Balloon cars save the day in Blackpool!

The morning of July 28th was an unexpectedly eventful one for the Blackpool tramway, due to an accident which occured on New South Promenade early in the morning. Full details are not known, but it is understood that a motorist lost control of their car whilst passing Harrow Place and swerved onto the tramway, hitting an overhead pole. Tragically, the car driver was pronounced dead on the scene.

Understandaly Police were keen to investigate and cordoned off this section of the promenade. As the accident happened about 6:30am, only one tram, 012, had entered service for the day meaning that all of the other Flexities were trapped in Starr Gate depot. With the promenade closure in force for several hours, Blackpool Transport could have opted to close the tramway completeley, but instead the modified Balloon cars were called upon to take over the core service. Although a few of the cars are sometimes stationed at Starr Gate, four cars at Rigby Road were available and were duly sent into traffic, with 700, sporting its recently applied Flexity-style livery being the first out. It was followed by flat-fronted cars 709, 718 and 724, all of which still carry their advert liveries from last season. These four trams and Flexity 012 then operated an ad-hoc service until around lunchtime, with a small number of tram replacement buses also utilised to compensate for the lack of suitable trams. All four double-deckers are thought to have managed at least one trip to Fleetwood Ferry.

Further complications arose due to issues with the points at Pleasure Beach (see seperate news story), meaning that most southbound journeys were forced to terminate at Foxhall, with no other crossovers further south. By early afternoon, the Police had re-opened New South Promenade allowing the Flexities to escape once again, and one by one the rebuilt Balloon cars returned to Rigby Road depot, with the sole exception of 709 which ran to Starr Gate and remained there.

Blackpool Transport’s speedy response to a difficult situation deserves to be congratulated, and it is impressive and very fortunate that as many as four double-deckers were able to be pressed into action at such short notice. The use of cars 709 and 718 was particularly noteworthy as both were making their passenger debuts for 2012, whilst 724 was making its first appearance since a one-off outing before Easter when it failed soon after entering service. Thankfully all four trams performed superbly in this crisis and this was a reminder of the quality of these traditional, albeit heavily modified trams. Although tram enthusiasts enjoyed the novelty of riding on these cars again, the morning incident was terrible, and we offer our condolences to the family and friends of the motorist involved.

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6 Responses to Balloon cars save the day in Blackpool!

  1. Ken walker says:

    As you say, full marks for a very quick response to an unforeseeable event. I wish I had been at Fleetwood.
    Perhaps a case for basing some flexities at Rigby Road!!!

  2. John Woodman says:

    I was one of the ‘fortunate’ passengers to ride to Fleetwood Ferry on one of the flat fronted rebuilds when it arrived at Cleveleys with a full load having ‘Fisherman’s Walk Fleetwood’ on its destination blind on Saturday 28 July. I had an appointment with a Wyre Borough Councillor at Fleetwood Library and on checking with the upper deck conductor (first time conducting on a double deck tram) was informed that the destination blind was stuck and the driver could not change it to Fleetwood Ferry which as the intended destination. I made it to the Library meeting sedately trundling along Lord Street drawing a lot of interested looks from shopkeepers and pedestrians. One of the bogies under the tram (SeaLife advertisement car) was making an ominous rumbling noise and a distinct smell of overheated oil was detectable when I decamped from the car. The solitary Flexity car followed us into Fleetwood. On the return journey (by Number 1 bus) I witnessed Balloon 700 unloading almost all its passengers at northbound at Cleveleys en route to Fleetwood Ferry – and a further flat front Balloon car passing my bus at Norbreck completely full and unable to take on any waiting passengers at southbound stops.

    All of this raises fundamental questions over the decision to site the new depot at the very southern end of an eleven mile light railway and at the same time remove without replacement, emergency crossovers at several points along the line. Lessons from this event – not of Blackpool Transport’s making – and ill thought out planning also not of the Company’s making, should be learned (as they say).

    Firstly crossovers ahead of the Pleasure Beach loop or near South Pier, Manchester Square, Pleasant Street, Norbreck and Rossall should be reinstated. Secondly all light rail stations built at high cost with basic rudimentary kit built shelters, should be fitted with electronic information boards (which was the original intention according to sources at the Lead Contractor) – but not pursued due to ‘costs’. A reserve number of usable tramcars authorised for light rail operation – should be held at Rigby Road depot whilst these issues are resolved. It is inevitable that weather, accidents, events and related traffic problems will similarly beset the service both in summer and winter formats. The Illuminations period will provide an even more testing time for the Operator. More experienced and professional minds need to be brought to bear on ensuring this modern light rail service costing over £100 million benefits from operator know-how and a reality check.

    My understanding is that 2012 constitutes a ‘learning curve’ for the Operator who did not have the benefit of weeks of ‘ghost running’ trials ahead of the full opening of the line – as was the stated intent of the Council’s team responsible for planning and executing the entire project. This weekend’s events go to highlight a lack of joined up
    planning and disconnect with operational realities, not to mention the actual concerns and needs of the travelling public. The spacing of station stops (and lack thereof) along Blackpool’s northern districts does further discredit to planners and outside ‘experts’ responsible for this project.

    As to the light rail vehicles themselves – they are certainly impressive visually and offer a much faster journey time than hitherto. However discernible ‘flats’ on the wheels, which seem to bedevil most if not all of the cars, as well distinctive ‘rattling’ of bodywork panels or other hidden components, only a few weeks or months into service – does throw up questions over this launch design of the manufacturer and operating characteristics for the longer term.

    Since it was 1935 built English Electric trams with traditional controls and running equipment which continue to the present day, albeit with their own needs for traditional maintenance and tlc – one wonders whether any of the new fleet will actually see out their intended operating life span; let alone seventy plus years of British designed and engineered tramcars manufactured (and maintained) in the
    northwest of England.

    Readers will be aware that the writer is engaged in developing an alternative tram depot at the northern end of the current line – and anyone passing Stanley Road station stop looking eastwards will see dramatic changes to this historic building – occurring later this year.

    John Woodman

  3. Howard Piltz says:

    Congratulations to BT for re-acting so swiftly, but Oh! dear me! 700’s new paint scheme just hasn’t worked. The classic curves of an unrebuilt ‘Balloon’ have been ignored, the vertical separation of colour and white looks hideous whilst the frontal treatment around the cab is also wrong. PLEASE, BT have another look.

  4. John Stewart says:

    This has parallels with rail and major road accidents in that the police seem to think it acceptable to close a major route (in this case potentially a complete transport system) until investigations are completed. If, as I take to be the case, there was no doubt that the driver had lost control whilst on the carriageway of the highway and had then entered the tramway reservation, it would have been quite obvious that the tramway had no more connection with the accident than would a farmer’s field invaded by an out-of-control car. Greater emphasis needs to be given to clearing the tramway for the resumption of normal services in such circumstances.

    • Ken Walker says:

      I certainly agree that the investigation should have been centred on where the car left the road rather than where it ended up. Surely the only investigation needed with the car on the tramway would be to gather any evidence about the condition of the car that might be destoyed when it is moved. As regards crossovers, I don’t think a crossover would have made any difference in this particular case as the car appears to be obstructing both lines, unless the perspective of the picture is misleading, though obviously the more crossovers there are, the more flexibility there is in the system

  5. David Taylor says:

    The previous four comments cover what I would have said. I made suggestions about putting in more crossovers after the cock up on the Saturday before the Tram Sunday while trying to get to see John Woodman’s New/Old depot.

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