Black Country museum tramway closes

2013 has ended on a very sour note for one of the UK’s heritage tramways, with the shock news just after Christmas that the short operating line at the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley has been closed down indefinitely. This follows a lengthy period of neglect for what is the only narrow gauge tramway in a British museum.

Recently, an independent assessment of the tramway infrastructure was commissioned. It has been suspected for a long time that the tram track was in a very poor condition, and the findings of this examination were in fact so bad, that the line was condemned with immediate effect. This means that both of the museum’s operational trams – Wolverhampton 34 and 49 – are currently confined to the depot, with seemingly little prospect of an upturn in their fortunes any time soon. The situation is not helped by the fact that the tram which operates the vast majority of journeys at the museum, the single-deck ‘Tividale’ car 34, is also in a very poor condition having been used extensively all year round without any serious workshop attention for about twenty years. Wolverhampton 49, the beautiful open-topper, is rarely used and is not considered for regular service, and so even if the trackwork could be repaired, the future of regular tram operation at Dudley would still be doubtful in the long term. Another Tividale tram, Dudley & Stourbridge 5, moved to Wales for a major overhaul some time ago but work is believed to have stalled due to a lack of funds to finance this project, leaving the tram in limbo.

As if the news about the museum’s tramway wasn’t bad enough, their operational trolleybuses have also been mothballed due to concerns about the presence of asbestos in these historic vehicles. Although this is apparently safely contained and within acceptable regulated guidelines, surveyers have refused to examine the condition of the trolleybuses for this reason and all are therefore now out of service as well. This leaves a vintage bus as the sole means of transportation for visitors around the museum site at present, and having seen the effects of intensive use on Wolverhampton 34, this could have dire consequences for the bus if this situation is allowed to continue for too long.

Rumours of a poor state of health for the Living Museum’s finances have persisted some time, and a general lack of interest in the transport shown by previous management even in brighter times has left the museum facing a very bleak future indeed. Some heritage themed attractions have benefitted from financial support from local Councils and such assistance could well provide salvation for the trams of Dudley, but otherwise it is difficult to see a positive way out of this difficult and unpleasant situation.

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20 Responses to Black Country museum tramway closes

  1. David Mee says:

    Very sad news indeed. I have only managed to visit the site once and that was in Febrary this year. Luckily the open topper Wolverhampton 49 was in service and I managed to get top and bottom deck trips in during the day. The site is nowhere near as well developed as other similar attractions such as Beamish and I wonder what the future holds now that one of its key attractions is closed. I was led to believe that the trolleybuses would be working on the day of my visit but that proved to be incorrect. Black Country have an extensive trolleybus circuit with some good gradients and that would have been something special to see.

    It seems that the great potential of the site is not being exploited and in these hard economic times that can only spell trouble. I do hope that they can bounce back.

  2. Paul says:

    there was plan to take it over the canal and it to the village it self. lets hope the trams at BCLM still operate even if its on special occassions

  3. Bill Thomspon says:

    From what I hear from sources, the end may not be far for this once thriving museum! There has been very little investment in the place for years and sadly the public vote with their feet!

    • Paul says:

      some of the revenue of the last few years as been from hiring there facilities for tv/film (peaky blinders). but it is a shame. If it does close hope centro/dudley mbc could find away of using the stored trolleybuses on a circular route in dudley town centre.

  4. Peter Narramore says:

    Very bad news. I managed to visit it a couple of times. Neither time were the trolleybuses running but the tramway had a great atmospher in spite of its short length.
    I shan’t be going back in a hurry if the trams aren’t there. Its a pity that there is no other 3ft 6in line in the country

  5. Nigel Pennick says:

    Unfortunately this isn’t the first museum line to close and it will not be the last.

    • Nathan H says:

      Apart from the ‘Transperience’ museum in Bradford (which was a silly idea anyway) I cannot name a single preserved tramway in the UK that has closed for good. Also, the other lines are doing very well indeed, so why all the doom and gloom?

  6. Pete C says:

    This is very disappointing news both about the trams & the trolleybuses. The trolleybus circuit is the largest in the UK, bigger even than the one at Sandtoft. If the Black Country trolleybuses have asbestos, then it is very likely that the many preserved trolleybuses elsewhere of the same vintage also do. I’ve visited the museum many times and certainly in the Summer months it always seems very busy. I don’t understand the comment about little investment. The museum has continually expanded with new exhibits but the transport side has perhaps understandably been less emphasised (the vehicles are operated & maintained by a separate charity). I hope things can be sorted out.

    • Brian Maguire says:

      Perhaps somebody should inspect ALL trolleybuses that run in museums, not just the museum themselves. They can carry 70 people, who expect them to be safe, abd I know at least one place that has a vehicle examiner who has no qualifications at all. But they still bragg about the worlds largest!

  7. Richard Powderhill says:

    Does`n`t Dudley Council CARE? What about British Heritage Fund? To allow all this to get into this state is shameful. Protest, via the internet, or any means possible, everyone concerned.

  8. Brian L Dominic says:

    I’m aware that one problem is the Museum’s management saying (in effect) “We don’t need or want enthusiasts to operate vehicles within the Museum” which has resulted in trolleybuses being taken elsewhere as they were no longer welcome. If the Museum persist in this attitude, nothing will get done – their fault.

  9. CHRIS says:

    I thought another major obstacle was the museum insisting that only local trolleybuses were to run, and asking that trolleybuses from other towns be painted into Walsall / Wolverhampton colours, or whatever, regardless of where they were operated. does anyone have any contacts for any of the people who work on the trolleybus system. volunteers presumably.

    • Brian says:

      Several of the volunteers who used to operate & maintain the trolleybuses at BCM are now working as volunteers on trolleybuses at the East Anglia Transport Museum due to the unhappy situation that has arisen at Dudley.

  10. Ken Walker says:

    Presumably when funding becomes a problem the people in charge of this outfit would rather close the museum down than turn to enthusiastic volunteers for help. What on earth is the matter with them? (Apart from unbelievable arrogance)

  11. Laurence Teague says:

    As I was born in Birmingham when the Trams were running. I have always enjoyed seeing a 3` 6″ Tram operating in the BC Museum. In fact it was the only reason I joined, virtually after the Museum was opened and is still the only reason I continue to pay my annual subs. Plus making regular visits to have rides on the Tram and Trolley Buses.
    As the situation is at the moment, Where the management could not care less and are allowing the system to collapse and rot. I will cease my membership and stop bringing all our friends up the BCMuseum as from this year.

  12. Paul says:

    about centro donating one of the t-69 to be preserved and improve track so the modern tram can take all visitors from depot to heart of the village

    • Paul D says:

      Erm… do you propose they regauge the T69a to 3’6″ or the existing fleet to Standard gauge??

      • Paul says:

        the track is one line so they could build the standard gauge have 3’6 gauge in the middle. Or put the classic trams on static display

        • Paul D says:

          So your solution to the BCM not being able to afford to maintain the present track is to double the amout of track they need to maintain; so that they can then operate a more complex, more expensive and harder to maintain, power hungry tram?
          What has everyone else missed in your economic master plan??

  13. Jon says:

    I just found this site, so I might be a bit late to leave a comment.

    I have visited several preserved tramways (and Trolleybus systems) across the country, I lasted visited the Black Country Living Museum 12 years ago and I am not surprised by the tramway closing. I am even more surprised it lasted that long!

    The track work was ‘ropey’ to say the least, the ride was very rough and noticed there several sections of loose track work and rotted sleepers; the point work on the approach to the depot / village stop being particularly bad (I noticed that it physically rocked around as the tram crossed it). The point work into the Depot being poorly laid out and did not match the overhead above it. As for the tram fleet, as stated above, Tramcar 5 was sitting in the depot and had apparently been worked to death and from what I saw of Tramcar 34 it was probably heading the same way. There was diffidently a lack of care when it came down it!

    Another thing I had noticed was that the tramcar was only operated by only a Driver, this to me is both unauthentic and possibly problematic considering the tramcar was designed for a two person crew? I am not sure as to what the state of the tramway was when it closed, but it can’t have got much better can it? If you were to compare it to other heritage tramways in the country, there is none and the museum was the poor cousin.

    I just hope things change.