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Last Updated Saturday 18th August 2012

Andrew's Weekend in Blackpool: 10th-13th August 2012
by Andrew Waddington

The Blackpool tramway has undergone many changes since last season, with the new fleet of Bombardier Flexity2 trams providing the bulk of the passenger journeys, and most of the traditional trams now restricted to use on heritage coastal tours between Pleasure Beach and Little Bispham. Andrew Waddington spent three nights in town during August to experience the ‘new’ Blackpool tramway, and this day-by-day diary follows what happened over the course of the weekend...

Friday 10th August

Glorious sunny weather greeted my arrival in Blackpool just after 3:00pm on this afternoon – a rare occurrence for me as I’m traditionally more likely to be rained on when I arrive in town! However, this was a beautiful day and, excluding a single day visit earlier this year, my first taste of the ‘new’ Blackpool tramway. Unfortunately no heritage trams were running due to the dreaded ‘operational difficulties’, leaving me to sample the wonders of the new Flexity2 trams. Apparently the service had been disrupted earlier in the afternoon but I was lucky enough to miss this and when I first ventured onto the promenade all seemed to be running very smoothly, in spite of large passenger numbers.

The main attraction of this day for me was in fact away from the tramway, in the shape of the excellent ‘Hot Ice’ show at the Pleasure Beach Arena. Although it is primarily the trams that keep me coming back to Blackpool, the town has so much else to offer and this show gave me an absolutely fantastic start to the weekend. Once upon a time a show like this would have led to Blackpool Transport stabling a few trams on the Pleasure Beach loop, ready to hoover up punters on their way out – but this is 2012 and not only were there no specials out, but the evening service is a rather stingy half-hourly affair. Once I had left the arena, the first tram to appear was Flexity 010 heading for Starr Gate. I realised this tram would also be the next northbound departure, so I decided to have a ride down to Starr Gate before heading back to my hotel, and was rewarded with the rather wonderful sight of the new tram depot in darkness, complete with the stunning illuminated waves on the side. However I was more interested that the Western Train 733+734 could be seen inside the new depot as it was fully lit up – the Train looked very much out of place amongst all the modern LRVs, but presented a fine sight as it always does. It was then back north with 010 and so to bed, ready for a proper day on the trams!

Satuday 11th August

A relatively early start (well, early by my standards – I don’t like mornings much!) today, and once again the weather was absolutely glorious so I started with a short stroll to Bispham Station to meet up with my friend Paul and see what was out on the heritage tram service. In view of the weather, this must have been an easy decision, and I was very pleased if not surprised when Open Boat 230 (ex-604) appeared heading north. This tram has of course been fully repainted thanks to the sponsorship of the George Formby Society, and now features images of the legendary entertainer on circular discs in the trolley tower, along with wooden name boards on the body sides. Although I will admit I wasn’t keen on the idea of this tram being painted in the mainly cream 1970s livery, it really does look excellent and little touches like chromed bumpers and gold fleet numerals really do enhance its appearance. After a few quick photos I caught 230 for a ride to Pleasure Beach and then left on the next northbound leg in order to catch Boat 600, which was also out on the heritage tours. Having been exposed to less suitable weather on sister cars 233 and 236 at Beamish and Crich respectively this year, it was lovely to enjoy these trams in proper boating weather! An added bonus was provided as 600 was running along the centre track at Bispham on all of its northbound journeys due to its tendency to dewire on the northbound line.

After an ice-cream Paul and myself decided to ‘do’ Fleetwood, my first visit to the northern terminus since 2009 and Flexity 012 provided the transport. This was a most enjoyable ride and certainly a world away from my last runs to the Ferry on the likes of Jubilee car 761 and Stockport 5. Appropriately, en route I spotted 761 looking a little forlorn in a yard on the outskirts of Fleetwood, its ‘Wynsors’ advert looking as striking as ever.

Visiting Fleetwood was quite an experience and as I said to my friend, it felt both as though I had never been away, and that it was a whole new place at the same time. There were a few closed-down shops, a reminder of the trams’ lengthy absence, but the terminus itself looked good with the new substation building blending in extremely well with its surroundings, whilst the nearby park appears to have been tidied up and was a nice place to spend some time whilst waiting for the next tram back to Blackpool. My biggest surprise though, was the number of people waiting for that tram – two Flexities arrived in quick succession and both filled up. A few years ago that would have been very unusual but now it appears to be the norm. We then headed for Bispham and completed the afternoon with a final spell of boating.

Unfortunately the end of the afternoon was a very bad time on the tramway with many service trams bunching together and some massive gaps in the service. Apparently due to a power failure, I was stuck at Pleasure Beach for almost an hour with some other enthusiasts, the only positive in this situation being that at least there was plenty of good banter! After watching a seemingly endless procession of Flexities head south, car 001 finally arrived and then headed north, full to bursting point. There were quite a few angry passengers waiting at stops, many of whom had endured similarly long waits and were understandably frustrated at not being told what was going on. I couldn’t help but think that a few inspectors would have been useful here; had one been stationed at Pleasure Beach, perhaps a few of the Starr Gate bound trams could have been turned short and sent straight back north to recover lost time and help clear the growing queues. As it was, potential customers were left to grow increasingly frustrated watching numerous trams heading to Starr Gate, some of which had few passengers on board and this was a very unwelcome reminder of the bad old days of the Blackpool tramway.

Just to add insult to injury, Flexity 001 was operating with a faulty door at one end directly behind the driver’s cab, which was causing a lot of confusion amongst passengers. It was also disheartening to see a very long line of people waiting at the heritage tram stop at North Pier some time after the last tour of the day had finished! Despite these stops being clearly labelled, a lot of people simply aren’t reading the information provided and don’t seem to understand the concept of modern and heritage vehicles using separate loading points. Hopefully this is something that people will get more used to with time, as in fairness BTS probably can’t do a great deal more to help the situation as so many people simply do not look at what is clearly displayed in front of them.

Sadly the evening was little better and unsurprisingly, the bare half-hourly frequency was not sufficient to cope with the healthy passenger numbers on a mild summer Saturday evening. Although the number of people wanting to catch a tram had lowered significantly, there were still queues at some of the less popular stops and expecting people to wait so long for a tram doesn’t seem like very good practice on what is supposed to be a modern transport network that will encourage people to leave their cars at home. After getting stranded near Pleasure Beach, I ended up walking to Starr Gate to catch a tram from there and didn’t see a single tram during that whole time. Eventually, 016 turned up and took me back to the hotel, bringing to an end this day of extremely mixed feelings.

Sunday 12th August

Good weather doesn’t usually last for very long in Blackpool, and so this day dawned quite dull with a slight breeze blowing from the sea and a threat of rain to come later on. With this in mind it was quite a surprise that Blackpool Transport once again sent out both available Boat cars, 230 and 600, on the heritage tours and sure enough, this optimism proved to be misguided as after a few spots of rain, the heavens well and truly opened just as 230’s crew were starting their break at Pleasure Beach. After a quick phone call to Rigby Road depot, the tram scuttled back to the shed to dry off, where it met 600 which ran in directly from Little Bispham, and both cars completed their breaks there.

230’s crew then brought out Balloon 717 which pleased me greatly as this was my first ride on this particular tram since 2010. The other crew were originally supposed to bring out Brush car 631, but as luck would have it by the time 717 had come out the rain had passed, the sun was shining and it was getting seemingly warmer by the minute – so instead 600’s crew took Boat 230 back out. Oddly on leaving depot, 230 ran straight to Little Bispham defying expectations, and meaning that 717 was following it around! This was later rectified when 230 did a short working from Pleasure Beach to North Pier and back, before completing its final round trip of the day, to Little Bispham and back.

For most people however, this day was most notable for the annual Blackpool air show and the promenade became a sea of people watching the aircraft appearing perform some incredible stunts on what had turned out to be another nice warm afternoon. BTS did keep the tram service running but due to the volume of people stood close to the tracks, trams had to proceed through the Tower/North Pier area at very slow speeds and inevitably this led to service cars becoming very late and a range of short workings to destinations such as Cabin. At this point I must also mention that on Sundays, a reduced tram service currently operates, and whilst this is good practice for many transport operators, it is really not such a wise move in a town that largely relies on tourist trade. Indeed, with many people in town for the air show it would probably have been worth running more trams than normal, not less. As a result for the second day in a row, the late afternoon tram service was a complete mess as the Flexities ran to a whole host of destinations in an attempt to regain lost time and be at Starr Gate at the required times so that crews could swap over for breaks.

I’m sorry to say that I spent most of the evening in my hotel as I had had enough of the appalling level of tram service and didn’t fancy getting stranded yet again. My day was an enjoyable one, but was tainted by the bitter taste of disappointment in a tramway that is still failing to deliver what it is capable of, in spite of the millions of pounds that have been invested in it.

Monday 13th August

The end of my long weekend in Blackpool arrived and the weather looked much more promising than it had the day before. No doubt put off utilising open cars after what happened on Sunday, Balloon 717 and Brush car 631 were in charge of the heritage service. This turned out to be rather pessimistic as it was actually a rather nice warm day and had a Boat been used I’m sure it would have proved popular. As it was, the heritage tours were very poorly patronised and at one point I was the only passenger on both cars. Rumours that I swapped trams at North Pier purely to try and make both look busy are not true! The experience of riding around on a Balloon car with no other passengers is a very surreal one and although it has its advantages (such as no fighting over who gets to sit on the top deck bench seats), I would much rather see well-filled trams.

With many weekend visitors having gone home the core service was also noticeably quieter on the Monday although loads remained healthy and there were still some standing passengers on numerous trips. This did mean that the Flexities and their crews were better able to keep to time and this day gave me a good taste of the tramway working exactly as it should. After some of the unpleasantness experienced on both Saturday and Sunday, it was good to be able to end my stay in Blackpool on a more positive note and if a few tweaks could be made to the service at weekends so that it runs like this, then Blackpool Transport will have a truly world class modern tram system which people will use and enjoy.


Despite some criticisms, I had a very enjoyable weekend in Blackpool this month and although the star of the show tram-wise was undoubtedly the superb Boat 230, I also enjoyed riding on the new Flexity trams, particularly the ride to Fleetwood on the Saturday afternoon. That said I was a tad disappointed that the same trams were used on tour duty on both the Saturday and Sunday, something which was not supposed to happen when the plan for use of the historic fleet was first announced.

I have already explained my main concerns regarding the main tram service, but seeing a half-hourly evening service at the height of summer does not feel like progress to me. The tramway upgrade has been a massive success and the huge increase in passenger numbers is testament to that, but now Blackpool Transport need to make a concerted effort to keep these customers coming back by offering an affordable, frequent and most of all, reliable tram service for these people. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much evidence of this on my visit, but hopefully over time some of the problems with the new setup will be ironed out. In spite of this negativity I’ll be back for Round 2 during the illuminations and I hope that a few improvements may be apparent by then, but only time will tell!

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