A fond farewell for Manchester Metrolink’s T68s

Spring Bank Holiday Monday, 26th May was a milestone day in the history of Manchester’s public transport, and indeed the history of British trams in the general, as it marked the final operation of one of the original batch of light rail vehicles purchased to inaugurate the Metrolink system. The T68 class are generally considered to have been the first modern trams to run in the UK, and after just over two decades, their time of serving the people of Manchester came to an end on this day with a special enthusiast tour.

Despite a fairly high £20 price tag, tickets for the last ever journey on the Metrolink network by a T68 were snapped up extremely quickly, resulting in a coupled pair of the trams running full up for the event. Cars 1007 and 1016 were chosen to perform this historic journey, and had been prepared for their final day in the limelight ahead of the event itself. Notably, 1016 was adorned with a special ‘Farewell T68’ plaque, whilst 1007 wore traditional Manchester Corporation lettering, just as it did when it was the first of the new generation trams to operate through the city centre back in 1992. The latter was also sporting Heaton Park Tramway logos, in recognition of its future home as the very first of Britain’s second generation trams to find sanctuary in preservation. Both cars also displayed ‘T68 Special’ on their electronic destination screens, to add to the uniqueness of this occasion.

The duo began the day loading their eager passengers at Piccadilly, before going on to visit Eccles, Bury, Altrincham and MediaCityUK – all favourite haunts of the T68 class during their working lives. A number of photo stops were arranged en route to the delight of ticketholders and the other well-wishers who had come to witness the last ever appearance of one of these trams in the city centre. One particularly notable event took place when the convoy halted at the stop closest to Heaton Park, and their passengers were encouraged to disembark. There, 1007 was officially handed over to its new custodians, the Manchester Transport Museum Society, with Alderman Keith Whitmore formally accepting the tram from representatives of Metrolink on the Society’s behalf, with several other Committee members and volunteers from the MTMS also present to witness this milestone event.

The pair concluded their final duty with one last run to Piccadilly, before returning to Queen’s Road depot empty for the last time. There, 1007 will await arrangements to be made for its transportation to Heaton Park, where it will ultimately join much earlier Manchester tramcars 173 and 765, enabling the MTMS to represent more than a century of local tramway history in their museum fleet. For 1016 the future is much less certain; although it is believed that another T68 is earmarked for preservation at an unknown museum, its identity has not yet been announced so it remains to be seen whether 1016 will live on or join the vast majority of its sisters in being cut up for scrap.

Whilst the Metrolink trams are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, they have undoubtedly played a massive role in British tramway history and set the ball rolling for a whole new era for tramways in the UK which led to the opening of new systems in Sheffield, Croydon and Nottingham amongst others, whilst also paving the way for the Blackpool tramway to be brought up to modern standards with a new fleet of articulated LRVs. They may not be the most attractive or reliable of trams, and their lifespan was somewhat shorter than originally anticipated, but they have done a good job for over twenty years and therefore it is good to know that they will be represented in preservation. Thank you and goodnight to the T68s, and perhaps one day we shall be able to ride on one again through Heaton Park!?

T68 1016 shows off its special 'Farewell T68' stickers and destination displays on its final day out on the Metrolink network.

Another view of the T68 convoy, this time with 1007 dominating the scene. Its Manchester Corporation crests, specially applied for the farewell tour, can be seen on the side panels.

A group of dignitaries stand proudly next to 1007 as the tram is handed over by Metrolink representatives to its new owners, the Manchester Transport Museum Society, for preservation at the Heaton Park Tramway.

A Heaton Park Tramway logo applied on the side of 1007 gives little doubt as to the intended destination for the first preserved second generation tramcar in Great Britain. (All photos by Joe Savage)


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14 Responses to A fond farewell for Manchester Metrolink’s T68s

  1. Bob Hayes says:

    It was a superb event and many thanks are due to all involved in its planning and operation. It was a privilege to be able to make the journey. I am not made of money(!), but certainly would not describe the £20 ticket price as ‘fairly high’. Proceeds went to two worthy causes and participants enjoyed the last passenger journeys of the T68s including non-stop running over much of the classic routes. Altogether a great day out.

  2. james jones says:

    With the amount of work behind the scenes and the amount of metro link staff onboard the tour plus all ticket sales going to charity how can someone complain about the price of a ticket he didnt even buy I for one was on the tour and would pay double to doit all again full credit to metro link for an excellent send off of thes work horses

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I didn’t ‘complain’ about the price of the tickets, just pointed out how impressive it was that they sold so fast at £20. I’ve known many tram enthusiasts to complain at being asked to pay less for events so it shows how much interest there was in the final runs of the T68.

  3. Ken Walker says:

    Well when proceeds are going to charity it is fairly normal for prices to be higher than would normally be the case and I don’t think many people would complain about it. It’s not as if Metrolink or TfGM were profiteering from the revenue.
    An excellent day was had and the drivers involved showed that the 2 vehicles used are as capable as ever of a good turn of speed even after several months’ rest!

  4. Clifford Stead says:

    The old girls gave a thrilling turn of speed putting their contemporary banana counterparts to shame. Full marks to Metrolink/TFGM for putting on this memorable show stopper of a day which we will be talking about for years. A fitting tribute for a class of tram that pioneered the rebirth of the British street tramway.

  5. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    I was very impressed with the smooth proceedings on the day. I chose not to ride as I wanted to film the event and to that end managed 15 minutes of footage to add to my next volume of Metrolink Disks. Finished the day with what appears to be the only video footage of the pair entering Queens Road depot at the end of the day. Surprisingly there appeared to only be my two colleagues and one other gentleman from Pontefract there present for these final scenes.

  6. Deckerman says:

    To be fair, some of the other events where enthusiasts have perhaps been known to have complained at paying lesser amounts, might have equally been perceived as effectively lesser events, in the sense that, until Monday, we haven’t really seen a true and total “farewell” event to an entire large class of tram in many, many years. So I for one was not in the slightest bit balked by a £20 fare when it was all to be helping such an excellent cause, was such an historic event, meant that ticket holders were effectively part of history, could get £3 off the excellent book that was available, then have a full tour of the system that the T68’s could access and then could later, even travel the rest of the system too, as the commemorative ticket then became a rover ticket for the rest of the day. All for just £20!! Bargain!!

    Anyway, more importantly perhaps is that a very well deserved “Thank You” should go out to all that took part in, organised, operated or were generally involved in a worthy and respectable send off to an iconic part of Manchester’s transport history.

    Whilst it may be true that they were not the prettiest or most reliable cars we have ever known, they have done well for the future potential investment of tramways/ LRV systems in the UK over the last couple of decades and whilst possibly being retired a tad early of their intended 25 to 30 year lives, to put that in context, to be fair, they have far exceeded their forecasted mileages and passenger numbers due to the unexpectedly successful support for the system by both Mancunians and visitors alike. This was particularly apparent as we went through the city centre, as to the number of non enthusiast Bank Holiday shoppers who got their phones out to take probably their first ever and certainly last ever, shot of a T68 in Manchester’s streets.

    So as was pointed out on the farewell trip by some of the engineering staff, they have probably had their 30 years of wear and tear, in the last 15 to 20 years.
    So well done T68’s. You will be missed, but certainly in my book at least, you won’t be forgotten. And I look forward to riding 1007 again in Heaton Park, as well as perhaps other T68’s in other places too. Totally reading between the lines I admit, but stranger things! Perhaps a case of watch this space!!

  7. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    A T68 in Blackpool would not go amiss!

    • Bob Hayesh says:

      Now, there’s a thought. And how about a Midland Metro T69? In fact the latter might be a useful auxiliary fleet for short workings on the Prom?

      • Paul D says:

        No no no to a T68 or T69 in Blackpool!

        T68s are high floor so not compatible with Blackpools low platforms, and as for the T69s they would have to be very short workings – given their reliability record in Birmingham, in Blackpool’s much harsher conditions they’d do well to manage Starr Gate to Pleasure Beach without breaking down…

        Sadly both of these classes demonstrate the folly of buying the cheapest option, something Blackpool learned from and thankfully didn’t repeat in choosing the Bombardier Flexity2 model.

        • Chris Mitchell says:

          I quite agree. I can’t understand why 1007 can’t be retained by Metrolink and operated on a shuttle service on occasional Sunday afternoons rather than taking up the space of three heritage trams in the new depot, plus crates of spare parts.

          If it ever gets to move under its own power in Heaton park it will only be a token run and, I suspect, very infrequently.

          Strange that Ansaldo-built trams have had such a poor record in the UK.

          • John West says:

            1) Metrolink trams require a full operation and safety inspection every 3 months to operate. TfGM not prepared to lavish such an expense on a T68 which are know for unreliabilty!

            2)T68 will never run at Heaton Park as the voltage on the Overhead is different

            3) Ansaldo trams have a poor reliability record everywhere, not just the UK! The

    • Ken Walker says:

      Spare a thought for poor Bryan Lindop, Ralph, you’ll have him turning grey if you threaten him with any more trams!

  8. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    Thanks Ken. It’s nice to know that someone else can add some humour!

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