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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Works in Progress

John Woodman

Whilst much of the current year is limited to repetitive sightings of Blackpool's light rail fleet now in a somewhat tired livery adorned with all manner of warnings against virus transmission within and without - there are in the offing welcome developments on older trams elsewhere.

A one-time member of the 45 strong English Electric rail coach class - Number 279 of 1935, is undergoing a retro restoration to its original styling courtesy of the Fylde Transport Trust. Work is advancing on this much anticipated project which will see a once familiar tram which were the workhorses of Blackpool's tram services by the 1950s. Surprisingly none of the class survived into preservation in their earlier as built condition - with many being broken up at Thornton Gate siding and inside Marton Depot upon closure of the three street running tram services in Blackpool during 1961 - 1963. Below: One of the later survivors is seen coasting down towards Gynn Square in a modified condition of the late 1950s which saw removal of chrome strip and the centre platform side indicators (among other bodyshop economies). A further example follows behind.

A further long time stalwart of the tram system is also undergoing restorative work to return it to operating condition after brief encounter with the Promenade on an aborted 'launch' which sadly brought about electrical and motor failure. Standard car 143 has been carefully returned to its 'as built' appearance in the Tramways Department's 1920s' fleet colours. Number 143 had survived into the preservation era by the good fortune of providing overhead engineering car duties from 1958. Taken out of condemned line of sister 'Standards' awaiting scrapping at Thornton Gate sidings that year, 143 instead was treated to a smart but short lived corrective rebuild which included installation of a Leyland bus engine in its lower deck saloon. Based initially at Bispham tram depot where it replaced one time 'Marton Box car 31' renumbered '4' in the Blackpool works car series - 143 now renumbered '3' eventually ended at Rigby Road Depot until an onboard fire in the lower deck brought about its premature withdrawal. Fortunately by this time the 'tram preservation' movement was gathering 'pace' and rather than seeing the remains consigned to scrap - the Lancastrian Transport Trust's cadre arranged for the tram to be taken 'in care' at their Brinwell Road premises in Marton. Below : formal 'launch' of rebuilt Standard 143 during a miserable wet day on the promenade (hence rain drops on lens!). After the ceremonial breaking of the champagne bottle by BTS Managed Director, Jane Cole, 143 stands resplendent complete with trailing white ribbon which held on to the bottle before the launch ceremony.

Here it began its slow and sometimes hesitant transformation from a burnt tram body to the condition it had first emerged out of Rigby Road's workshops in the mid 1920s. An open platform, open balcony addition to the tram fleet numbered 143. No examples of this once numerous class had survived, although several achieved permanent memorial status both in the US and UK museums. However these survivors came in later 'improved' condition with platform windscreens, and all enclosed top decks in most cases. Just two surviving Standards retained their British open balcony condition : 144 which travelled to the Seashore Museum in the USA in 1955 - and 40 which attained almost mythical status by 1962 as the last such example still operating in the UK. It joined all enclosed sister car 49 at the National Tramway Museum where both trams reside today,

A further 'hidden gem' on the cusp of final restoration is Brush car 298 at the same museum. Work on returning this classic 1937 rail coach to its original appearance began over fifty years ago starting with initiatives at Blackpool's then 'Technical College' following efforts of the late Keith Terry. Drawn out specialist work on the tram took place in Salford at the 'Mode Wheel Works' by a handful of stalwart helpers led by Keith, supported by individual subscriptions from diverse enthusiasts up and down the country. Much had been accomplished on the bodywork by the time failing health and dwindling resources meant the tram's return to the Crich Museum in whose ownership it had been bequeathed. Thereafter a lengthening interregnum saw it placed in storage but importantly accompanied by repeated proposals for its placement in the Crich Workshop programme. Successive projects have had precedence through the past decade (or so), but assurances have been given by the TMS Board that 298 will achieve much deserved attention following completion of current work on London County Council car 1 and latterly Newcastle 102 during 2021 (or possibly 2022). Thus both the English Electric and Brush versions of Walter Luff's streamline era are likely to reappear in the foreseeable future. A third member of this august ensemble is the final 1939 'Sun Saloon'model built in Preston - in the form of Marton Vambac car 11 which somehow escaped scrapping in 1963 as a result of proposals in Hayling Island (of all places) for a light rail line which failed to get off the ground (I know the feeling). Hayling Island's loss became Carlton Colville's gain with transfer of 11 to the East Anglia Transport Museum where it joined fellow Marton Standard exile 159.

The double deck 'balloon' front is another story - fortunately one with many examples still with us. A visitation to this particular saga will follow in due course.


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