They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that saying is certainly true of some of the more heavily modernised members of Blackpool’s Balloon fleet. When four of these classic trams were rebuilt with flat ends, they were not particularly well received by enthusiasts; however following three years of inactivity, the cars are now very much in demand. Therefore, it is pleasing to announce that car 718 has been recommissioned and is due to return to use on Friday 15th July!
One of the four heavily rebuilt Balloon cars sometimes known as Millennium cars, 718 debuted in service in this guise in 2002 and was further modified more recently for continued use on the upgraded tramway, with widened doors added. It saw regular service in 2011 and then appeared occasionally in 2012, before running just once in 2013 when it was a guest on heritage tour duties. Since then, 718 - along with the other three Millennium cars, 707, 709 and 724 - has stood idle in the Rigby Road depot. With a low requirement for the ‘B Fleet’ Balloons, the trio of white and purple liveried cars have been favoured for use leaving 718 and its expired advertisement livery for Madame Tussaud’s firmly out of favour.
However, in a surprise development, 718 is set to become the first of the flat-fronted Balloons to carry passengers since May 2013. In secret, the tram has undergone some routine attention whilst its advert vinyls have been stripped off, revealing the plain white base coat underneath. The tram will make its triumphant return to use on Friday 15th July with a special launch tour, scheduled to commence at 1615 outside Rigby Road depot. This will take the car to both Starr Gate and Fleetwood with a number of long and short runs over the tramway, concluding back at the depot at 2130. It is presumed that 718 will then be available in its ghostly white condition for the remainder of the season, offering a rather different experience to the other more traditional Balloon cars in the heritage fleet! The tram will then return to hibernation after the illuminations, although it has already been hinted that the ‘Winter Gold’ event in January 2017 will be worth noting in the diary – make of this what you will!
A flat fare of £10 is being charged for the tour with 718 with all proceeds being donated to the Blackpool Heritage Trust to assist with projects including repaints and possibly more surprises in the future. Note that this only covers travel on 718 and does not act as a normal heritage day pass, however as the money is going to a good cause this should hopefully not deter anyone from joining in on the fun. Full credit must also be given to the engineering team at Blackpool who have managed to prepare this stored tramcar for service in a tight two week timeframe for us to enjoy.