The best part of three years have passed since the Christchurch Tramway was derailed by violent seismic events, principally those of February 22, 2011. Along with the tramway much of the central city was wantonly trashed, including our much loved Anglican Cathedral that for a little over a century was the city’s proud centrepiece.
The Heritage Trams were mostly unscathed. (Although had No.178 departed the Cathedral Square stop a few seconds before it did on the fateful February day, it would have been buried in heavyweight masonry from the collapsing Regent building.) Four trams were relocated to FerrymeadHeritagePark. Needing to be stored outdoors for some months, including one winter, they deteriorated. Hence a thorough makeover in recent months, and the addition of another pristine restoration, the former Invercargill Birney No.15.
Makeover work has been painstaking. Signwriting has in some cases been done in gold leaf, replicating the craftsmanship of the era each tramcar was created in by master craftsmen.
The trams are scheduled to be back on city centre streets by the end of October, albeit initially running a reduced route from New Regent Street to Canterbury Museum/Botanic Gardens and return. Early next year the route will be extended along Oxford Terrace (the former Strip) to the re-start Mall and on to High Street. The full 2.5 km original loop will hopefully be reinstated by this time next year.
I dropped by the Ferrymead Tram Barn last Friday. No.178 and the newly restored Birney No.15 were outside being equipped with VDU screens and associated GPS technology for the new-style tramway attraction, much of it the creation of local companies, Whitebait TV Productions and HitLab. Whitebait had already done projects for our Port Hills Gondola attraction, re-opened earlier this year.
VDU screens are appropriately sized for the task without being overwhelming. The idea is to display views of how things looked before the earthquakes along with visions of the future. Promos for other Welcome Aboard attractions will be included. The traditional live motorman’s commentary, a key component of the tramway experience, will also be delivered.
Needless to say, the trams ready to return to the city are resplendent. The lovely Boon No.152 is in the tram barn being worked on.
The spruced up Heritage Trams will indeed be treats on the streets. Hopefully they will be welcomed as another significant step towards normality in Christchurch.