In Pictures: ‘B Fleet’ Balloons take over Tram Sunday!

The Fleetwood Festival of Transport, more popularly known by many people as ‘Tram Sunday’, was held on Sunday 17th July and, as per last year, proved to be an excellent day for the heritage tram fleet. In fact, this was the climax of three days of interest on the Blackpool tramway – and unusually much of this centered around the modified ‘B Fleet’ Balloon cars, rather than the more traditional members of the fleet.

The excitement got underway on Friday 15th July, with a special late afternoon tour to celebrate the return to service of Millennium car 718. Along with the other three flat-fronted Balloons, 718 had not run since 2013 so its return was very well supported by enthusiasts. In recent weeks the tram had been stripped of its vinyl wrap advertising Madame Tussaud’s, revealing a plain white base coat beneath. It is to the credit of those employed in removing the expired advert that the paintwork underneath looks very tidy and, whilst a big white tram may not be the prettiest vehicle to be seen, it has added some extra novelty value to the tramway. Despite some minor issues which delayed its departure from Rigby Road depot, 718 ran superbly for the remainder of its tour which included two runs to Fleetwood Ferry. Despite the lack of a proper livery, it is expected that 718 will be used on illumination tours this autumn, providing a warm and comfortable vantage point from which to view the lights.

A more normal six-car heritage service then ran on Saturday 16th July. This was dominated by the Balloons with cars 700, 717 and 723 all in use, along with Bolton 66, Twin set 675+685 and Railcoach 680. Happily much better weather arrived the next day for the festival itself, which started very early for Box 40, 680 and 700, all of which ran empty to Fleetwood to be stabled on Pharos Street for static display before the roads were closed off to traffic. The heritage service was then worked by Boats 227 and 230, Twin set 272+T2, Balloons 701 and 715 and, most unusually of all, Balloon 713. This was the tram’s first outing of 2016 and its first ever use on heritage tour work, although it did appear on four days last year for normal stage carriage work. Still wearing its stunning advert livery for the Houndshill shopping centre, 713 was naturally in great demand with enthusiasts. Indeed, all of the trams carried good loads of people all day whilst the festival itself was as well attended as usual. The six cars maintained a frequent service between Pleasure Beach and Fisherman’s Walk, offering several opportunities for a good long run throughout the day. The weekend concluded with the three static exhibits heading back to Rigby Road as the sun was setting on a most memorable and enjoyable weekend of events.

Welcome back 718! Now devoid of advertising vinyls, the tram poses on Pharos Street during its launch tour on the evening of Friday 15th July.

With the heritage tram souvenir shop on board, Balloon 700 is seen at Pleasure Beach on 16th July.

The weekend finale with 713 and its attractive advert livery seen at North Pier as the tram heads back to the depot after a busy day on heritage tours. (All photos by Rob Bray)


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24 Responses to In Pictures: ‘B Fleet’ Balloons take over Tram Sunday!

  1. Jonathan says:

    Whilst the Friday and Saturday were nice and varied I do have to question the choice on Sunday ‘Tram Sunday’ as people keep insist on calling it (its not anymore its Fleetwood Transport Festival). A B fleet in advert livery (!) no Bolton 66, no Marton 31 and Fleetwood 40 static. I was sorely disappointed not to see these more traditional Trams at a Transport event. Then 31 came out on Monday – when everyone is back at work! At least the Trams did seem well used especially the boats, the day’s sensible choice.

  2. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    It was certainly a weekend for enthusiasts for whom the more traditional heritage fleet might just possibly have come to seem rather commonplace and who wanted in the words of Monty Python ‘Something Completely Different’. It proved beyond doubt that the ‘B Fleet’ still has an important role to play both to augment normal service and provide variety on the Heritage Service. Really, apart from the occasional ‘warning, doors opening/closing’ announcement, these modified Balloons are still 1930′s trams beneath the facade of modernity and as such offer a ride almost as traditional as the more ‘authentic’ streamline cars. It was also fortunate that that the weather although fine had not at that stage become too hot, especially as on the final run of 713 it had started to become rather warm on the upper deck.

    I gather, we may have Health and Safety to thank for this opportunity to ride 713, as I am told whether correctly or not, that for Tram Sunday there was a ban on pre-1930 trams – especially those without air brakes – from operating during the period of the event (40 remaining strictly static and having arrived well in advance of the opening and not departing until after the streets had been cleared and reopened to normal traffic). This would not only have precluded 40 from operating but banished the visiting car 31. Also many of the steam vehicles such as the Sentinel Bus were absent, presumably for similar reasons. Let us hope that overzealous Health and Safety does not bring Tram Sunday to an end altogether. This is the occasion when non-enthusiasts are most likely to ride in any numbers and maybe an interest in the Heritage trams nurtured.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Seriously? How ridiculous as the Trams don’t touch the event other than running past the queue – and its busier on the prom some days!
    How did the day prove the B fleet can augment the sevice? 713 was on Heritage service, just to confuse the punters! I’m sorry but the B Fleet has no role as they aren’t used at all at the moment so that surely proves it, apart from occasionally being borrowed bt Heritage.
    Whilst I agree with your comment about variety for enthusiasts sadly very few even bother coming to this poor excuse for a transport event so the bulk of passengers would be the general public wanting an old Tram.

    here’s hoping that common sense can prevail in future.

  4. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    I expect that the Tram Sunday event requires special insurance as a whole and that for this purpose geographical boundaries are stipulated within the policy as indeed would also be Health and Safety requirements and risk assessments as agreed with the relevant authorities. In today’s litigious society a mishap need only occur inches within the specified boundary and a costly claim could arise. Lawyers for insurance companies have been known to turn up at accident locations armed with tape measures and even if the evidence is brought into question, it all boils down to whose version of events the judge (and any judges in higher courts in the case of an appeal) should chose to accept. The organisers of Tram Sunday and those responsible for the trams themselves would not do themselves any favours by getting involved in a contentious legal wrangle. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in today!

    On a positive note, I think that using the ‘B’ Fleet allows for an opportunity to test their reliability, especially if they are conveying fairly heavy loads on occasions like Tram Sunday. I understand that Jane Cole is interested in looking into making more use of these vehicles in service as specials to cover busy periods (no doubt to the chagrin of Blackpool taxi drivers) and would therefore need to be certain that they would prove an asset rather than a liability. Perhaps it would be better not to be too hasty to complain about the heritage turn out for Tram Sunday and to ask ourselves whether we’d rather have an event like 2012 – then as I recall the choice of tram available (to plagiarise Henry Ford) could be any kind as long as it was a Flexity! Of course Health and Safety may yet ensure that the 2012 Tram Sunday experience is repeated. Let us be grateful for what we now have.

  5. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    I was disappointed with the Fleetwood Tram Sunday. I toook a nineteen forties Crossley and ended up stuffed down a side street away from the main event, Adelaide Street to be precise. I saw little of transport interest on the main street and only the 3 static trams by the lighthouse.

  6. IAN NICOL says:

    I agree with Ralph. There was little of transport interest at Fleetwood on Tram Sunday. There did not seem to be as many buses as usual and there were more
    fairground attractions than anything else.
    I visited Blackpool on both the Saturday and Sunday and found the Heritage tram service on both days to be interesting and well organised. The crews on the service were very pleasant and helpful. The boat cars on the Sunday were especially well patronised and on one journey I took from Cleveleys to North Pier people were standing.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Didn’t 2012 have Heritage mini tours?
    The B fleet don’t need their reliability testing, they are fine! They are out often enough on training etc to prove this!

    As for specials. Why? The 10 minute service allows Flexity specials to run as well, which being accessible, is surely a better option.

    I would question the insurance argument as it has never applied before and what difference does the age make? 66 is no different to a boat for example, no more or less likely to cause an accident. It all sounds like an excuse to me.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      No, 2012 just had two static trams at the Ferry. There were mini tours in 2013, a North Pier to Fisherman’s Walk service in 2014 and then the present arrangement began last year.

      The ‘no vehicles built before 1930′ ruling does sound utterly ridiculous… meaning that its probably true! That said the absence of 717 on the festival day was surprising if that is the case, granted I wouldn’t miss it as it has been used a lot, but to the average punter it is probably the most attractive of the streamliners after the Boats.

  8. Chris says:

    I was also at Fleetwood when I was approached by a lady doing a survey about it. I was shown a card with 5 things on it, all to do with arty events and nothing about transport. I informed her that I came to look at vehicles and not street theatre so she looked at her tablet and it said to thank me and close survey. Yet another instance of loaded questions with no negative feedback allowed.

  9. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    I recall 2012 well. I was staying at the Norbreck Castle and got up extra early to photograph 700 and 717 as they passed by en route to Fleetwood. They were stationed by the Pharos Lighthouse during the Tram Sunday event and staffed by non-drivers. I think the drivers had been transported back to Rigby Road to operate the then standard weekend heritage service running between Pleasure Beach and Little Bispham loop. I expect they were transported back to Fleetwood after completing their heritage duties to retrieve the two Balloons which were not permitted to convey passengers. I also recall that it was a work of art getting to Fleetwood by public transport in the morning as the 30 minute Flexity service proved highly inadequate. With trams passing fully loaded through Norbreck, common sense dictated a trip to Fleetwood on the No. 1 bus and there was barely room to board as many others had the same idea. It was as well that a few alighted at Cleveleys, as by that point the bus was well and truly full to the gunwales and those waiting there would have had either to try out the meandering Stagecoach service or else shell out for a taxi – if they could get one! I bet some people gave up and went elsewhere that day.

    Now we have not only a far more frequent Flexity service on summer Sunday mornings but a very generous 20 minute Heritage service for Tram Sunday. Let us not forget how it might yet have been but for the determination of highly motivated individuals – especially Bryan Lindop – and let us not look a gift horse in the mouth!

  10. Jonathan says:

    Everything about the flexity service and Heritage is hundreds times better now, but my concern is that Heritage isn’t showing its best side by throwing out a badly thought out selection on the Sunday, a very high profile day!

  11. Paul Turner says:

    Was it really a poor selection? Perhaps 713 wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but certainly popular with some enthusiasts – but 2x boats, a Twin to Fleetwood is attractive and the two heritage Balloons are appropriate too. Perhaps 31 would have been nice.

  12. Jonathan says:

    In my opinion (which I am allowed to have) yes it could have been better. The public expect old Trams – now that is subjective in its own right as to what qualifies, but as a visitor I would expect to see a mix of types and the ‘vintage’ look of 147/66/31 was very noticeably absent.

    • Canus Lupis says:

      147 would be very noticeably absent… especially when it isn’t even in Blackpool at the moment….

      Remember it swapped places with 31 from Beamish

  13. Frank Gradwell says:

    It isn’t Tram Sunday no matter from which angle you approach it. I would also submit that it isn’t even Fleetwood Transport Festival in any real meaning of the word anymore.

    We stopped exhibiting over a decade ago when the bureaucracy finally became too much and the organisers had to either go for entertainment or close, because as a street festival they had no source of revenue and the shopkeepers of Fleetwood who offered the odd pound or two here and there whilst raking in thousands on the day were no help whatsoever.

    I have visited since and despair at what one of my favourite summer days out has become, but if the organisers had to go lowest common denominator to survive you can’t blame them.

    A valid tram component may well have been an Ash St to Bispham Shuttle, but frankly – as a transport event – this one is finished. From what I hear of the reaction to last Sunday any PSV presence next year will be a minor miracle on its own.

    It need not have been this way and there may well be room for a street arts spectacular – but not one called “Tram Sunday”

  14. Paul says:

    As ever, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, must must appreciate and acknowledge that others will likely have a different opinion which they are equally entitled to…

    I’m not sure though how you can justify calling Saturday ‘nice and varied’ but say Sunday wasn’t – both days had 3 Balloons (both 2C+1B fleet) and a Twin Car. Only difference was the 2 Boats vs 66 & 680.

    Whatever trams are run on any day, you are never going to please everyone – more-so on a day like Tram-Sunday where it is a fairly even split of enthusiasts and general public, so including a mix of trams that appeal to the different audiences is the right way to go, plus there is also the practical aspect that you need trams that can be relied on and are capable of keeping to what was a very tight timetable and tight turn-rounds at Fleetwood (same timings as the Flexities!) 31 and 66 would have struggled to keep time, 40 is slow to load/offload.

    As has already been said the Boats were near full all day with mainly general public. Running the ‘B Fleet’ does attract a certain subset of enthusiasts but running a Purple one as a Heritage car on Tram Sunday would have caused even more confusion than usual, so 713 can be justified on that basis. If anything, from my observations the Twin was probably the least popular tram on the day.

    The only thing I would have done different would (if possible) have been to park 700 (the Heritage Tram Shop) at the Ash Street end of Fleetwood closer to the active cars.

    As to the other two static cars, at Pharos St, I’d view those as a lost opportunity for other tramway groups to promote themselves – why no MTMS/Heaton Park information on their own car 680?? What about the TMS having a display on 40 or the FTS using one of them??

    • Jonathan says:

      I’ve never seen a TMS display there. they didn’t even have one in 2010 on the depot open day. As for Heaton Park, I assumed that’s why 680 was there! I think they had one last year on 66?

  15. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Unfortunately, the absence of a ‘vintage look’ may well have been down to Health and Safety and the litigation-happy world in which we now live. The fact that 713 was well loaded seems to indicate that the ‘B’ fleet are far from unpopular. Indeed for the next ‘gold’ weekend, I think it would be great to focus on these Balloons in particular. Perhaps 707 could be launched in a similar manner to 718 as that tour was well patronised and proved an excellent money spinner adding to funds which will help restore the likes of 143 to operating order. Of course 707 was the prototype Millennium rebuild and benefits from an attractive interior lined in pea green with wood trimmed window frames creating a really pleasant ambiance. Also it would be especially pleasing to see 711 and 719 in use again alongside 700 and 713 together perhaps with 701 and 723 showcasing how Blackpool Transport has been adept at revitalising their Balloon Cars in recent times. I feel I should suggest the idea to Bryan Lindop as I’m sure it would be a fresh and interesting theme!

  16. james jones says:

    Why all the negative comments ??????? In my eyes a b fleet balloon is as relevant as a boat car the tram enthusiast community seem to be the biggest nay sayers of all the transport community just be thankfull we have trams to enjoy !!!!!

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      The obvious difference is that B Fleet Balloons can be used in normal passenger service and therefore their use on heritage duties is going to be a source of some controversy until a clear role for these trams can be identified.

  17. Deckerman says:

    Right, well it wouldn’t be mid to late July if I didn’t do my bit and try to answer some of the criticisms leveled at this event would it? Most are down to simply people being ignorant of the facts, which is fine, so as best I can, I shall try to put that right.

    Firstly, the old chestnut…it has never officially been known as “Tram Sunday”, so PLEASE stop getting so hung up about the trams being the “be all and end all” of it. They simply aren’t and perhaps apart from 1985 and 1998, they never really were. Very important yes, but not the “Modus Operandi”.

    Granted, solely to remove confusion, even the committee has used that title, but it has OFFICIALLY only ever been the “Fleetwood Transport Festival” up to and including 2009 and “Fleetwood Festival of Transport” from when a new “bureaucracy” took over in 2011.

    The next chestnut is tram variety. The event is COMPLETELY FREE TO ALL VISITORS. Free entry. Free parking, Free programme. So knowing this, the committee are totally unable to fund all the trams they are given very kindly by BTS from the VERY limited funding the FFoT do get to do all the other stuff that legally they MUST do! They do help, but they are TOTALLY at the mercy of what is available, what can be staffed and what BTS very kindly deign to send them. END OF!! If anyone has a problem with that, I would most respectfully suggest that any dissatisfaction is sent to BTS.

    To the VAST majority of the 80,000 plus visitors ( Police figures, not FFoT’s) in Fleetwood, on the 17th, 713 was indeed a “Vintage Tram”, so that fitted the bill.

    Why Heaton Park didn’t use 680 for publicity, you would have to ask them, as they I am sure they would be more than welcome to do so. 700′s position is more than likely down to BTS’s preference, so….. (01253) 473001.

    To Frank, I am sure that the FFoT committee would agree with most of your points, especially the annual HUGE local trader funding shortfall, except that the “bureaucracy” of which you speak, if you last entered a vehicle ten years ago, is now no more, as in 2011 a new committee took over. And to say that somehow well over two hundred classic and vintage road vehicles on display in a main street of a town, 9 heritage trams, mostly in service and over thirty transport stalls, somehow doesn’t constitute a “transport event”, does baffle this particular mind, if no one else’s, but you are entitled to your opinion, as is everyone else.

    Now to add the arts festival. That is ALL transport related. ( Some a tad tenuous I grant you, but…)
    It has added hugely to the popularity of the event, but probably not much from the enthusiast’s point of view. I grant you that a JCB dressed up as a dragon, or a mobility scooter posing as a Boat Car, probably doesn’t “do it” for most readers on here, but here’s the bombshell perhaps…. the event is not, probably never will be and certainly never has been to date, SOLELY made for enthusiasts. If it was, like most heritage railways, it would close in a day.
    The open minded ones of us that are happy to go to an event that has trams mixed somewhere in it that actually operate to it, with a couple of hundred nice old cars, lorries, bikes and buses too, but is otherwise just a nice happy FREE day out made from the very hard work of a few totally unpaid and therefore completely voluntary, local people who love their town, it’s unique trams and main street and want to show it off to others in a fun and unique way, whilst also managing to help the local economy too.
    And hopefully a few of the thousands who attend, just might then become a bit of an enthusiast themselves, especially some of the thousands of children that come after just having a happy carefree day out, then … job done.

    So rather than go through all the other moaning points, perhaps can’t we either enjoy the day for what it is and stop bleating about this tram didn’t come, or that art thing didn’t look like a Balloon car… blah blah blah? Or then again, here’s an idea perhaps…alternatively, somebody actually DO something practical about it!!

    Every single person in the UK is entitled to join the FFoT committee or to personally fund a tram that wasn’t there but perhaps should be. So the balls in your court. Offer is there.. or if not, perhaps accept that it is a free FAMILY day out with a free FAMILY arts festival thrown in too, which by its very nature, sadly is not always going to “Float Everybody’s Boat…Car!!” Sorry, but that’s the big, bad, nasty commercial world out there for you.

    And to those that complain year after year, if I’m really pushed, if it’s really so bad, just don’t come anymore. Why keep coming year on year to something that apparently just doesn’t do it for you anymore? I don’t get it. Trust me, you won’t be missed. Sorry but it’s true. I’d say 5% of those 80,000+ would know a Boat from a Balloon and trust me, the other 95% dont care that they don’t!

    So either, please just enjoy it for what it is, a mostly NON enthusiast day out with some trams bits in there, or help FFoT put right what’s wrong in your view, or just.. dont go! Its really simple.

    PS. Martha The Steam Bus is not a victim of the dreaded H & S malady, but now simply lives too far away to come. But again, an extra, privately funded, couple of grand might change that. So.. you are welcome to get your cheque books out guys. Or please just take what is given. Thank you. Soapbox now dismantled for another year. Hopefully!

  18. John says:

    I rather hope we don’t have a Heritage day full of B fleet as THEY ARE NOT PART OF THE HERITAGE FLEET. They are B fleet and on loan to Heritage to add an extra bit of interest and cover unforseen circumstances! 718 was a quick fix, the others less so and all are in expired adverts. Realistically there isn’t the money to spend on reactivating these Trams which aren’t currently needed.