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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Centenary Car 641 - The Final Blackpool/UK Tram Design in 1984

John Woodman

It seems somewhat churlish for the National Tramway Museum and its Owning Society to turn up their noses at securing for their collection at Crich an example of the final design of a UK tram - in the form of a 1980s Centenary Car built in Blackburn by East Lancashire Coachbuilders. Numbered 641 in the Blackpool tram fleet this Centenary prototype tram remains more or less intact at the FHLT's storage yard at Wyre Dock, Fleetwood. Blackpool unfortunately has had a habit of doing away with historically important trams with little or no regard for their importance in the pantheon of UK tram design and development.

The rush to dispose of surplus cars following on from closure of Blackpool's street tram routes in the early 1960s saw the prototype 1933 rail coach 200 built by English Electric scrapped inside Marton Depot along with the equally important test cars 208 and 303, both equipped with the new VAMBAC equipment and resilient wheels summarily broken up. None of the 1920s classic wooden framed 'Standard' trams were scheduled for preservation and it is only through the good graces of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport that open balcony car 144 was whisked? across the Atlantic to become the first (and only) example saved from scrapping in 1955. It was subsequently joined by Standards 40 and 49 gifted to the TMS following closure of the Marton route, and 159 acquired by the East Anglia Transport Museum during the 1960s. Number 147 was similarly purchased by the then expanding private museum at Olmsted Falls, Ohio only to be permanently relegated to enclosed static storage for its duration at the museum. A more enlightened management at Rigby Road deftly exchanged an open boat car for this Standard car and returned the tram to its former home in Blackpool where it now provides a worthy example of the final condition of this once numerous class.

Standard 143 being formally 'launched' at the North Pier loop with the white chord which held the obligatory champagne/prosseco bottle to christen the car at its official debut following restoration to 1920s condition.

Fortunately another Standard car (143) was relegated to Engineering Car status in 1958 spending several decades as a works car until rescued by the Lancastrian Transport Trust for restoration to its original appearance (more or less) with open balcony open platform condition. Now that the Centenary class totalling eight examples are deemed to be 'heritage' cars with three in Blackpool it is a great pity that this final design of UK tram before low floor and light rail styling took over is being overlooked by the conservators of British built trams. Number 641 may not be to everyone's taste in tram perfection but it does represent the full stop in a final chapter of British tram development. Number 641 certainly deserves recognition as an exemplary effort at a time devoid of tram or light rall investment elsewhere in Britain.

One Centenary Car preserved is 648 which originated as a GEC Traction testing unit for new technologies and subsequently absorbed into the Blackpool Transport fleet, It was originally numbered 651 by GEC on assumption that Blackpool would go ahead with its declared intent to order a further three Centenary Cars to follow on two initial tranches each of three units 642-44 and 645-47. Number 641 remains the prototype for the series.


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