Monday 7th October turned out to be another exciting day for Blackpool’s heritage tram fleet, with the return of two more tramcars previously acquired for preservation by the Lancastrian Transport Trust to Blackpool Transport’s own premises at Rigby Road. Following on from the return of Coronation 304 and OMO 8 in June, both Standard 143 and English Electric Railcoach 279 are also now back home where they belong.
Readers will doubtless be aware of the landmark agreement reached earlier this year which will see the majority of the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s historic Blackpool trams transferred to Blackpool Transport’s heritage fleet, with a new charitable organisation currently being set up to care for them all. Although it is not thought that the final agreement between the two parties has been signed yet, Blackpool Transport are obviously keen to safeguard the future of the trams involved, and with this in mind two of the most valuable cars involved in the deal were moved back to Rigby Road on October 7th.
The day’s activities began with car 279 being extracted from its long-term resting place, deep within the LTT’s depot at Brinwell Road industrial estate. Having stood on trestles since its arrival there in 2009, the tram had recently been re-trucked in preparation for a further move, allowing it to be safely winched onto a low loader supplied by Scott’s Heavy Haulage. After making the short journey by road, the car was then unloaded on Blundell Street and shunted inside the tram depot using a unimog, meaning that a genuine English Electric Railcoach is now officially part of the Blackpool tram fleet! Of course, 279 now looks very different from how it did when it departed some four and a half years ago, when it was still Ex-Towing car 679. Since then, work to restore the car to its original appearance has seen the flat end framework replaced by new pointed ends constructed in steel, whilst the body has been partially re-panelled and the modern saloon glazing replaced by half-drop windows. It remains to be seen whether 279 will now regain its old pantograph tower which was donated to OMO 8 in 2010!
Not content with rescuing one tram from obscurity in a day, the Scotts’ team then returned to the LTT depot to collect Standard car 143. This tram has already been back to Rigby Road once before in its current form, but later returned to Brinwell Road in 2012 for its major restoration to be completed – although in fact no further work has actually been carried out on it since then. Like 279 before it, 143 enjoyed an uncomplicated move and was back on its home turf by early evening, bringing to a close another momentous day for Blackpool’s heritage tram fleet.
It may be recalled that both of these trams were supposed to play a major role in the Blackpool tramway’s 125th anniversary celebrations way back in 2010, but work was not sufficiently complete on either car to enable them to operate, and both projects have stalled since this time, with the LTT instead inexplicably choosing to start work on other vehicles. Indeed, the LTT had only recently stated that funds raised from the controversial sale of Open Boat 233 would be used to finish work on 143, but as the tram is now back at Rigby Road, it is expected that the new charity will have to finance the remainder of the work it needs to run again. It is not clear when either tram is likely to have the work required to return them to an operational condition will be carried out, but at least now both trams are back where they belong, and we can all look forward to a time at some point in the future, when a genuine English Electric Railcoach and an open-balcony, unvestibuled Standard car join the ranks of Blackpool’s enviable selection of operating vintage trams.
Meanwhile, the departure of both 143 and 279 has left just two trams at Brinwell Road; Brush car 622 and Coronation 663. Neither of these is included in the LTT/BTS merger deal and are currently receiving attention as part of separate arrangements. Four further LTT cars also remain in outside storage at Marton, these being Brush cars 259 and 632 and Balloons 704 and 715, all of which are expected to return home in due course. Hopefully these moves will occur soon enough to prevent any of these trams from having to spend another winter out in the open – but for now, it is a time to celebrate the return of two ‘lost’ trams, which can now look forward to a brighter future on the system for which they were designed and built.