| Comment - September 2003
Article Posted Wednesday 17 September 2003
Please note this page contains ones persons opinion, and as such they are just that, opinions and are not facts. They do not mean to offend and are just as one person sees the latest events in the tram world. If though you have any comments to make over what has been written on this page please email
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Welcome to the first comment article on British Trams Online. I have tried to be as objective as I can on the first subject, the Blackpool Tramway. For many of us the Blackpool Tramway will be where our main interest lies and where it all began and as such most people have an opinion on its current state.
The best place to start with on this comment is the service currently being offered by Blackpool Transport. It has been widely publicised that the tram service has been affected quite heavily by the national bus driver shortage. In addition to this the service which can be offered is limited by the banning of all double decker trams any further north than Thornton Gate. At the beginning of the summer Blackpool Transport revealed what looked like being the best timetable that the summer had seen for many years. Cleveleys to Starr Gate was due to see a 10 minute service during the main part of the day with the so called ‘Cleveleys Flyer’ service supplementing the normal Fleetwood-Starr Gate 20 minute service. On Tuesdays the whole tramway was scheduled to see this 10 minute service with the extension of the Cleveleys journeys all the way through to Fleetwood for the crowds flocking to the Market. The weekends were also due to see Vintage and Open Trams operate a special North Pier-Pleasure Beach 10 minute service, for the first time actually timetabled.
That was how it looked on paper, however what happened in real life was unfortunately very different from this. When your writer was recently in Blackpool The Gazette (the local newspaper) carried a letter from a couple who had spent their last 15 years holidays in Blackpool and he mentioned how worse the tram service was this year. A direct quote from his letter says that ‘on three occasions we waited for an hour or more to travel into town from the North Promenade or to Fleetwood’. Unfortunately this was not just an isolated incident as during this same week in Blackpool I observed large queues of people waiting trams as big gaps developed between trams on many occasions and those which did turn up were obviously full. The reason for this overcrowding? Simple really the timetabled service did not run. The Cleveleys service ran just once out of eight days during my observations which left a 20 minute basic service for the whole of the 11 and a bit miles of tramway, not good enough really. There were of course the usual specials running on the prom and beyond but these are unreliable as to when they will turn up. As for the Vintage service it was not really run to a timetable but was rather more specials using vintage trams.
On the positive side Blackpool Transport obviously began the summer wanting to improve the tramway by running a much improved service but things did conspire against them. But it most have become apparent fairly early on in the season that the staff numbers were not going to allow them to run the advertised service and this is when they should have released revised timetables showing what they could run. This may well then have looked like a very poor service was being offered but at least passengers would not have been waiting for trams to turn up which wouldn’t have and specials would have been greeted as a bonus.
2003 will go down as the year of the Railcoach and the Twin Car with the Balloons no longer being able to do the bulk of the work. Unfortunately with the exception of the 3 (soon to be 4) Twins in Metro Coastlines liveries members of the tram fleet are starting to look scruffy which doesn’t create a good impression on the tramway. It is all well and good Blackpool Transport telling us that they have a lot of buses to paint into their new corporate style but they do need to remember that they do run trams as well. Some of the Balloons operating specials this year are looking very scruffy indeed (708 being a good example), as are the Twins not yet treated into the Metro Coastlines liveries. Even some of the advertising trams are sporting replacement panels which have not had their sign writing completed meaning the adverts are now incomplete. This one many sound like a minor point to us but the companies have paid their money for a moving advert (the Blackpool Tramway probably has the most all over adverts of any public transport operator in the country) and they expect it to be carried properly. Good examples of this are numerous with 621, 642, 643 and 678 all affected.
Finally on the subject of the trams there appears to a lot of scrapes and dents currently being spotted on the whole fleet. Probably the worst example here is 684 which has a clearly visible dent at the driving end. All of this adds up to giving a bad image to the tramway, would you get in a car willingly which had a big dent in it?
The final comment I have to make on Blackpool is the state of the track. We all know that double deck trams are banned from going any further north than Thornton Gate due to the precarious nature of the untreated track. The tramway has suffered from years of under investment where the track is to be concerned and is suffering because of it. The ride quality of the new bits of track (undertaken for the last 2 winters by Birse Rail) is excellent but it does also show up the parts which haven’t been replaced. It is hoped that more of the more northern parts of the track can be treated this January but as ever money is likely to be a major stumbling block. If the money can be found hopefully Balloons can return to their job of ferrying people to Fleetwood but even that is not certain.
The track on other parts of the tramway is also starting to look a little worse for wear with the reserved track from Bispham to Cabin also starting to give a slightly uncomfortable ride quality and the Promenade track also has some rough areas (riding Bolton 66 over the points at Manchester Square was particularly rough).
The current management of Blackpool Transport are trying their best to do what they can with the resources at their disposal but a decision is needed from the government on the Light Rail upgrade. The worst case scenario for the tramway is that their application was rejected by Whitehall. If this happened there is a major possibility that there would not be 11 miles of tramway operating.
So those are my views on the Blackpool Tramway. I have tried not to be too negative but I feel that if you were visiting Blackpool and riding the trams for the first time today you would not get a particularly good impression which would put you off the system for the future.