The start of the 2014 operating season for the Birkenhead heritage tramway on Saturday 4th January heralded the start of a whole new era for this particular tramway. Following several years of insecurity surrounding the line’s future as Wirral Council looked to cut costs by ridding itself of this attraction, the immediate future of the operation has now been secured thanks to the involvement of the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society.
The MTPS have always been a major player in the Birkenhead tramway, providing numerous volunteers to assist with its operation, and having several of their vintage trams run on the line. Now, the Society has assumed total responsibility for its continued operation, after the Council handed it over to the charitable organisation. All paid staff have now been laid off, meaning that the tramway has joined other museum tramways at East Anglia and Heaton Park in being entirely run by volunteers. The MTPS will therefore have to restore, maintain and operate all of the tram fleet unassisted, which will no doubt make 2014 a very challenging year for them as they get to grips with their new-found responsibilities. However, this group is certainly never shy of rising to a challenge: over the past few decades they have undertaken some of the most impressive tram restorations ever seen in this country, transforming derelict wrecks into fully working tramcars such as Liverpool 762 and Wallasey 78. So, if anyone can make a success of the tramway, it should be them!
On the historic first day, the honour of first passenger tram of the year went to Hong Kong car 69. Unfortunately, this tram was in trouble later in the day and had to retire early with a minor fault, with Lisbon 730 taking its place in service, although 69 was hastily repaired and managed to re-enter service before the end of the day!
In addition, 2014 should be an exciting year on the Wirral thanks to the expected launch of Liverpool 245, restoring an iconic ‘Baby Grand’ streamliner to service in the UK for the first time since the closure of the Liverpool system. Early proposals are also being made to hold more events, such as model shows and swap meets, at the Taylor Street museum premises, to try and attract more people to visit the tramway, and TV coverage on BBC2 on Monday 6th January should also be a boost. We wish the MTPS well with all of its plans, and hope to see this tramway thrive in the years ahead after surviving several years when its future looked much less promising.