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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Great Tram Museums

John Woodman

Blackpool has the chance to bring about an exceptional year round transport museum within the 1930s built depot on Hopton Road - more often referred to as 'Rigby Road Depot'. Plans are afoot to redevelop much of the existing transport site as a result of the decision to replace the present BTS bus fleet with all-electric powered vehicles in the near term. Some historic workshops buildings will be demolished and present tram engineering work will be transferred into the tram depot from the existing property. Blackpool has much to be proud of with continuing operation of electric trams ever since the pioneering seafront line opened in 1885 - an age when electric power was first emerging into commercial use, quickly replacing horse and steam powered trams, as well as gas lighting for residential, public and commercial buildings. The town was nearly the first to create electric street lighting, and associated itself with the emergence of manpowered flight with hosting the UK's first official aviation event; 'England's First Flying Week' October 1909.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways, as it quickly became after municipal takeover of the initial company operation, had new tram services within the Corporation boundaries, to Layton, the Gynn, Central Drive, Marton and Lytham Road. These were augmented by two further Fylde coast electric tram systems, the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad, and the Blackpool, St Annes and Lytham Tramway. Both (but seperately) running connecting services into Blackpool. New tram depots being built in Fleetwood, Bispham, on Whitegate Drive, with an expanded building on Blundell Street in central Blackpool. Additionally the Lytham and St Annes system built its own imposing depot along Squires Gate Lane. Sadly none of these structures survive today, even after attempts to create heritage centres in Fleetwood and previously at Blundell Street.

Only the 1930s built depot off Hopton Road remains to house trams becoming the focal point for an enhanced transport display featuring Blackpool trams and buses. So far the heritage scene insofar as Blackpool's transport is concerned. has been fixated on satisfying undimmed enthusiast demand (albeit few in number) to photograph and ride on remaining old trams through frequent 'heritage tours'. Only in recent weeks has an initiative towards the establishment of a permanent display utilising the tram depot and its fleet of stored old cars emerged with creation of 'TramTown' allowing for organised public tours.

The 'upcycling' of old tram depots is far from uncommon in Europe. I personally have visited several over the years gaining contrasting perspectives from city to city. On one occasion in Cracow I ventured into an old depot being redesigned for city tram museum display with new track being readied for installation. In several cases these depots retained an operating role, as well as housing collections and displays of historic cars, many of which still operate on special events. Possibly the most outstanding depot cum museums is in Antwerp where that city's historic cars are on display along with examples from the Belgian national tramway system - the famous 'Vicinal' . An exemplary illustrated compendium detailing most of the tram exhibits and their place in Antwerp's urban history is the sort of informative volume now needed for Blackpool's historic collection.

Antwerp is not alone in the Walloon Region of Belgium in recognising the social and economic impact of electric trams well over a hundred years. Both Liege and Brussels also have opted to recycle tram depots as important cultural heritage centres. In the case of Brussels, which maintains an expanding tram network, the suburban depot at Woluwe also is a working operation with trams running into and out of service from adjoining lines. Neighbouring Netherlands also is proud of its light rail heritage and leading proponent of electric trams supporting urban development. The Hague gave over a 'retired' tram depot as its permanent heritage centre with an extensive collection of cars from its varied fleet up to the retirement of the system's famous 'PCC Cars'. The Hague is famous for having adopted America's 1930s PCC car design in postwar renewal - with the entire system being entirely operated by this type up to the 1970s. With track connection onto the network understandably The Hague (HTM) allows its historic fleet to participate in heritage events. More outstanding examples to follow.

Antwerp Trams story told in the exemplary guide available at the city's transport museum.


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