Sunday 13th September was another noteworthy day for the Blackpool tramway, and the modified pool of ‘B Fleet’ Balloon cars in particular. For what is thought to be the first time since 2012, three of these trams were utilised in normal passenger service at the same time, albeit for just a few hours.
As reported previously, the early part of the 2015 illuminations season has seen crews allocated trams to take out as unadvertised specials before taking out cars for illumination tour duties after dark, rather than simply sit around waiting to be sent out. This has seen some heritage cars appear unannounced, but has also led to greater use of the B Fleet which have been seen out on late afternoon specials on a few occasions lately. On 13th September, all three examples which are currently available for service – 700, 711 and 719 - were all sent out and ran between Pleasure Beach and Bispham for about two hours. The trio of white and purple double deckers made a great sight on the tramway and, as luck would have it, fellow Balloons 701, 715 and 717 were also being used on heritage service – when was the last time that six Balloons were used at once?
Unfortunately, the day was not a wholly positive one as reports have emerged suggesting that some of the Balloon cars were being used with their top decks closed off to passengers. This unwelcome development is a reminder of the less pleasing elements of the tramway’s ‘good old days’, when staff shortages often meant that Balloon cars only ran with one guard, hence the upper deck not being used. However, there is now no reason why this should be happening as heritage trams use less stops making the single guard’s job far easier, indeed the trams have generally operated with a crew of two since they started working heritage tours back in 2012. Likewise, on the B Fleet the doors are operated by the driver and so it is hoped that staff will be reminded that both decks should be open at all times.
Despite this blip, the illuminations are certainly providing some memorable and interesting times on the tramway, and anybody who feared that the system would lose its ability to surprise following its modern upgrade has once again been proven conclusively wrong!