Spanish trams rule in Brum
The last British trams built in the West Midlands - Blackpool's classic trailer cars
Seen here on a sunny day in 2015 at Wyre Dock Fleetwood in contrasting liveries. Trams Built in the West Midlands by UK companies - not in Spain......
The BBC carried a nostalgic programme on its regional television channel on Monday covering the final run of Birmingham's first generation tram in 1953.
The BBC's website contains images from the programme and excerpts of comments by Geoffrey Claydon whose west midlands origins provide him with firsthand knowledge of the first generation Birmingham tram system.
Of course Birmingham closed well before my own interests in trams awakened, and anyway it was distant from the northwest. The city's trams were of a traditional kind and more or less all looked the same. Modernisation, such as it was, focussed on tinkering with the fleet in minor details of little consequence to the public. The one thing which could be said about Birmingham's first tramway was the extensive investment in private right of way on centre reservations, extending outwards to leafy suburbs. The legacy of these abandoned priorities over road traffic can still be seen on several of the routes they served - although mature trees and roadway widening has impacted in many places.
Now that the city is finally waking up to the merits of light rail beyond the initial line which terminated in an undercroft of Snow Hill Station - it is interesting to see the advocacy now being given to this second generation of trams rumbling into Birmingham's commercial centre on street tracks. Garishly painted (magenta and silver) cars with inevitable modular styling are now symbols of a UK city which has come of age (so to speak). Quite a number of other British towns and cities are waiting for the same new dawn to begin - notably Leeds and Liverpool/Merseyside; where green and verdant centre tree lined reservations also mark the former course of electric trams swishing their way to and from residential suburbs. Almost alone in Europe - the UK has stumbled its way haphazardly towards re-adopting steel wheels on steel rail in dense urban corridors. Instead our usual peak hour scenes involve streets filled with shoals of equally garishly painted buses with the latest operator branding, spewing fumes hidden or otherwise, onto traffic contaminated roads. Environment be damned.
Whereas Birmingham's first tramway system with its locally built trams, albeit to typical British design, at least profited UK suppliers and put wages into the pockets of British workers - now we are exporting those profits and maintaining employment elsewhere in Europe - in this case those lucky assemblers in Valencia, Spain. No doubt planners (and consultants) are already rubbing their hands and hard at work with plans for more extensions and further healthy contracts in the West Midlands. Expectations must be high for more UK orders heading to foreign (read EU) suppliers, contractors and financial providers. For a city in the heartland of what was at one time England's industrial manufacturing strengths - at some point local politicians might/will wake up to the inequities of how major capital investment in new trams and infrastructure is being channelled more or less exclusively to factories outside the UK. Nothing new there then - lessons obviously not being learned in Westminster by any Party.
The very last trams built in the West Midlands were for Blackpool Corporation Transport in 1961 when ten new trailers were delivered to Rigby Road. Three examples of these reside in Fleetwood as examples of British workmanship, surviving nearly sixty years; which is far longer than the modular contraptions being sold to the West Midlands, Manchester and London operators (and Blackpool) will ever see.