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Squad & Coronation 304
Channel 4 TVs Salvage
Squad programme has restored and returned some
unlikely machines back to their former glory in
the last three years. One of the most ambitious
projects in their 2003 series was a 20-ton
Blackpool tram that hadnt turned a
revenue-earning wheel since 1970. Thirty three
years later the tram trundled down
Blackpools promenade once again, a flagship
project for the LTT. Philip
Higgs tells the story.
But actually the next ten months were full of anxiety, stress, blood, sweat and tears that eventually culminated in a rotting carcass of a tram being transformed into the gleaming, streamlined tramcar that was delivered back in Blackpool in June 1952.
Whilst the project was not without some major hiccups, particularly with the VAMBAC equipment that was almost a show stopper, it was with great pleasure that I accepted the keys to the tram on the morning of 6th January 2003. The tram looked absolutely superb and certainly shows just what can be done with some pump priming funds, sufficient commitment from volunteers and a critical deadline.
During the summer we were contacted by the Salvage Squad team again to include the tram in a one-off update of the most popular projects. This involved filming 304 on a special tour through Blackpools famous autumn illuminations. This was screened in May 2004 at the end of series three.
We sorted out our own insurance to operate 304 (using LTT drivers) and in November used the car on a series of enthusiast tours, alongside a sister car of the class retained by Blackpool Transport but stripped of its VAMBAC equipment. The tours were well attended and finally allowed 304 to operate through to Fleetwood for the first time since 1970.
So we now have a complete vehicle. But currently the tram is all dressed up with nowhere to go. The unique VAMBAC equipment, coupled with a driver and maintenance staff training issues this raises, means that Blackpool Transport are understandably reluctant to accept the car within their operational tram fleet. We have had some dialogue with the National tramway Museum at Crich, but in reality we want to keep the tram in Blackpool ready for future inclusion in the "Blackpool Story" visitor attraction were are hoping to develop. Future special tours and private hire work are not ruled out and we are still discussing this possibility with Blackpool Transport and Blackpool Borough Council.
But Salvage Squad deserves much more credit than this. The episode involving our tram was screened in March 2003 and attracted over 2.5 million viewers and thats more than watch Top of the Pops. When you consider that the second series went head-to-head with favourites such as Coronation Street and Eastenders, it demonstrates that the transport and industrial heritage projects tackled by the series do have a much wider public interest than just a hard-core of enthusiasts, contrary to popular perception. It has put classic vehicles back into the attention of the media and out from behind the closed workshop doors. There are many thousands of potential projects out there, so I only hope that Salvage Squad can keep its head above water and continue to attract sufficient viewers to allow further rusting relics to benefit from a TV makeover.
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