Sad fate of a tram ahead of its time

What happened to Experimental Railcar 601 that used to be in the Leeds City Transport fleet, asked Bill Midgley here recently?

The answer is 601 no longer exists but its demise is worthy of note.

Dave Johnson was first in with the rise and fall of tramcar 601 telling me:

"It was in service (intermittently) from 1953 only until September 1957. It was then put in store at the back of Swinegate Tram Depot (later renamed the Queen's Hall).

"After the closure of the Leeds tram system in November, 1959, it was moved into a yard near the back door of the depot until it could be transported to its new home on the Middleton Railway.

"That move took place in June 1960 and should have ensured that 601 was preserved. Unfortunately, severe and sustained attacks of vandalism (yes, over 40 years ago!) quickly turned 601 into a wreck until the vandals finally managed to burn it out completely. This happened in 1963.

"I think the bogies still exist (not sure where) and maybe one or two bits and pieces but the car itself is no more."

Vandals

Tony Cowell, a leading light in Leeds and West Yorkshire transport circles, says the 601 "was purchased from the corporation by the Middleton Railway Preservation Society and taken to Parkside on June 21, 1960.

"Vandals set fire to it in September, 1962. The fire brigadeput the fire out but theinterior was badly damaged. By February, 1964, the remains were deemed to be beyond possible restoration so the Society burned the remainder and scrapped the car – never an easy decision for any preservation society.

"Rail Cars 601-602 were specially painted purple to commemorate the Coronation. They entered service on June 1, 1953. They were the only tramcars built by Charles H Roe Ltd, coachbuilders, Cross Gates, Leeds (now coach builder, Optare).

"Car 602 was the most up-to-date in the country being 'all-electric' in its operation. 601 had the more conventional equipment.

"There were 34 seats and room for 24 standing passengers. Both were taken out of service in September, 1957, and stored until sold.

"Their introduction coincided with a change of control of the council. The new council pledged to scrap the trams so a true evaluation was never made. They were soon consigned to working the No 25 Hunslet route, a truly short trip for these fine cars…you could say out of sight out of mind but that would be political!.

"To this day 602, although now 50-51 years old, gives the public the experience of a truly smooth and quiet ride at the National Tramway Museum at Crich in Derbyshire.

"It's so quiet in operation that the platform staff refer to it as 'pussyfoot'."

Alan L Bailey of Whingate Close in West Leeds says: "I can remember as a boy in 1953 Coronation Week seeing one of these experimental railcars going up Tong Road to the Whingate/New Inn terminus.

"I was waiting for a town-bound service but such was the novelty I let several ordinary cars pass so I could board it on its return, getting the added bonus of a free ride which the transport department were offering on the railcars' inaugural service.

Rarity

"These two cars then seemed to become a rarity on the West Leeds routes but I do remember several years later riding one from Hunslet Road to the city centre after visiting my grandparents' shop in Pearson Street."

Chris Hough writes:"In the late forties the Leeds City Transport manager began to put together an ambitious plan for a subterranean tram system through the city centre, the hub of which would have been City Square.

"The two single-deck cars bought in time for the Coronation were to be the first of many buttogether with a rebuilt Sunderland single deck tram which was rebuilt in the Kirkstall car works, these were to be the last trams built for Leeds. 601 and 602 were also unusual in being the only trams built by the Cross Gates Carriageworks of Charles Roe who built the majority of the Leeds bus fleet both then and for many years in the future.

"Indeed the pair of trams had many similar features to Roe-bodied buses of the period.

"Until the advent of the modern light rail systems in Sheffield and Manchester, tramcar 602 was the most modern tram in the country in terms of its technological specification."

What fascinating stuff. What a pity they didn't go ahead with the Leeds Underground.

Charles Bramley of Springbank, Garforth, Geoff Haselwood and Terence Watson-Barr all confirm the fate of tramcar 601.

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