A recent announcement that the decision by the Board of Management at the Tramway Museum Society to reject a substantial donation to enable the restoration of the unique Leeds 602 was being reviewed, had been met with approval by the many enthusiasts who had felt that the original decision was a highly questionable one. Sadly however, the review has now been concluded and the outcome remains the same as before – the money for 602 will not be accepted and the tram will be conserved in its current form, rather than returned to running order.
For anyone not familiar with the saga of Leeds 602, the controversy began when a TMS member passed away and the executors of his will offered to donate £250,000 to allow one of his favourite trams, 602, to be fully restored in the Crich workshops. It was then decided that the tram should remain as it is, as restoring it would involve the replacement of many important materials and components which would devalue the tram’s historical significance as the only example of an all-electric, VAMBAC equipped tramcar in the national collection. Since then, evidence was presented to the TMS Board proving that extensive work had already been undertaken on the car since it was preserved, and therefore that there would be little worth in conserving a tram that had already been significantly overhauled since ending its working career in Leeds. This, presumably combined with the flood of negative comments which has graced the pages of the Society Journal and websites such as this one, led to the original decision being reviewed with the ‘Attitude Statement’ for the tram being updated to take into account the new information available.
Despite many of us hoping that this would lead to the legacy being accepted and 602 being overhauled and returned to service, this was not to be. Once again, the decision has been made that Leeds 602 is most valuable to the museum as a static exhibit and therefore the money is being rejected once again with the tram to be conserved rather than restored to preserve whatever originality it retains. Originally the donation had come with a very tight time restriction attached, but this has since been relaxed, so this excuse is no longer applicable as the executors of the will have clearly indicated that they would be happy to release the money when workshop capacity becomes available, so as not to adversely affect any other restoration projects at Crich. The original sum has been revised to £150,000 in line with a Crich workshop estimate that the work required to bring 602 up to the museum’s high standards for operation would cost around £100,000. It was even suggested that any left-over cash could be spent on other projects of the museum’s choosing, meaning that it won’t just be the Leeds car that loses out as a result of this decision.
It now appears that there is no chance at all of the decision not to restore 602 will be overturned, and a huge sum of money has been potentially lost by the British tram preservation movement. Perhaps at some point in the distant future, Leeds 602 will be restored and run again – after all, a previous Curator had suggested a similar policy towards London County Council 1, but ultimately leaving it in ‘as withdrawn’ condition forever was not an option, as its condition was deteriorating to the extent that its long-term survival was at stake. That tram is now being fully rebuilt in the workshop with any parts no longer fit for re-use that are considered to be of value being retained for possible future exhibition as a compromise measure. Presumably though, when that time finally comes for Leeds 602, it will be left to the TMS to find the required finance to carry out the work required which may well have escalated by then.