So far, 2012 has seen a highly succesful mix of core service vehicles and traditional heritage tram tours operating together on the Blackpool tramway. Despite many critics voicing concerns that mixing new and old rolling stock in this way would prove impractical, Blackpool Transport have made the combination work to fantastic effect. It is therefore disapointing to report that the heritage tours have come in for some criticism this week, thanks to a shortage of staff leading to unexpected cutbacks.
On Wednesday 25th July, due to a staff shortage, just one tram was rostered to operate on the heritage tour service. Although another crew was available, they were instead allocated to a modern Flexity2 tram, giving the strange sight of a member of staff, dressed in full heritage tram uniform driving a Flexity! The same situation arose again the following day, leading to further complaints and it is believed that a small number of enthusiasts visited the Blackpool Transport offices at Rigby Road to voice their dissatisfaction. Worse still, Brush Railcoach 631 was allocated to the heritage tours on both days, although on Thursday 26th July it ran in early and was swapped for Open Boat 230 due to a rare fault developing. Although the reactivation of this tram has been extremely well received by the enthusiast community, using an advert-liveried Brush car when no other historic trams are running is unlikely to encourage many non-enthusiasts to invest in a £10 heritage day ticket, which is of course what BTS need to do in order to secure the future of these trams in Blackpool.
Hopefully, the practice of robbing heritage tram crews to operate Flexities will not continue – indeed, it is understood that the normal two-car vintage service will resume for the weekend ahead. Whilst obviously it is important to ensure that a regular and reliable public transport service is maintained, the heritage tours are advertised to run on a regular basis and as a premium-price attraction, customers will inevitably expect to get good value for money. British Trams Online will of course continue to voice support of the continued use of historic trams in Blackpool, and we hope that this incident was a mere blip which will not be repeated, especially now that the heritage tours are increasing in popularity.