Tram back on track

A FUTURISTIC tram which was gutted by fire is set to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

The City Class 611 prototype was being tested on Blackpool's tramway when it burst into flames in January this year causing extensive damage but no-one was injured.

Now engineers hope repairs will be completed by the end of July.

The tramcar is midway through a 150,000 rebuild, but will not return to Blackpool for another 18 months at least.

It will not be able to resume trials in Blackpool until November 2008 because no testing is allowed during the busy summer months, and the track is closed this winter for repairs.

The prototype must also pass a safety inspection first.

Prof Lewis Lesley, of Liverpool-based Tram Power which operates the prototype, said: "The tram was badly damaged but we are halfway through re-building it.

"The structure is being re-used, but virtually all the fittings have been thrown out and are having to be replaced.

"The engine required some relatively minor repairs. We are having discussions with Blackpool Council and would like very much to bring the tram back to the town. My highest priority is to get it refurbished and ready for running.

"Part of having a prototype is that you learn something from every setback. We would rather something happened now than after five years operating.

"When we have finished rebuilding the tram, it will be a better version."

The cost of the rebuild has been met by insurance cover.

Blackpool Transport managing director Steve Burd said the earliest the tram could recommence operating in Blackpool was November 2008.

He said: "The reason for that is that we don't have any experimental trams operating during the summer season and next winter the tramway will be closed while work is being done there.

"So I believe they are looking at alternative places to run the tram in the meantime. It also cannot run here until it has been cleared by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectors and our insurers.

"If that happens, we are prepared to look at accommodating them again during the winter period."

The fire, which engulfed the driver's cabin as the tram was being driven near Central Pier, was caused by an electrical fault.

Tram Power is working to develop a low-cost tram which it hopes to sell to local authorities like Blackpool which is bidding for 88m of Government cash to upgrade its fleet.

It has already received 11.8m for track repairs.

The fire was the second setback for the prototype which became derailed in May 2006. A report, published this week, blamed worn track and the tram's different style of running gear for the accident.