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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Arnhem's 'Beamish'

A Rotterdam classic centre entrance tram from the 1920s is one of several varied trams which provide service around Arnhem's Open Air Museum. Three examples of the Rotterdam centre entrance cars of this design form part of the museum fleet 520 535 and 536. Obvious lessons for Blackpool's heritage services going forward.

Quite apart from the three major urban tram systems in The Netherlands there is a remarkable Dutch version of the Beamish Museum on the outskirts of Arnhem in the Gelderland region of that country. Arnhem is famous for the 1944 battle which saw a parachute drop to secure an important bridge over the Rhine behind German lines. Memorials and museums to this epic event are present throughout the city. The battle is immortalised by the movie 'A Bridge Too Far',

Arnhem is also noteworthy for having the only trolleybus operation in The Netherlands with a sizeable system which began in the aftermath of WW2. The town's tramway system was destroyed (along with much of the infrastructure) in 1944, with the tram depot being totally obliterated and much of the rolling stock,

Thereafter buses, and later trolleybuses, took over former tram services in 1945.

An extensive area of land just on the outskirts of Arnhem was acquired before the war and assigned to provide a 'home' to preservation of heritage structures and artifacts from this part of The Netherlands. This was the foundation of what has become a very attractive visitor attraction covering social, rural and architectural heritage. Like Beamish Museum the Arnhem venue quite early on created an electric tramway circumnavigating the site to allow visitors an easier way of getting to the many individual areas of themed displays.

Of particular note is the museum tram depot itself which recreated the frontage and style of the original Arnhem depot bombed and destroyed in the war. Four tracks house a fine collection of trams from Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Kassel and a complete operating replica of Arnhem's very last tram design of 1929. Number 76 was created utilising equipment from a former Rotterdam car and is a precise replica of the centre entrance and end loading design unique to Arnhem's final series of trams. Number 76 continues the numbering sequence of that series. Most of the museum's trams are double ended to allow flexible operation on what is mostly a single track layout with some passing loops.

The Open Air Museum attracts visitors of all ages year round. I visited the museum some years back and appreciated the low key way it presents itself without the commercial element being too apparant. A nice touch are several period tram shelters positioned at key points along the route. All of different style and construction, and like tram 76 are exactly restored to original condition with period advertising in some. The depot itself is of brick construction with roof lights that allow natural light into the building along with period side windows of a similar style to those formerly on Bispham Depot in Blackpool and still extant Copse Road Depot in Fleetwood (c 1898).

If you are intending to visit The Netherlands this year on a holiday which includes

some tram sightseeing I recommend a day in Arnhem where modern trolleybuses abound amid a historical backdrop (the bridge is still standing) from World War Two. Arnhem also has an excellent zoo 'Burgers Zoo' which has high standards of animal conservation and protection - reachable directly by trolleybus from the main railway station. Online information and multiple images of the Open Air Museum and its tramway are readily accessible for those interested. A visit comes with a five star recommendation. There is a very active tram enthusiast group maintaining the operation with ongoing tram restoration projects alongside the depot - much like the Beamish Museum. It is a clear example of museum trams filling a practical role in conjunction with a leisure heritage setting with wide visitor appeal - much like the concept now eminently successful at Beamish.

John Woodman


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