Burton & Ashby 14 carries passengers in UK for first time in 90 years

Whilst most of the attention in UK tram preservation in 2017 has been directed towards Blackpool trams or trams to be restored in Blackpool one of the most ambitious projects in recent years has come to a conclusion with Burton & Ashby Light Railway 14 carrying passengers in the UK for the first time in 90 years. 14 was used for the first time in public service at the Statfold Barn Railway in Staffordshire during one of their operating days on Saturday 25th March – and proved to be a very popular addition to the various railways operating on the day.

14 was one of 20 open top trams built by Brush of Loughborough in 1906 for Burton and Ashby Light Railways to run on their 10 mile line. Unique in being the only tramway – although officially a light railway as it was built under light railway legislation – to be owned and operated by the Midland Railway the network opened on 13th June 1906 with a main line running between Burton and Ashby with a branch to Gresley. Built to the 3’6” gauge the tramway passed to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923 as part of the grouping of the country’s railways. However just four years later the decision was taken to close the line as a result of ongoing competition from buses with the last trams running on 19th February 1927. Whilst ten of the cars were sold to Tynemouth and District, 14 was sold locally and saw use as a shed/greenhouse until the 1970s when it was rescued and was restored by local enthusiasts. It was then sold to Detroit in 1980 and made the trip across to America where it was to see use on their heritage line for many years. With this line closing 2003, 14 became surplus to requirements and after languishing in a warehouse for many years it was put up for auction in late 2014. The successful bid was made from the UK and 14 returned to the country in early 2015.

Its new home was the Statfold Barn Railway, a well known private railway which has restored many locomotives over the years but a tram was a significant departure. The decision was made that 14 would be restored to operational condition, albeit with batteries fitted to allow it to operate without the need for overhead wires to be erected. The restoration progressed significantly during 2016 and it was reported at the time that it was planned that it would enter service during 2017 following the construction of its own depot and a 3′ gauge line was installed (with the tram having been regauged in the USA).

With the work fully completed in the early part of 2017 the first public operating day of the year at Statfold Barn Railway on Saturday 25th March saw 14 – in a gleaming coat of Maroon and Cream – enter service. This was the first time in at least 14 years that 14 had carried passengers and the first time in 90 years that passengers had ridden on the tram in the UK. For the restoration – and conversion to battery operation – to have been undertaken in a relatively short timeframe is surely one of the more remarkable achievements for tram preservation in UK in recent years.

* Public opening days at Statfold Barn are strictly by pre-requested invitation only and that it isn’t possible to turn up on the day. Further public days are due on Saturday 10th June and Saturday 9th September and there is also a Great Miniature Weekend on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th May. More details on how to visit the railway are available on their website at http://www.statfoldbarnrailway.co.uk/.

14 waits for its first public services outside its new depot.

Another view of 14 ahead of its first service.

This view is at the other end of the line, Oak Tree Halt. Alongside is steam locomotive Fiji which was restored to working order in 2014.

14 heads along the line towards Oak Tree Halt. Graham Lee, the owner of Statfold Barn is alongside the driver. (All Photographs by Kevin James)

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11 Responses to Burton & Ashby 14 carries passengers in UK for first time in 90 years

  1. Bill Brinkley says:

    Great news. I hope to see the tram one day, made my day

  2. Bob Davis says:

    Does that top photo show a dual-gauge railway? As a long time member of Orange Empire Ry. Museum in southern California, I have run both 42″ gauge and standard gauge trams on our loop track. Los Angeles used 42″ gauge trams until 1963 and we have an extensive collection of them, along with some works cars. We also have standard gauge trams from the Pacific Electric system and other operations.

  3. Ken Jones says:

    The new tram shed has 2 roads. On the LHS as you look at it is standard gauge and 3ft 6 in dual gauge track. On the RHS it is 3ft 6in gauge with a pit. The whole length of the track from the depot to the terminus is dual gauge

  4. David Edwards says:

    I was told by one of the drivers yesterday at Statfold that the tram operates on a 3ft gauge track. The other rail is laid to make the outer rails standard gauge. The batteries are under the longitudinal seats in the lower saloon. The car operates on 120 volts using electronic controllers and ac motors presumably using an inverter. The motors are very quiet but as the original gears are used it sounds like a tram of its era.

  5. Mark H says:

    It is indeed dual gauge. The left hand portion is 18″ gauge. At the Oak Tree end of the line 18″ gauge Hunslet 0-4-0WT JACK was on display. Incidentally, JACK and B&A 14 have a historical geographic connection, in that JACK was built for and worked at the clay pits of John Knowles (Wooden Box) Ltd in the village of Woodville, through which the B&A passed.

    This afternoon I had the privilege of sharing some photos of B&A 14 from yesterday with an 105 year old relative who remembers travelling to school in Ashby on the B&A before it closed when she was 15.


  6. jimboylan says:

    In Detroit, the tram ran on tracks laid to the Lisbon, Portugal tram gauge of 9 decimeters. Most of the other cars on the line had come from Lisbon.

  7. John Hibbert says:

    So are they contemplating a triple gauge operation, then? Presumably 18″ gauge “Jack” can safely and practically operate on the left rail and left hand side of the centre rail with 3′ gauge available to the right and standard gauge overall. Very versatile!

  8. Gary J Michaels says:

    If you had seen the condition B&A 14 was in, when Mike Washenko, Liz Patterson and I inspected the tram for the eventual winning bidder, a little over two years ago, then you would simply be amazed! After years of storage in the abandoned Shoemaker Carbarn in Detroit, she had been both vandalized and stripped of her brass and wiring. The upper deck had been removed, due to height limitations and her upper seats had all been removed. Given our museum’s [Michigan Transit Museum] relationship with the City of Detroit and our failed attempts to preserve two old work streetcars, despite the full cooperation of DDOT, we were somewhat fearful that the City administration would instead scrap B&A 14, as they did with the two work cars (that we had a lease on).
    The Detroit Downtown Trolley Line was of the odd 90 centimeter gauge,which is just a hair under 3′. The line and the trams were badly maintained, with service in the last decade being sporadic at best. Perhaps, ironically, streetcar service will return to Detroit in just a few weeks, utilizing standard gauge, battery equipped streetcars, able to operate up to 60% of the time without overhead wires.
    As I am the person who first sent out the word of the auction, in an attempt to actually save the trams, and was one of the three “American enthusiasts” who cooperated with the bidder, the results are far beyond expectations. Well Done !
    Magnificent !
    Gary J Michaels

    • BigG says:

      Well done to your team as well, for raising awareness in the UK and for your part in the eventual, fantastic, result.

    • Micky says:

      Thanks for that additional info – I had no idea it was that bad, certainly I haven’t seen any photos of it in that condition but they would be fascinating to see.

  9. Keith Moorley says:

    I never thought that we would see the Burton car operating on this side of the water. Always expect the unexpected.

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