Just days into the new year, and three members of the Blackpool heritage fleet have already been observed out and about on the tramway, having ended 2014 relatively late on Sunday 28th December. This once again highlights how fears that traditional trams would become a rare sight on the promenade have proved unfounded, and reminds us of the increasing popularity of private hires involving the heritage stock.
The last working of 2014 for the heritage fleet occured on 28th December, when the Fylde Tramway Society hired their latest adopted tram, red & white liveried Balloon 701, for their Christmas Tour. This was the only chance to ride on a Balloon car over the full length of the tramway during 2014, and as an unexpected bonus, 701 was then swapped for sister car 717 to allow an after dark run to Fleetwood aboard a tram equipped with halogen headlights. Notably, 701‘s snowplough was removed to allow it to operate on this tour although it was immediately refitted upon its return to Rigby Road depot in case it is needed over the winter months.
Just a few days later, and the first hire of 2015 involved Blackpool & Fleetwood ‘Box’ 40 which was booked for a tour by the ‘Friends of 40’ support group. Unfortunately, on leaving the depot some problems were experienced with the car’s trolley which led to Balloon 717 being hastily brought out for a run to Starr Gate. This meant that, by accident, the last heritage car to run in 2014 became the first to operate in 2015! Thankfully the problems with Box 40 were quickly resolved and the tram was able to take over at North Pier and then ran to Fleetwood Ferry without incident for the first time since returning from Crich last autumn.
The following day it was the turn of Twin set 272+T2 to stretch its wheels with a rare winter airing, once again on hire to a group of enthusiasts. This was also its first appearance since receiving traditional-styled black and white destination blinds, and once again a full system tour was undertaken.
The following week saw further outings by both 272+T2 and 717 which were used for driver training purposes. This trend of training more drivers on historic trams started last year when Brush Railcoach 631 was used in this capacity a few times, whilst further staff have also been trained on the unique Coronation 304 although it remains outstationed at Starr Gate depot, where it has been based since December 6th. It is very encouraging to see efforts being made to increase the available pool of staff who are familiar with the controls of the heritage trams and this adds to the various positive signs for the year ahead. There has already been indication that vintage trams will be running in Blackpool more often than last year, and with claims that at least one more tram is set to be re-activated to service this year, 2015 could well be a very exciting year for the Blackpool heritage fleet and their many fans.