Ten Years of British Trams Online

As British Trams Online celebrates its 10th anniversary Editor Gareth Prior reminisces about the past decade looking at the setting up and evolution of the website.

Ten years. Wow! Who would have thought when this website was launched on 1st December 2002 that ten years later we would still be here – I certainly didn’t! The UK tram scene has certainly changed over the years as back in 2002 words like mothballing, Flexity2 and Variotram were unknown and we still thought that we were going to be getting tramways in Leeds, Liverpool and Portsmouth – how wrong we were thanks to Alistair Darling!

Although the website looks significantly different to the rather interesting design it was launched with in 2002 the basis of the site is still very much the same with news, feature articles, fleet lists, photo galleries, links and a diary of events all featuring. In addition there was a Hall of Fame – now renamed tram profiles but not a particularly regularly updated section, a message board (soon disbanded due to a complete lack of use) and a chat room (ditto!). It’s funny but even though ten years have passed by the only major section of the website which has been added since that original launch – and remains as part of the site – has been the Tram of the Year although we did have a restoration section for a while but that was soon subsumed into the news section.

Quite why I decided to start British Trams Online has been lost in the mists of time all I can remember is that it seemed a good idea at the time! There seemed to be a definite gap in the market as in 2002 there were very few tram websites out there (unlike today when you barely have to go far before tripping over yet another website often with the focus on Blackpool!) and finding out tram news was mainly confined to one of the magazines available with the LRTA website providing irregular updates. I was also over a year out of University and was looking for something to keep me occupied (little did I know then just how occupied it would make me!) and it would also allow me to get my Uni dissertation (which somehow I had managed to persuade my lecturer could be done on the Blackpool Tramway!) out in the open.

Once I had decided to go ahead with the website I had to decide what to call it (I seem to remember it wasn’t a particularly difficult decision but how I came up with the name is something else I have completely forgotten!) and just what to include on it. I had been keeping my own Blackpool Tramway fleet list for a number of years (which I had based on the style as included in the Blackpool Tramway Yearbook Issue 5) so it seemed an automatic choice to have fleet lists on the site and as the whole idea was to have a news based site that had to be included as well. Feature articles were also a fairly automatic decision and Photo Galleries were also an obvious choice to go onto BTO as it was a good excuse to bore the world with my camera’s offerings. As far as I was concerned every website needed to have a discussion forum so a message board was added (although I soon realised that a lot of tram enthusiasts at that time didn’t want to discuss things!) and a page of links to other websites was also quickly added. The final part of the original site – the Hall of Fame – was something I had seen on a football website previously and I thought I would steal that idea as well and that was the basis of British Trams Online.

You may have noticed in the past that although British Trams Onlinewas launched to an unsuspecting world on 1st December 2002 the news archive actually stretches (stretched!) back to the beginning of September of the same year which was when I had started to plan and create the website. Whilst researching this article I have had a look at some of those early news stories and – apart from cringing at some of my early writing (hopefully you will agree my writing style has improved in the past 10 years!) – it is interesting to see what stories we were reporting and how things have changed in the intervening period. We shall ignore the first ever story I wrote (considering it involves a grandmother dying after being hit by a tram in Croydon) but  some of the first stories reported were on Midland Metro being a key part of the West Midlands Local Transport Plan with three new lines planned (of which none have been built and only a small section of one is currently being constructed through Birmingham City Centre), advance works starting for Leeds Supertram (a now dead project), the ruling out of a light rail system in the Blackwater Valley (which would most likely have gone past the window of the flat I moved into six years later – what a missed opportunity!) and local residents protesting against the proposed route of line two of Nottingham Express Transit (a project which is now in the process of being constructed finally).

In those early days of the site it used to take me a couple of hours on a Sunday to write all the news and do all the updates but today, well today, let’s say it takes considerably longer than a couple of hours! Whereas it used to be just a weekend activity nowadays it can very much be a full time job with most nights after my real job being spent in front of the computer doing something or other to do with the website. A standard photo gallery can take between one and two hours to sort out (depending on whether the photos have been sorted out and sent through to me or whether they are my own and I have to be writing the captions as well)  and then on top of that the news can take a fair amount of time depending on what is happening at the time (just as well I write a fair amount of news during my lunchtimes at work!) Fortunately I don’t have a life outside of British Trams Onlineso I have plenty of time to dedicate towards the website!

For the first few years of the existence of British Trams Onlinewe just plodded along with weekly (sometimes twice weekly if you were lucky!) updates with news and fleet lists the main uploads and photos also being added on an irregular basis (a lot more irregular than now and when they were the galleries were much smaller and less varied than today). But as time has gone on the updates have become more frequent and larger until we have reached the stage we are at now which is without doubt the strongest we have ever been with extensive coverage of all the main tramway events in the UK both heritage wise and on the real tram systems. For this coverage I am always eternally grateful to those who send information and their photos in for our use as it is physically and mentally impossible for myself and Andrew Waddington to cover everything which goes on. I may curse it sometimes when I get photo after photo emailed in on a Friday night but I soon get over that and get to work to make sure the site remains as up-to-date as possible. I won’t even attempt to mention everyone who has submitted anything for use on the site as there are so many of you and I would probably miss someone obvious out and that wouldn’t be fair! But thanks to all of you however small or big your contribution.

There have been several defining moments in the history of British Trams Online with most of them coming in the past couple of years as we seem to have gone from strength to strength. The main key moments have been when the website stopped being a one man band in 2011 and Andrew Waddington officially joined the team as “Contributing Writer” and then in December 2011 when we launched the News Blog to replace the standard News page which meant that I didn’t have to personally upload everything to the site. Andrew had, of course, been a regular contributor to the site for a while but he had never officially been part of the team (in fact before he joined it wasn’t really a team as you can’t have a team of one!) and had in fact been writing for another tram website for a number of years. When he joined it meant that I didn’t have to write every single bit of news myself which really helped take off some of the pressure and made doing British Trams Onlinethat much more enjoyable again. One bad part (and it was only bad in the fact it created a whole load more work for me!) of Andrew joining was that there was a significant increase in the number of news articles which needed to be uploaded and so as the year progressed the big decision was made to create a news blog which would allow both of us to upload stories. This meant that for the first time we became a potentially daily updated website but on the downside meant we had an external blog in the site which didn’t necessarily have the look and feel of the remainder of the site. However the downside of this was certainly outweighed by the positives and hopefully you will all agree the launch of the News Blog was probably the most exciting development in the site’s history since it was launched.

Two other major milestones in the site have come when we have dipped our toes into the tram tour market and also when, earlier this year, we sponsored the repaint of Blackpool Boat 233. The tram tour was organised in partnership with Tramways Monthlyand was held to celebrate (commemorate?) the end of traditional trams operating to Starr Gate on the Blackpool Tramway back in September 2009. This was a night which didn’t exactly go according to plan (I learnt one major thing from the night and that was that I wasn’t a timetabler!) but was still an enjoyable evening with it probably going better than expected although it was an one and only occasion as BTO is never likely to be heavily involved in another tram tour ever again (I decided it was best to leave it to the professionals!)

Then at the start of this year with our 10th anniversary looming (we did actually start to think about the anniversary very early but still here I am writing an article on 10 years the night before it goes live!) we thought it would be good to have a big project to put our name to and after discussions with various people we finally decided to sponsor the repaint of the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s Blackpool Boat 233 when it moved to Beamish. This was probably the most exciting thing BTO has done over the past ten years and it was nice to be able to put something back into the UK tram scene having taken so much out over the last decade and to see it operating in the north east was a very pleasing moment for us. This was intended to be very much a one off project but you never know what is coming round the corner but one thing I can guarantee is that if we do get involved in another project it won’t involve a Blackpool tram as it would be good to spread some of our love around!

Over the past 10 years the site has gone through a number of different designs with BTO 4.0 launching as part of our anniversary celebrations (well at least the homepage is anyway, the rest will gradually follow). Hopefully you agree that it has evolved and improved over those years with our latest design aiming to be the last ever major redesign of the site and as such it should be plain and simple making it easy for you to navigate around and find exactly what you need to quickly. At any rate it is definitely a major improvement on the first couple of designs with the incredibly “interesting” original yellow design now just a distant memory (even I don’t have a copy of that design anymore – it was that bad!) and the second design (which you can still find through WebArchive) a rather clunky effort (but it was my first struggle with html coding!) If nothing else doing this website has taught me a new skill as I didn’t know any html beforehand and now I have learnt enough to enable me to design basic pages.

Don’t worry I’ve nearly finished rambling just a couple more paragraphs to go! I feel that over the past ten years I have been in a privileged position to be able to bring you the news in a major changing period for the UK tram scene and it has certainly enabled me to find out things I never would have done if I hadn’t have started the website. It has also meant I have been able to see behind the scenes of a couple of depots in the northwest and I have managed to meet a number of interesting people over the years.

And what of the future of British Trams Online? There are still a number of ideas floating around in my head about how things can be improved and what else can be added to the site but time constraints have always put those on a backburner  but one day you never know we might be able to bring you an enhanced website (although that would probably involve it becoming a full time job and short of me winning the Euromillions jackpot that isn’t going to happen!) One thing I can predict for the future is that we will attempt to continue to bring you in depth news and photos on all of the UK’s tram and light rail systems and museums as and when it breaks.

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