| Review of the Year 2003
Article Posted Sunday 1 February 2004
2003 was a year which will be best remembered on traditional tramways for the poor service operated in Blackpool. It will also be remebered for discussions across the country for extensions and new tram systems. The biggest discussions have come in Birmingham with debates over above or under ground while in Nottingham the NET system should have opened in November but due to many reasons it has been delayed to someone in 2004. So here British Trams ONLINE webmaster Gareth Prior takes a brief look at some of the major events in the year that was 2003.|
The year started with the return to service of Blackpool Centenary 644 following its mid-life overhaul. The tram was painted into the Farmer Parrs Animal World/Fleetwood Market all over advertising livery formerly held by sister 647 which was to be the next Centenary to undergo refurbishment. Meanwhile down at the Seaton Tramway it looked likely that the 3 new trams (9, 10 and 11) were to see service before the main part of the summer season. However as we now know this was not to be. There was the first of many pieces of controversy in Birmingham on the Midland Metro when plans were revealed for the naming of the trams. The cost of each naming was to be £10,000 and most people were only happy at the choice of Jeff Astle (ex-West Brom footballer). The most controversial name chosen was that by Altram of their Resident Engineer, Roger Entwistle. As the construction works for Nottingham Express Transit continued some original tram track was found in Upper Parliament Street. Finally for the month a route was finally decided upon for the Bristol tramway between the City Centre, Parkway Station and the north east of the city.
The major development of the month was the supposed financial problems being suffered by Croydon Tramlink. It was reported that Tramtrack Croydon Ltd. had debts of £100 million and only had enough money to run the system until 25 March. The original story looked as if the future of the line could have been in doubt but soon after it was discovered that there was never any danger of one of the most successful tram systems in the UK from closing. It was also revealed that Midland Metro had lost £16 million since the opening of the line in 1999 and that their General Manager felt that under the current financial arrangement they would not be able to continue. It was also a bad month for collisions across the country with just one week seeing collisions on Midland Metro, Croydon Tramlink and Stagecoach Supertram. The most serious one was in Wolverhampton where a car collided with a tram at the Priestfield road junction and the occupant of the car was killed at the scene. In Blackpool the first tram to be revealed in Metro Coastlines style livery was Twin Car 672+682 which received an orange and yellow scheme whilst Sheffield 513 had its paint job completed. There was also sad news from Blackpool as Stuart Pillar, former Chief Engineer, had died after a short battle against cancer. His main claim to fame from his time in Blackpool was the creation of the two Jubilee cars. In Liverpool public consultation commenced for Line One of MerseyTram whilst in London Save Ealing’s Streets took to the streets to protest against the proposed West London Tram scheme.
This one proved to be a big month for trams in the UK with the start of pre works in Leeds on the A61 Hunslet Road (10th) and the London City Airport and North Woolwich extension of DLR was started on the 3rd of the month. There was also the first tram to operate under its own power in Nottingham for over 65 years when 202 ran from the depot to Highbury Vale. The tests of trams were started to check there were no technical issues to be resolved. The Scottish Executive announced that they were to give £375 million for the Edinburgh tram system. It would mean that when approval is finally given for construction trams should be back on the streets of the city in 2009. In Portsmouth the Preserved Transport Depot in Broad Street was closed as the area was earmarked for redevelopment. This meant that Portsdown and Horndean 13 had to leave the area for storage elsewhere in the county. Repaints dominated elsewhere in the country with Twin 671+682 receiving a green and yellow Metro Coastlines livery and Brush 632 was receiving the finishing touches in an all over advert for The SeaLife Centre whilst in Manchester, 1007 was unique for the First Series trams when it received the revised livery with turquoise doors. There were also discussions across the country over whether tram networks should be built or extended with Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and Merton considering new proposals.
Nottingham saw the commencement of the rail grinding in order to smooth off the rough top layer of the tracks. The majority of the work was undertaken at night in order to minimise disruption although some locals still complained about the noise it was causing. Further up the country in Sheffield there was a rare phenomenon where a petition was collected by people actually in favour of having the Supertram network extended into Stocksbridge. The first new station on Manchester Metrolink since the opening of the Eccles extension was opened at Shudehill on 12 April. Eventually the station is to be joined by a bus station and car park to make it the largest transport interchange in the city. The month also saw the recommencement of services on the whole length of the Blackpool Tramway when the length of track from Thornton Gate to Fleetwood was reopened after several months of major trackwork. However double deck trams were to be banned from this length of track for the remainder of the year. Also in Blackpool, Brush 622 received an all over advert for GlynGarry Windows and the Lancastrian Transport Trust started to move its exhibits to its new storage facility in the resort. Coronation 663 and Engineering Car 753 were the first trams at the new depot. At Crich the Duke of Gloucester opened the new library extension on 14 April while the major restoration project, Leeds 345, had seen the completion of its upper deck shell before it was transferred on an accommodation truck to the depot.
It was announced that opening day for Nottingham Express Transit would be 11 November meaning that only 6 months were left for all the testing. However on 25 May there was a derailment at Highbury Vale which resulted in tragedy when a worker sent to investigate the incident collapsed and died of a heart attack at the scene. It was unfortunately another month of accidents with Sheffield seeing a death after a car collided with a tram overhead pole, although trams were not involved with witnesses needed to find out what had happened. Croydon also saw two incidents including one where a bus drove up the back of a tram in New Addington having jumped a red light. The Docklands Light Railway revealed their new Managing Director as Neil McLean formerly of Freightliner. In Manchester there was severe disruption for 3 days after panes of glass fell out of Victoria station roof meaning trams did not run at all from Crumpsall to Piccadilly Gardens. In the sphere of public consultations 90% of people who answered the Mersey Tram one said they were in favour of the construction of Line One whilst Edinburgh saw the start of their 6 week period. The main news in Blackpool was that Sheffield 513 had a major derailment between St Stephens Avenue and Cabin. The incident was so severe that the tram had to remain out overnight before being towed back to depot the next morning. The new summer timetable started on 19 May and on paper looked impressive with a vintage tram service to operate between North Pier and Pleasure Beach at the weekends and a main 20 minute Starr Gate-Fleetwood and an intermediate 20 minute Starr Gate-Cleveleys service (extended to Fleetwood on Tuesdays). However the running time was extended to 75 minutes.
At the start of the month there was a near miss on Manchester Metrolink when two trams nearly collided. One tram was returning to the depot wrong line from Bury whilst the other had just stopped at the staff halt. It was reported that at least one of the drivers had been told to ignore the red signals that he met. Luckily both of the drivers were alert enough to stop before colliding. Meanwhile over in Nottingham on 25 June power was switched on for a one and a half mile length from Wilkinson Street to Peel Street. It was the annual Tramathon at the Crich Tramway Village which saw the reappearance of Leeds 602 into service after many years out of use after the discovery of a leaky roof. Up at Blackpool another Brush car was back into service in a new all over advertising livery, this time 631 received one for the Laughing Donkey Family Bar on South Pier whilst Twin set 674+684 were back into service in a Cadbury Blue and Yellow livery. It was also revealed in the resort that Sheffield 513 and Stockport 5 were now banned from going any further north than Cabin following the derailment of 513 the month before. The rest of the months news was dominated by planned or wanted extensions to the UK’s tramways. Nottingham saw a slight route change on the proposed route to Beeston, there was objection to the Midland Metro Great Barr extension and it looked like the Stagecoach Supertram would not be going to Deepcar and Stocksbridge due to the large cost of around £100 million.
It was revealed that Nottingham Express Transit was not going to open on 11 November after all. The reasons for this delay were due to a longer period of commissioning, testing and training programs than they had planned for. This led to delays within the construction period which led into further delays in the power switch on and driver training programs. The derailment at Highbury Vale was also blamed for causing the delay with Line One now expected to open between 4 and 8 weeks late in either December or January. Across the country at Liverpool the consortia on the shortlist for the DBOM contract were revealed which included Transdev, Mitsubishi/MTR and NedRailways/Serco. Mersey Travel were also putting in a bid to the government for money towards the cost of Line 2. Down at Seaton the new tram, number 9, finally started testing on 4 July with initial testing being done out of service hours. In Manchester a brand new livery was revealed on 1014 with an additional turquoise stripe above the doors as part of the multi million pound mid life refurbishment program. The big news in Blackpool was the announcement that the Illuminated Warship 736 was to undergo a major restoration for a return to service in time for the 2004 illuminations. This was revealed at the Fleetwood Tram Sunday event where fellow illuminated tram, the Western Train 733+734, made a guest appearance as a stationary exhibit at the Ferry. There was also a new livery style for Open Top Balloon 706 Princess Alice which was now in the Original Green and Cream style for the first time since its restoration back in 1985. In the continuing debates across the country MP for Fareham, Mark Hoban, made an impassioned appeal in Parliament for the South Hampshire LRT scheme to be give final approval again. Meanwhile protest groups in Sheffield and West London made their opinions known with Save Ealing’s Streets presenting their protest to City Hall. In Birmingham they were rocked by news that Transport Secretary Alistair Darling felt that Centro should look at more low cost bus solutions rather than Metro extensions.
Daytime testing started on NET as far as Hyson Green on 11 August. However the first run was delayed slightly due to a thunderstorm and managers did not want to risk any electrical interference. At the end of the month the city centre section of the tramway saw its first tram when 208 traversed the tracks on 31 August for clearance checks. In Manchester a HSE report into the near collision back in June revealed that no lives were at risk as emergency signals would have brought both trams to a stand before they collided. The reasons for the incident were put down to a number of extraordinary events on the system during the day including several tram failures. Down in Portsmouth the leader of the Council said that the public of the city would have to chose between new a swimming pool or the tram system. Meanwhile the Midland Metro debate really developed in Birmingham when the Conservative council chiefs said that they would rather see an underground railway than Metro extensions in the city centre. The current planned city centre extension received 137 objection letters with just 10 of support. There were also delays on the current line on 28 August when a fire occurred when one tram was towing another causing a short circuit. In Liverpool there were doubts put onto the Mersey Tram project when the Churchill Way flyover (which was to be demolished) suddenly seemed to get a reprieve. At the end of the month the Department for Transport released their annual light rail figures which showed that light rail journeys in 2002/3 had risen by almost 7%.
On 10 September there were routine inspections on the First Series Manchester Metrolink trams which revealed a potential defect. It meant that 10 were discovered to need attention and although 6 were dealt with over night there were delays on services the following day. The same day saw the ‘first’ tram to run on the street section of NET when 208 (again) ran an official journey starting from depot at 5am. But just a week later there was the second derailment on the line when 206 came off the tracks at Wilkinson Street. The tram only received minor damage and nobody was injured. In Blackpool Twin 673+683 became the fourth set in the Metro Coastlines livery when they received turquoise and yellow and Centenary 647’s refurbishment was reaching a conclusion and it was painted all over yellow. The continued Midland Metro debate saw the leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore, rule out future city centre extensions overground although he did say the current plans for the Five Ways extension would be able to use the streets. Costs were rising in Nottingham on Lines 2 and 3 with the price now up by £2.8 million. The increase was put down to the opposition groups causing more detailed technical investigations.
The public consultation into 5 extensions to Midland Metro (Five Ws, Birmingham East-West, Bartley Green, Varsity North, Eastside Spur) started on 3 October whilst the underground Metro debate wouldn’t go away with rumours that the redeveloped Bullring complex would be a good point to go underground. The Dockland Light Railway received the Best London Suburban Operator award at the National Rail Awards 2003. On 16 October there was a 3 way accident involving cars, a bus and a tram in Sheffield. It happened at a set of traffic lights when a car stopped suddenly and then 2 further cars, a bus and then the tram went into the back of each other. Down at Seaton the tramway received good news when they hit the 100,000 passenger mark for the first time but were also hit by news that Chief Engineer James Hammett was to leave after less than 6 months. In Blackpool there were reapplications of current liveries for Balloons 700 and 703 whilst Centenary 647 started testing after is midlife overhaul. Talking of which the next First Series Metrolink tram, 1022, was back in service after its refurbishment whilst 22 October saw 30 minute delays on Metrolink Altrincham services after a tram failure. 5 trams were trapped between Stretford and Altrincham.
It now seemed likely that the spring of 2004 would be a more likely launch date for NET due to a lack of skilled tradesmen and the need for the slight adjustment of track and some points to run trams at higher speeds. The system also was hit by its first RTA when a lorry hit the side of a tram. The incident happened after the lorry was trying to get out of the way of the tram tracks. The joint promoters behind the South Hants LRT scheme urged the government to give them a decision either way on their reapplication for approval. Meanwhile the SMART consortium bidding for the DBOM contract was joined by the MTR Corporation. There was a serious accident in Blackpool when a 93 year old woman was struck by Centenary 643 in Cleveleys at a near blind crossing in the town. Managing Director of Blackpool Transport, Steve Burd, meanwhile was giving mixed messages as to whether he was expecting good news from the government over upgrade funding with him one week saying it didn’t look good and the next being upbeat about it. Elsewhere in Blackpool Balloon 710 and Brush 636 received Metro Coastlines livery styles with 710 receiving Purple and Yellow and 636 Dark Green and Yellow. 710’s style caused a lot of comment! The first reports came out of Manchester that strikes could be on their way due to an inter union disagreement between ASLEF and TGWU. Metrolink were signed to a single union agreement with the latter but drivers who were members of ASLEF wanted negotiations.
The Public Inquiry into the Five Ways Midland Metro extension started with 95 objections listed. The Victorian Society were one who were unhappy due to the fact they thought it would ruin the heritage nature of the city centre. Other objections came from local hotels, developers and shops such as House of Fraser. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat Councillors came up with the idea that instead of trams or an underground railway trolleybuses should be used in the city centre as it would cost just one fifth of the Metro network. In Croydon there was a vicious assault on a driver at King Henry’s Drive, New Addington. It happened when 2 youths were involved in an argument with the driver and then they pulled the emergency cord twice before they were asked to leave the tram. Before they did they punched and kicked him. Both MPs and Councillors in Leeds demanded a meeting with Alistair Darling to find out what was going on with the bid for funding after it had been called back to Whitehall. In Nottingham it was revealed that all of the trams would receive names with 5 named after local unsung heroes, 5 after countywide historic figures and the remainder after local living famous people. Finally for the year another tram received Metro Coastlines livery in Blackpool with rebuilt Balloon 724 receiving Red and Yellow (the first vehicle in Blackpool to receive these colours) and Balloon 712 was moved to the paint shop for a start to made on a historic repaint.
And what about 2004
2004 promises to be an exciting year for the UK tram world with April likely to see the opening of Nottingham Express Transit with the dummy timetable now in operation. In Blackpool Illuminated Warship 736 will return to service for the illuminations, Balloon 724 will be back in service after its major overhaul and there is also the chance there may be some special events in September to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the English Electric Trams. There will also hopefully be good news received across the country when the government finally give decisions on many tram systems funding.