Since 1991, when Manchester took delivery of the first second-generation tram for Metrolink, more than 300 trams have entered service in the UK. ANDY COWARD looks at tram fleet development over the past 25 years
How the UK’s light rail fleets have developed in the 25 years since Manchester took delivery of the first second-generation tram.
August 29 marked the 25th anniversary of second-generation trams in the UK - on that day in 1991 Manchester Metrolink took delivery of Italian-built Firema T68 tram 1001, the first of 26 trams purchased for the then-new revolutionary light rail system.
Although it would be more than seven months before Metrolink carried its first passengers between Bury and Victoria (on April 6 1992), the arrival of 1001 to Manchester proved to be a significant milestone in the history of tramways in the UK.
In the 25 years since, more than 300 trams have entered service on the seven UK modern tramways. Somewhat ironically, 48 second-generation trams have already been prematurely withdrawn from service by both Metrolink and Midland Metro, with a large number of the original Metrolink T68 fleet - including 1001 - having been scrapped.
As the first second-generation tramway, the trams ordered for Metrolink were always going to be somewhat experimental in terms of their construction for the UK market, although the design of the vehicles drew upon much experience of UK rail operations and continental tramways.
As part of the design, build, operate and maintain contract for Metrolink, the winning GMA Group consortium was responsible for procuring the trams that would operate on Metrolink, with consortium member GEC Alsthom working in association with Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive on the specification of the trams.
The contract to build the trams was awarded to Italian train manufacturer Firema, with an order placed for 26 twin-car trams (to be numbered 1001-1026) at a cost of £1 million each. Much of the modern electronics on the trams was provided by GEC Alsthom. They featured two power bogies and an unpowered centre bogie, built very much to a standard of a heavy rail bogie, rather than a conventional tram bogie.
Construction of the fleet was split between several Firema plants across Italy, and they were built between 1991 and early 1992. The first tram (1001) arrived in Manchester on August 29 1991, and over the following eight months all 26 trams were delivered to the city.
Due to a lack of spares and other issues, two of the trams (1014 and 1015) were initially used as short-term spares donors, although by the end of 1992 both of these had also entered
T68 1001 was the first second-generation tram to be delivered to the UK, arriving in Manchester on August 29 1991. On July 20 1992, 1001 stands at Piccadilly Gardens on the first day of Metrolink services to Piccadilly station.