Crich in 2014: a half-time review

It would be fair to say that 2014 is a pretty crucial year for the National Tramway Museum at Crich Tramway Village. Great lengths have been taken to try to reverse the severely declining visitor numbers of recent years, with a number of new attractions and improvements to the site, as well as a revamped special events programme. In addition, the fleet of operational trams has been increased on the eve of the 50th anniversary of electric tram operation at Crich, but this air of positivity has at times been somewhat overshadowed by rather less pleasing developments. This report aims to summarise how things are looking for the museum at the mid-way point in this important year.

To start with the positives, and feedback regarding some of the projects carried out last winter has been extremely positive. This has included refurbishment of the children’s indoor play area and the Town End waiting shelter, a more inviting new look for the entrance building, and other attention to the Tea Rooms and the sweet shop, plus a new temporary exhibition in the Derby Assembly Rooms. However, the most popular innovation has probably been the provision of a proper tram stop at Glory Mine where visitors can now board and alight trams on a regular basis for the first time, and a small picnic area has also been created where visitors can enjoy the glorious views of the Derwent valley as well as watch the trams pass by. It may have been a long time coming, but this has really added value to the Crich experience and means that the terminus now has a real sense of purpose rather than the trams simply offering a ride to nowhere.

The year began exceptionally well with the general public invited to view a major shunting operation on February 1st, which was a fantastic PR exercise which was greatly appreciated by all who attended. Subsequent events have included a Sheffield-themed week, which was also well received, and the ambitious ‘Beside the Seaside’ which was vastly expanded and ran for a total of nine days. This particular event attracted rather mixed reviews, not helped by some dire weather, but showed that the museum could stage a large scale event over several days with quite impressive results. Further excellent publicity has been gained by the use of Blackpool 167 at both Beamish and Blackpool, where it has performed exceptionally well as a great ambassador for its owning museum.

As for the trams themselves, and the size of the operational fleet has grown quite significantly this year. Both Oporto 273 and Sheffield 510 have returned to service following workshop attention, whilst Blackpool & Fleetwood 2 and Southampton 45 have also been reactivated in readiness for September’s ‘Electric 50′ event, and visiting car Blackpool 711 has also provided a temporary boost to the fleet. In total, twenty different electric passenger cars have run in service so far this year, and that number should continue to increase over the summer. This certainly gives the enthusiast more incentive to visit more often, although unfortunately despite the available variety, some of the same familiar old cars have continued to dominate the tram output. Surprisingly, and despite supposedly being on ‘limited use’, car 45 has been used very extensively this year, as has Glasgow 1068 which is rather odd as both trams had previously been sidelined due to concerns about their poor condition! By contrast, more recent additions such as LUT 159 and Blackpool 630 have seen very little use, whilst even the borrowed Balloon car 711 is thought to have been used just once during the month of June. Hopefully some of these trams will start to see more use as the year wears on; in particular, 711 really ought to be used more regularly to justify the expense and effort made to bring it to Crich for just one season.

On the flip side of the coin, the controversial rejection of a large legacy to finance a proposed restoration of Leeds 602 and the decision to ‘conserve’ the tram in its current form, was not well received by many enthusiasts. This announcement became the most discussed news story ever to appear on British Trams Online, with the majority of readers voicing clear disgust at both the decision made and the way in which the matter was conducted by the Board of Management. Further ill feelings were created when it was revealed that the partially restored Blackpool 298 is to be dispatched to Clay Cross imminently, despite the availability of a six-figure sum to assist with its completion to running order. Although in many ways Crich has moved forwards, communication still seems to be a very weak area for the Tramway Museum Society and hopefully the fall-out that followed these decisions will be reviewed by those in charge. Whilst the management are obviously able to act as they wish, the fact that so many members and other potential supporters are voicing dissatisfaction at the lack of consultation involving the wider membership should be a real cause for concern and is likely to hold the TMS back a great deal. The fact that the museum has recently been actively recruiting for volunteer tram crews shows that the help of enthusiasts to allow Crich to survive and prosper is as essential as ever, and bearing this in mind, it is to be hoped that the many constructive criticisms that have appeared of late will not simply be swept under the carpet and that future key decisions will be discussed more openly early on to try to avoid any further backlash.

All in all, 2014 has been a somewhat frustrating year for the museum up to now, with some fantastic achievements counter-balanced by some very strange decisions. Seemingly some people are trying harder than ever before to ensure that the National Tramway Museum is a sustainable prospect in today’s modern and competitive world, whilst others seem reluctant to adapt to a vastly changing market for both heritage tramways and visitor attractions in general. With the ‘Electric 50′ event and hopefully some more new additions to the running fleet to look forward to, as well as suggestions of a few more surprises to come, here’s hoping that the second half of 2014 will allow Crich to shake off the controversies from earlier in the year and end the season on a real high.

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37 Responses to Crich in 2014: a half-time review

  1. Sinead says:

    Do we know the visitor numbers (and better still, income) so far this season, to give an indication of Crich’s ‘sustainable prospect’?

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      The most recent figures I have access to only go up to the end of April (so that’s about a month of trading), when visitor numbers for the year to date were below 13,000. This was well above budget and was 726 up on the same point in 2013. I suspect the upward trend has continued since, although getting detailed information is unlikely to be possible. Overall the trend seems to be a positive one though, granted this will need to continue and grow, but its a good start!

    • Christopher Callan says:

      The recent figures provided to members so limited and lacking any real context difficult really to access how bad or good things are. The information provided in the Latest Contact makes no comparison to last years figures (which were poor) and only states the number of people above the mysterious budgeted target.
      “lies dammed lies and statistics” never been more appropriate. But its hard to ignore the fact that the National Tramway Museum able to cope with demand with only three cars operating on a glorious Summer weekend.

      • Quote from Christopher Callan: “But its hard to ignore the fact that the National Tramway Museum able to cope with demand with only three cars operating on a glorious Summer weekend.”

        Just a few calculations in a totally unoffical response from me in my capacity as someone who has conducted and driven trams at Crich for a few years:

        The three-car service at Crich offers far more capacity than you may think. Take three tramcars which run every 15 minutes from 10:30 to 11:00 and then every ten minutes until 17:00. That means 39 departures every day. You will miss three departures when the crews have their lunch break. So we have 36 departures. For simplicity let us assume that each tramcar has 60 seats available which is about the actual recorded average. 36 departures x 60 seats means 2,160 seats in a day. On average visitors take 1.7 tram rides. Assuming all tramcars run full, which they don’t, you could still cater for 1,270 average visitors (2,160 divided by 1.7). Quite a lot, isn’t it? Before you start that it is unlikely that all trams run full, yes, that is correct. On average only 47 % of all seats are used but that is an average including miserable days in October where the museum may have 300 visitors and still run three tramcars, but on average three quarters empty. In return for each low day you may have days with 900 visitors which is still well within the capacity of three tramcars. Does that make sense?

  2. Daniel says:

    Even though I have stood up for the Crich a lot I do agree with the article that they could improve their communication a great deal. They can learn an awful lot from Bryan Lindop and Blackpool who have perfected communication with the enthusiast community.
    From what I have read visitor figures have been on the up since late last year and the Beside the Seaside event was a quite a success in that sense.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Definitely so Daniel, in fact I think Crich could learn a lot from Mr Lindop. Recently I was going through some old discussions about how it is impossible for Crich to advertise in advance, even a day before an event, which trams will be in service (by which I mean a provisional list obviously, as nothing is 100%). Funny then how Blackpool do this time and time again, and amazingly, nearly always stick to the script!

      • Ken Walker says:

        While we’re talking about good communications let’s not forget Martin Bryan at Heaton Park who has quickly come on here to answer queries and explain circumstances on quite a few occasions.

      • Daniel says:

        I don’t agree with that. I can understand why they don’t state which trams will be running each day. There are lot of variables to do with which drivers are available and of course the weather.
        This is one of the few things that has been communicated very well I feel. Leeds 602 though, that should have been done way earlier and better.

    • Freel07 says:

      In fairness their 5 Year Strategy received today along with the papers for the AGM does recognise that communications and marketing need improving with a recognition that public knowledge of the museum’s existence is much lower than it should be. It now remains to be seen what they manage to do to improve matters in this respect. I suppose we have to accept that the vast bulk of their revenue comes from the general public rather than the enthusiast fraternity and therefore improving public knowledge and perception must come first.

  3. Graham Feakins says:

    As a former mid-week Duty Inspector, I am well aware of how difficult it would have been to advertise in advance of any day just what trams would be running that day. As well as bearing in mind drivers’ qualifications for the different classes of car, one had to balance that against a list of cars cleared by the workshop for running and – most importantly perhaps – the microclimate that is Crich. Blow the weather forecasts for the East Midlands! From that, one would try to choose at least an open top car (fine weather), a balcony or enclosed car (poor weather) and perhaps something out of the ordinary for that second ride, e.g. a single deck car or something else of distinction. Come early afternoon, say, and the weather could change swifter than any barometer and you had to run in and bring out cars to suit.

    In Blackpool, the weather can turn nasty and folk do other things and what’s running generally stays out, albeit perhaps nearly empty. With limited dry cover at Crich, we at least tried to keep our passengers from the worst of the weather crossing the Derwent Valley, whilst remembering that our trams deserved some protection, too. Thus, I doubt that putting on a website beforehand a list of cars that would be running could only lead to disappointment, taking into account my own experience, albeit of some several years ago. In short, it was all my choice on – and during – the day.

    • David Taylor says:

      As a member of a working museum we have 11 cars, 3 of which at present are not available but are on show. Two stalwarts of which one is always available and the other stored but these are changed over about once a month. The other six are kept in the running shed and are available when needed. For obvious reasons the open topper is only used in good weather. The balcony car can be used but it is better to keep it dry Four including the the single-Decker are fully enclosed and therefor better for the cold and wet seasons.

      Customers can view the website and see what cars we have and if desperate phone up and ask what may be running. Crich could go one better and advertise what cars are available for service. The public are not stupid and do realise that a tram may fail or the weather may change. This will give them a better chance to see or ride the tram of their choice.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Sorry but the words referring to Blackpool – ‘what’s running generally stays out, albeit perhaps nearly empty’ – suggests that you haven’t been to Blackpool for quite some time as this is not even close to reality. As an example, Saturday 24th May: a three car heritage service with 147, 167 & 706, all of which had been advertised in advance. Due to a decline in weather during the afternoon, 706 ran in early and was swapped for enclosed Balloon 717, which had been listed in advance as the first choice wet weather reserve car. A second example: Totally Transport saw 2 of the 3 cars in service changed over purely to provide additional interest, and the result was that many people wanted to ride on them all, so everything ran full up all day. I would also think that the weather is just as harsh at Blackpool as at Crich, probably worse!

      • Daniel says:

        But Blackpool appeals more to enthusiasts from what I have gathered but I have never been, just going off pictures of open trams not being too busy.
        I don’t imagine your average visitor at Crich is bothered about sitting on an open tram in the rain. Look at tripadvisor and people find that the museum is not as good in the rain, a closed tram is the most sensible option.
        They do announce on Twitter and Facebook which trams are running on the day and they’ve repeatedly made it clear that they can’t guarantee what trams will be running. I’m sure if they could that they would.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          If you have never been to Blackpool that probably speaks volumes as again your comments do not reflect the present set-up. The heritage trams are appealing to tourists just as much as enthusiasts, and whilst initially there were plenty of empty trams this is now very much the exception rather than the norm. In the next few weeks there will be a gallery on the recent Totally Transport event at Blackpool which features lots of well-filled trams and a crowded promenade, indeed the only trams with many seats free are the ones either running back to the depot or just entering service! If there is any heritage operation that suffers from a lack of patronage in 2014 it certainly isn’t Blackpool!

        • Paul D says:

          Daniel,

          If you haven’t experienced the Blackpool Heritage Operation of the last two years for yourself and only have knowledge of Crich, it explains why your comments come across as being naively one-sided; however that being the case do you think it fair for you to comment negatively on a system that you have no personal experience of?

          What many commentators are struggling to understand is why Crich are apparently unable (or more likely unwilling) to communicate information in advance in the way Blackpool has proven is possible from a far more complex organisation.

          • Daniel says:

            I am not commenting negatively on Blackpool. What they do works for them, it won’t work for Crich in my view. I am not saying Blackpool should change their policy but it wouldn’t work in Crich in my view.
            Yes, I was wondering the same thing about communication.

      • Christopher Callan says:

        Absolutely Andrew.

        Blackpool have fine tuned the output for events. The company has made massive advances in terms of communicating with the broad customer base who attend the events. They able to provide outputs in advance with the usual disclaimers. Everybody accepts this information is in good faith and only provisional.

        With the Official Facebook Page “Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours” providing a raft of up to date information and swiftly answering questions and clarifying things if need be. Packed full of news from the workshops. Reports from events. And detailing what is coming up in terms of future events.

        Then for those on-line but not on Social Media people are lucky enough to have Mr Lindop who seems more than happy to answering questions on here and has and no doubt will continue a excellent relationship with the editors and happy to liaise with them when preparing articles about the events.

        Then of course you have the Official Website. Which am sure they are the first ones to admit is still a work in progress in terms of promoting the operation to its maximum. Still has the dates and prices.

        Then of course you have the physical adverts boxes fitted to to the “Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours Stops” which have come on leaps and bounds since their inception. The last ones placed inside for Totally & Tram Sunday were particularly impressive.

        Blackpool are making in roads. Able to give sufficient information in advance to sufficiently wet ones appetite. But with the flexibility to adapt the event as it unfolds. By naming the designated “wet weather cars” in advance able to give visitors a good idea what to expect. But still provides the much needed “extras + surprises” that keeps the format so fresh. Whether its swaps, line ups, extended tours or something else.

        Your suggestion that Blackpool in the Heritage era would run a tram up and down empty seemingly not bothered that its empty ludicrous. Swaps are common place and now very much part of the event itself.

        In stark contrast when was the last time Crich swapped a tram other than replacing a broken one… And often any nice surprises like the reactivation of Rack2 and reappearance of 711 amongst other high profile re appearances been muted bordering on secret. Event with so little information its impossible to know whether its worth going. Even the much anticipated Electric 50 officially very little to wet ones appetite. Just the usual bland generic “it will be worth the wait” type responses. That do little to entice…

    • Daniel says:

      +1
      It’s been reiterated several times how many difficulties they face in choosing what cars to run as there are so many factors.
      If you really want to see a specific tram then you should go on an event day with a theme where it will most likely be running.

  4. Paul D says:

    Graham, I think most appreciate that plans can be disrupted by weather, mechanical failures etc and an individual car can’t be absolutely guaranteed to run on a given day, but it should at least be possible to co-ordinate with the workshop programme to plan and publicise 2 or 3 weeks in advance a pool of say 8-10 cars from which the service cars for the coming week will be drawn.

    It would also be immensely good PR if you were able to respond to specific requests from visitors for a specific car within that pool (provided a suitably qualified driver is available of course) by swaping cars at the crews lunch break.

    • Daniel says:

      8-10 cars is pretty vague though isn’t it?

      • Paul D says:

        But a whole lot LESS vague than no information at all and “whatever the inspector/driver fells like running on the day”…

        • Much of this has been said before but I would like to add my bit as an unoffical comment from someone who has been crewing at Crich for some years.

          At present there is quite a list of tramcars available for service. Cars which have run this year off the top of my head:

          Blackpool & Fleetwood 2
          Chesterfield 7
          Glasgow 22
          Blackpool 40
          Southampton 45
          Sheffield 74
          London LUT 159
          Blackpool 166
          Leeds 180
          Blackpool 236
          Oporto 273
          Leeds 345
          Leeds 399
          Sheffield 510
          Blackpool 630
          Blackpool 711
          Glasgow 812
          Glasgow 1068
          London LT 1622

          Every tramcar gets some workshop attention after six days in service. The museum attempts to have a maximum number of cars available.

          The choice of tramcars on a given day depends on tramcar availability, suitability for the weather, qualifications of the driver (not all drivers can drive all trams since they are all different), special requests from visitor groups and finally preference of the crews.

          How could you sensibly make this “three out of nineteen” predictable? I think someone would have to sit down once a week to establish all those factors beforehand and then produce a roster which will take into account all those factors. If the time and effort required to do that will be worth the benefit will certainly be disputed. I am aware that some will see this as the “can’t do”-attitude they dislike but I don’t think it is worth it.

          • Andrew Waddington says:

            I think it would be worth it for special event days and Bank Holidays – possibly not on normal days though, admittedly. That would be comparable to what Blackpool do really. Let’s not forget that a lot of the time Bryan Lindop and others devote to their heritage operation is done on top of their ‘proper’ jobs and often in their own free time.

            Oh and you’ve missed Berlin 3006 from that list, otherwise I think that is the whole electric passenger fleet for 2014 to date (though MET 331 should be back in service imminently).

  5. David Mee says:

    My sister, brother in law, neice and grandchildren visited mid week and had, to quote the ten year old grandson ‘a fantastic day’, so they must be doing something right! If you consider that family visitors are the ‘bread and butter’ income for the museum, it does represent a very high quality attraction and they have no interest in which cars are running just as long as something is running and there are plenty of other things to do – which undoubtedly there is.

    A lot of our concerns just do not register for perhaps 80% plus of the visitors to Crich. I am not for one minute saying that they are not valid concerns, and in the current economic climate they should be chasing every possible visitor, including enthusiasts, perhaps as others have mentioned they could publicise that weeks pool of good weather and bad weather cars. They could also consider lunch time swapping of cars which would certainly make it more attractive to enthusiasts.

    Communication is certainly a weakness, but my mid year review would be that more good than bad has been done this year so far.

  6. Graham Feakins says:

    Thank you in particular for those who complimented Crich both today and as best as they could do around the years from which I drew my experience. Notable perhaps is that not one of the complainants picked up on my point on the availability of qualified drivers on the day for the classes of trams actually on offer. Crich has a multiple class licence arrangement for tram drivers – far more than in Blackpool – simply because of the many different types of tram from all over the UK and beyond. It’s not a simple distinction between “hand braked cars” and “air braked cars”, for example.

    As for running in trams or swapping them during the crews’ lunch breaks, who’s going to do that without taking another tram out of service, unless there is a spare crew? The crew used to be (generally) responsible for the tram they took out of the depot until the moment it went back in. The driver performed both tasks.

    I have to say that Paul D’s comment, including misspelling: “whatever the inspector/driver fells like running on the day…” is far from the truth. The only exception would be if a driver asked for a particular car out of the choice (by the Duty Inspector and as dictated by the availability) in the first place. Another driver would be allocated the ‘other’ car. I can promise you that any Duty Inspector has far more important tasks for the Museum as a whole than seeing a tram of his personal choice out running.

    However, Paul D expresses what we would all like in the ideal world – “a pool of say 8-10 cars from which the service cars for the coming week will be drawn.” That’s what the Duty Inspector might have but by the day concerned the reality can often be reduced to one third of that or even less, bearing in mind the other criteria I have tried to explain.

    And to Andrew Waddington, in response to “Sorry but the words referring to Blackpool – ‘what’s running generally stays out, albeit perhaps nearly empty’ – suggests that you haven’t been to Blackpool for quite some time as this is not even close to reality.”, I can only beg to differ, having arrived at Blackpool North a number of times in the past couple of years and waited for any tram at all in any direction at North Pier/Metropole for longer than most at the stop, the others having abandoned the tramway for passing buses and taxis!

    In any case, I specifically made a distinction between Crich operations as I knew them well (and I doubt they have differed much) and Blackpool.

    • Daniel says:

      Now that is sort of communication I am talking about. Thank you :)

    • Paul D says:

      In your own words Graham, speaking as an Inspector on 5/7/2014 “it was all my choice on – and during – the day”
      You then say on 6/7/2014 that whatever the inspector/driver chose to run on the day “is far from the truth” and in the same posting state that what runs IS “the choice of the Duty Inspector”…

      Christoph also states speaking as a current crew member that “preference of the crews” IS a factor.

      If as you have stated TWICE it is the choice of the Inspector on the day and Christoph is correct in his comment, then my comment that it is the choice of the Inspector/Driver is infact VERY CLOSE to the Truth…

  7. Graham Feakins says:

    P.S. I meant of course to qualify my word “generally” in my first comment; I fully appreciate the more recent efforts by those involved in the Blackpool heritage fleet. My apologies for any misinterpretation. My last comment was more as a visitor to Blackpool for business reasons other than for the tramway per se.

  8. Andrew says:

    Certainly is the kind of communication we have come to expect – we can’t do this…this is too difficult….it is impossible to do…under no circumstances can we possibly….The ‘can’t do’ attitude is staggeringly sad but not unexpected. Thank heavens for innovative museums which not only ‘can do’ but consistently ‘do’. Their attitudes are leaving the less progressive places in their wake and the gap is widening all the time.

  9. Steve says:

    I think though there is an unfortunate difference between events at Crich and Blackpool. BTS do an excellent job getting whats running out, which is appreicated by the Enthusiates, the same could therefore be argued to be valid for Crich. BUT (and here is a VERY big BUT) every time an enthusiate buys a ticket its money in the coffers. Not so at Crich where a lot of different membership cards are valid, meaning a nil return. Maybe there is an arguement that when special events aimed at enthusiates, that cards only give a reduction rather than free admission.

    • Mary says:

      They already have so called “Premier Events” when free passes and the free return visit for Gift Aid arent valid but those are all events more for the General Public than Enthusiasts like the 1940s, Edwardian and Halloween events.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Personally I would be more than happy to pay a reasonable entry fee to attend a really special event – whether others would agree is hard to say without trying it out! I don’t mind shelling out extra if I know it will be worth it. Likewise with the large pool of operational trams available at present; I’d like to make a few extra visits to try and ride on them all, but chances are it would be the same few cars out each time so it’s not really worth the gamble for me, especially as I don’t drive and getting to Crich by public transport is far from easy. Looks like I’ll have to cram in as many trips as possible at ‘Electric 50′ then!

  10. Paul says:

    While I don’t agree that Crich cannot pre-plan and advertise output – plenty of railways manage it – why not, as soon as the days output is known – post it on line. There are plenty of people within 1-2 hours drive of Crich who might come if they knew a particular car was out.

  11. Paul D says:

    Unfortunately this thread has become a microcosm of where communications are going wrong and causing problems for Crich…
    We have a very fair, balanced review highlighting positives and negatives of the past few months. From official sources there has been only silence. There has however been considerable response from individuals purporting to support the Museum but regrettably, instead of celebrating the positive achievements, they have attempted to defend the negatives by means of off-topic criticism of other organisations (including one criticising a system he later admits to having never visited or experienced for himself!) and contradictory claims. Constructive suggestions inevitably only receive a “can’t do that because…” response…
    Unfortunately that only leads to an inevitable decent in to personal attacks and does no credit to the reputation of either the individuals or the organisation they claim to support. The only problem with communication from the Museum itself is a lack of: the comments that really provoke the negative debate in the main comes from individuals.
    Instead of being defensive and critical of others at every point, why not accentuate the positive achievements? – Crich is THE World Leader for the quality and thoroughness of its Tramcar restorations but sadly that get lost in the muddle of bad publicity generated by being over defensive on trivial issues and negativity towards other organisations.
    In Short Tell us what is good about Crich and what you CAN do, rather than what is wrong with others and why you apparently can’t do what others do as a matter of routine…

  12. David Taylor says:

    in reply to Steve it is OK to suggest that the free passes be charged but ask yourself why they are granted free entry.

    I can use mine because I spent a lot of time restoring 869. This was at my expense and also the other members of the MTPS work group.

    When I attend Crich I have to use two trains and a bus in each direction. Once there I normally do not ride the trams but like to photograph so I am not causing wear on the the trams. I also buy a meal and possibly a pint so I am putting money in the bank. I frequently come home with something from the shop which is not cheap so my free trip is quite expensive.