FHLT Member Colin MacLeod finishes off a neat covering job on a Balloon car at HTI yard in Fleetwood. Unfortunately prevailing high winds on the Fylde coast negated quite a few similar efforts.
The next serious attempt at establishing a permanent tram museum involved the Lancastrian Transport Trust (LTT). In the run up to Blackpool's great tramway upgrade the LTT had accumulated (if that is the right term) from previous management at Rigby Road quite a collection of withdrawn trams. Their initiatives had started much earlier with Coronation Car 304 and fire damaged Engineering Car 3 (ex 143). However a surge of acquisitions included a boat car, two (or three) Balloon cars, a second Coronation car seeking a new home after various travels, Motor Unit 679 for retro restoration to its original English Electric condition, the important OMO Car 8 which was given a cosmetic restoration to allow display in the 125th Anniversary procession, the Rocket, at least one trailer, and two Brush Cars including the Permanent Way example in much dilapidated condition. A Twin-Set was also acquired with a number of permutations as to its final ownership. Below : LTT 304 finds temporary home in Fleetwood with assistance of the FHLT before its final transfer to Rigby Road in agreement with BTS and the Heritage Team.
By 2010 their search for permanent premises, preferably with access to the running line on the seafront, led to examination of Thornton Gate Sidings, owned by Blackpool Council. A prospectus with design for stylish new build exhibition venue was adopted in preliminary to formal negotiations with the Council (and BTS). This coincided with the parallel requirement of the Lead Contractor in the Tramway Upgrade Programme for an adjacent base of operation. BAM Nuttall quickly secured the approval of the Council to takeover the entire property at Thornton Gate. This required clearance of the remains of two OMO cars (frames) which had lingered on since being 'dumped' there in the 1980s, stored rail and other permanent way items of the Council. Adjustment to the site's configueration saw the existing tracks overlaid with tarmac or otherwise covered to allow installation of temporary office and staff services -with contractor vehicle parking as well as storage space for new materials.
These fast paced arrangements thus ended LTT's objective with alternative plans needed for the external storage of recent tram acquisitions. In 2011 BTS management insisted on removal from Rigby Road of all (or nearly all) trams sold for preservation to third Parties, within a specified timeframe. Thus both LTT and our own Trust were faced with the urgent need to secure new storage space for purchased trams still held at Rigby Road Depot. As is well known the LTT found interim sanctuary for some of its trams on open ground in Marton, whilst the FHLT prevailed on Kirkham Prison to accept several of its cars; and an obliging Fleetwood based firm allowed the storage of the balance at their premises. The LTT already had benefit of a leased industrial property in Marton which was being used to store their collection of buses as well as several trams.
Thornton Gate could have become a model working museum with its access link on to the southbound track at this location - however planning approval would have been needed from the same Local Authority (Wyre Council) with whom the FHLT were in discussion on a potential property on Copse Road. It should of course be borne in mind that these initiatives were taking place during a period when BTS management had their hands full with a total rebuild of the entire tramway to new light rail standards as well as re-equipment of the fleet with new vehicles for the upgraded service. The future of Rigby Road tram depot and workshops were of a lesser consequence - although due recognition was given to need for retention of a core heritage 'fleet' including the illuminated cars as permanent attractions. This
included initial provision for a 'museum' building alongside what became the new Starr Gate Depot. However site limitations there allowed only a nominal number of trams for display and parking was an issue for any visitor attraction at that site.
As this transitional period evolved, nearly all of the surplus tram fleet assigned for disposal in 2010 was in fact 'saved' by a combination of the LTT, FHLT, naturally the NTM at Crich, plus a lot of individual initiatives from Perth to Derby. More anon.