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.