It has come to light that the Tramway Museum Society intend to transfer one of the many non-operational tramcars at Crich Tramway Village to the museum’s off-site storage facility at Clay Cross. The chosen vehicle is Blackpool Brush Railcoach 298, which arrived at Crich in 2005 in a partially restored state, but has sat untouched ever since and is currently languishing at the rear of the depots in a visually poor conditon.
A clear out of the Clay Cross store at the end of last year, which included the removal of Gateshead 52 which has since been permanently moved to a new home at Beamish Museum, has freed up some space there and it has therefore been decided to move a tram from Crich, where depot space has been at a premium since the arrival of Blackpool cars 236, 630 and 762 in 2011-12. Plans are being made to make space for Blackpool 298 and although no timescale has been revealed, the tram is expected to depart for Clay Cross in the fairly near future. One possibility is that this move could tie in with the return of Blackpool 167 later in the year as this tram will occupy a similar amount of depot space, although this is only an educated guess.
Naturally there are plenty of arguments for and against banishing 298 to the Clay Cross store. In its present state, the tram is an eyesore which gives a poor impression to visitors, and as such the decision to remove it from display is perfectly understandable. The Blackpool system is now extremely well represented at the museum and with other Brush cars preserved and operating at a number of different locations in the UK, 298 will probably not be missed too much. Indeed, the heavily modernised 630 will ensure that this class of car will still be represented at Crich and it could be argued that having two of the same type of tram, albeit in very different conditions, is perhaps unnecessary.
However, on the flip side of the coin, the decision to remove a tram which has already had a significant amount of work done to it is certainly one that deserves to be challenged. It is well known that a sum of about £125,000 exists in a special fund looked after by the Tramcar Sponsorship Organisation, which has been ring-fenced for the sole purpose of completing the restoration of car 298. Whilst the TMS have stated before that this is well short of the required amount to finance the required work for the tram to join the running fleet at Crich, it is clearly a sizeable sum of money which is presently sitting unused and effectively losing value. The TSO are expected to launch a brand new appeal to restore another tramcar soon, and it seems strange to start up a new fund from nothing when so much money is already reserved to restore another tram. Apparently, the Crich workshop apparently fully occupied for the next four years, which contributed towards the selection of 298 to be moved off-site. With this in mind, perhaps consideration could have been given to investigating the possibility of using the existing restricted funds to carry out a restoration work of the tram elsewhere as a contract job, as has often been suggested before. It is also wondered if other vehicles were considered for a move to Clay Cross, or if the decision could be reversed with another tram making the journey instead (Halle 902 perhaps?).
Whilst it is sincerely hoped that 298‘s banishment to Clay Cross will only be temporary, assuming of course that it does indeed happen, this sets out a clear message that there are no plans to finish this long-running project in the the short term at least. Whilst it will of course be possible to move the tram back once funding is available to complete its restoration, this is unlikely to happen for some time as presumably the high costs of transporting trams by road would discourage moves involving any vehicles that are likely to be required back at Crich within the foreseeable future, as this would be a waste of money. This will all come as a bitter disappointment to those who had invested time and money into the work already undertaken on the car, and is likely to result in further negativity being directed at the TMS in what should have been a year of celebration.