Poignant moment for Scarborough Central Tramway as carriages leave the funicular railway for the first time since 1881

Queen Victoria was still on the throne the last time there were no tramcars visible on the tracks of Scarborough's oldest cliff lift company.

Yesterday they were removed from the Central Tramway for the first time in over 140 years.

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The two carriages have not been refurbished since the 1970s - when all work was undertaken with them still on the rails - but have now been taken to a specialist yard in Rotherham to be stripped down and fully rejuvenated.

It's the first time the tramcars have ever left Scarborough

In past years, the Scarborough Central Tramway's own engineers have worked on the cars, but changes in health and safety regulations have encouraged the family-run business to contract the project to restoration experts at Wheelsets UK.

The lift to and from South Bay will be shut from January until March while the biggest overhaul in 50 years takes place at the funicular railway. Some of the tramway's infrastructure dates back to the early 20th century, when the system was first converted from steam to electric power.

The 1930s chassis will be fully replaced, new emergency brakes that can be computer-controlled fitted, and the carriages given major attention for the first time since the Olympia fire damaged the tramway over 40 years ago.

Current chairman Neil Purshouse's family took a stake in the business in the 1960s, but it has been operating since 1881 and is still owned by the company that first registered it. It was electrified in 1920 but has undergone surprisingly few technological upgrades since before World War Two.

Staff turned out to watch the departure

The project is being overseen by general manager Helen Galvin - who became the first woman to hold the position in the tramway's history when she took on the role six months ago.

"It's the first time the trams have ever left Scarborough, but Wheelsets' managing director, Martin Hudson, and their engineers are the best in the country and they specialise in funicular railways. We trust them with our little babies!

"All of the staff are coming on the 12th to see the crane take them away, as they've been in service since the 1970s. We used to maintain them here, but health and safety has moved on in the last few decades. They will be stripped back to their chassis and made shipshape for the future."

The carriages will benefit from new floors, ceilings, lights, seats and brakes, as the vehicles suffer badly from weather-related corrosion in their exposed cliffside location - as well as damage caused by seagull droppings.

A carriage is loaded onto the crane

Despite their age and layout dating back to the steam age, the station and carriages are surprisingly disability-compliant, with the spacious interiors and lack of steps meaning managers have only had to fund improvements such as hearing loops for the modern customer.

"The community is very invested in what we are doing - they know the carriages are leaving us but that they are coming back. Lots of people rely on us, as we are on such a steep hill - we're a lifeline for some locals and there is a lot of goodwill towards us."

Mrs Galvin has worked in both the transport industry - for rail operators GNER and East Coast Trains - and the heritage sector at Burton Agnes Hall near Driffield, so feels her new role straddles both concerns.

"There are no surprises for me! I love the history, and we are really keen to keep the essence of the Victorian railway. Nothing has really changed since 1881 - people still use us to get to the beach, and we are really proud of that.

The crane at work

"One of our other projects is the lighting - we would like to be tasteful rather than 'blingy', as it can be a challenge standing out from the other buildings on South Bay."

Scarborough Central Tramway history

The machinery has had 10 new shafts fitted, but otherwise is relatively unchanged since it was first installed.

The cars are no longer manually operated - in 2009 an automated traction system and more powerful motor were introduced to improve safety and smooth acceleration.

Yet the lift has an almost-impeccable safety record over its operational history - the only fatality occurred in 1927. There are 12 staff.

The tramway's popularity has remained 'very stable' over the decades, with between 450,000 - 500,000 passengers using it every year.

Onlookers gathered along the seafront
The crane proved the spectacle