each shareholder had to put a minimum of £500 in, which is not a tiny amount of money many people can just shrug off and say never mind to – actually had a say in what would happen to the tram. The rumours became stronger in mid-late August before the story was finally broken after a lorry and ferry had been booked to transport the tram to the USA. It was only after other sources had reported the deal that the LTT finally broke their silence with a news release on their Blog and Facebook page.
As for the fact that the tram is actually leaving the country, well that opens another whole can of worms. Part of me says that yes there are four other Blackpool Boat Cars in the UK and they are all operational but it should be remembered that three of these are in Blackpool and despite impressions to the contrary not every tram enthusiast either wants to or can go regularly go to Blackpool (or even to Crich) to sample these delights. The fact that there was one at Beamish opened up a Boat Car to another potential audience to enjoy these incredibly popular trams.
The main thing which irritates about the whole saga is that at no stage have the Lancastrian Transport Trust turned round and said we are looking to dispose of some more of our vehicles please make us an offer. This has come totally out of the blue at a time when no-one can stop it. I can guarantee that if the LTT had said the Boat Car was available there would have been a queue of preservation groups who would have made an offer. Yes they probably wouldn’t have been in a position to offer as much as the Americans but isn’t preservation about more than making money? It transpires that the reason for selling it is to raise funds for the restoration of Standard 143 (you know the restoration which was started in about 1624 and has been promised to be completed for so long that most people have probably forgotten it even exists) but I would imagine if you asked most enthusiasts they would have been willing to donate money for this work if it meant that the Boat could stay in the UK.
Selling a historic transport vehicle like the Boat abroad should only ever be the last resort, it should not be the first and only option giving no-one in the UK the chance to keep the vehicle in the country it was built and operated its entire life in. Unfortunately now 605 will be spending its 80th birthday in the USA and the chances of it ever being seen in the UK seem remote.