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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

FHLT - Trams In Care

Centenary Car 641

One of the first objectives of the Fleetwood group on its formation during 2012 was to ensure that the prototype Centenary car 641 of 1984 was reserved for preservation locally. All of the class were earmarked for disposal under plans by BTS in the run up to light rail upgrade. They would in fact become the very last 'traditional' tram design for the UK market. Even though they differed markedly from predecessors, the Centenary class represented the final chapter in British tram design and development, and as such merited formal recognition.

In fact a total of eight examples were built. Prototype 641 followed by two tranches of three sanctioned by Blackpool Council (642 - 647), supplemented by an experimental version built for GEC Traction to test its new power bogie design. Numbered 651 in the Blackpool Transport tram fleet on delivery, this particular car operated on a leased basis until eventually acquired by Blackpool Transport Services and renumbered 648 to complete the series. There was expectation in 1986 that the Council would place a third order for three more Centenary cars but this did not eventualise.

Number 641 underwent a bodywork upgrade of sorts which provided an enlarged destination screen at both ends, together with roof level side panelling to facilitate external advertising. The tram was repainted in an all-over orange livery during its final years in service. losing its unique roof display box used by its builder, East Lancashire Coachbuilders in Blackburn to promote their achievement. The protruding rubber end fenders unique to the car were also removed in favour of a plain metal version common to the rest of the class.

Being of high floor design with steep entrance (and centre exit) steps - the Centenary cars were ill suited to remodelling compatible with the planned low floor light rail operation beginning in 2012. Thus their disposal (much like the demise of the Marton 'Vambac' cars in 1962) saw elimination of an entire class. There was expectation that at least one example would be acquired by the TMS for the national collection at Crich but surprisingly this was not to be. Instead one example went to a new museum in the northeast, whilst 642 was retained by BTS in much the same way as Coronation 660 was kept from that 25 strong class on its demise from operation.

The preservation of 641 locally was aided by a generous contribution by a Fleetwood solicitor who happened to be a lifelong Blackpool Football Club supporter. Thus the tram ended up on display as a static exhibit at the Pleasure Beach tram terminus specially turned out in a rendition of BFC colours complete with images and external text highlighting the Club's football prowess; utilising its orange/tangerine colour of its final years of service. Special metal panels were added at both ends to protect the large driver's cab windscreens. In this form it proved a popular exhibit for a number of years until removal to the FHLT's 'temporary' storage yard at Wyre Dock. Here it remains in 2021 pending a more permanent 'home' locally.

Centenary 641 during its storage at HMP Kirkham with FHLT Trustee Colin MacLeod posing (as usual) with the tram in 2013. Side on view of 641 in Kirkham Prison. Both Images : John Woodman


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