Wrong side of tracks?

MONDAY Trevor Roberts-managing director of Blackpool Transport.
MONDAY Trevor Roberts-managing director of Blackpool Transport.
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Thirteen historic trams representing the history of the service since 1924 face eviction from Blackpool Transport’s Rigby Road tram depot by the end of next month.

Blackpool Transport managing director Trevor Roberts has issued their guardians Lancastrian Transport Trust with an ultimatum: “Move them or lose them.”

The Blackpool-based transport charity keeps 13 trams at the depot with Blackpool Transport’s existing heritage fleet.

The trust’s trams include the iconic illuminated Rocket tram, donated to them in 2002 and still awaiting restoration; Blackpool Civic Trust’s sponsored 1935 Balloon tramcar, which is currently operational; the only 25 Coronation car to retain original electrical equipment and the restoration of which featured in Channel 4’s Salvage Squad; and a 1924 Standard tram donated to the trust in 2002, which won heritage lottery funding in 2005 for restoration yet to be completed, say the trust, by Blackpool Transport.

Transport consultant Philip Higgs, LTT trustee, says: “All of our tram cars have the wow factor of the super trams.

“They are far better than some of the trams retained by Blackpool Transport, which have been so crudely modified or rebuilt or plastered over with advertising, some call them Frankenstein’s monsters. Now we wonder whether our efforts in saving the real thing have been in vain.”

Mr Higgs admits the trust had notice to quit by the end of November when work will start to convert the track for new Bombardier trams, once the season ends.

“However, we believed we had won a reprieve. In 18 months, I have been passed from pillar to post by council officials, but thought we had secured short term accommodation at the depot.

“When I met Mr Roberts, it was made clear he wanted us out. We are now in a far worse position as the future of our tramcar collection is under threat of being broken up and moved out of Blackpool.”

But Mr Roberts says no such undertaking was made by Blackpool Transport, which operates the depot.

He added: “We are keeping 26 old heritage trams to run over and above the passenger service. We have converted 10. Enthusiasts have a different agenda.

“We are an operator, not a museum. Eighteen months ago, we gave enthusiasts the option to pay a deposit and take the trams away by the end of November 2011, so we could prepare for the new system and focus on what we need to be doing. Most have honoured that and, in principle, they will be gone by the end of next month.

“LTT has reneged. The trams were given for petty cash amounts so they could afford to move them by low loader and our invoice clearly states the removal date. We never wavered from that one jot.

“We are the operators, duty holders for health and safety and other issues, and we have stated our piece.

“If anything is to happen between Blackpool Council and LTT it is for them to decide.

“I don’t work for Blackpool Council, I run Blackpool Transport as a private limited business, and am responsible for what goes on the site.

“The council is a shareholder. If a bank owns your home, but you pay the mortgage, the bank cannot authorise someone else to park in your drive. It is our decision. We are upgrading trams, downsizing on heritage and also staff, in terms of redundancies, and we have just six lanes to park 26 vehicles.

“The depot is not obsolete but we cannot store other people’s trams and if they don’t want them, or can’t move them, they must dispose of them some other way, and, if they are not removed by the end of November, we will sell them or dispose of them in our own way – and that could mean scrapping some.

“Our position is clear, the tramway shuts on November 8, the first tests on new trams start over winter, with drivers to be trained, engineers to move from Rigby Road to learn how to maintain the Bombardiers, and kitting out the trams we are keeping for the tourist service and seeing how it all integrates with the 10 minute passenger service.

“All else must go off site so we can focus on maintenance and safety systems.”

With both sides at an impasse, Mr Higgs has urged Blackpool Council, as shareholders of Blackpool Transport with five councillors as directors, to modify the lease on the tram depot and agree access arrangements for the trust.

“Other options such as moving to Thornton Gate tram sidings or commercial premises all come at a cost we can ill afford,” he adds.

“The common sense no cost answer of keeping them in the part of the tram depot that will otherwise become empty has been rejected by Blackpool Transport and the council – and that means the largest collection of vintage trams outside the National Tramway Museum is at risk.”

A Blackpool Council spokesman confirmed the council had offered “assistance with locating an alternative site”.