Blackpool Tramway – The End of an Era

Sunday 6th November marked the end of 126 years of traditional tramway operation in Blackpool with the closure of the line at the end of the 2011 season to allow major testing for the Supertram system which is due to open on Good Friday 2012. With the end of a major piece of tramway history the complete regular British Trams Online team (that will be all two of us then!) was in Blackpool to “enjoy” the last rites. This report is in our usual diary format and looks at what was happening on the tramway for its last five days. Both Editor Gareth Prior and Contributing Writer Andrew Waddington report from an emotional few days…

Wednesday 2nd November 2011

Gareth Prior reports

For the first two days of this week – traditionally one of the quietest of the season – Blackpool Transport had made the rather bizarre decision to reintroduce a complete double deck service (you will probably remember that during September a new service utilising single deckers during the day and double deckers in the evening was introduced and this had run daily without any alterations since, including at weekends and during the busy half term week) which meant it appeared many of the single deckers may have already run their last on the tramway. To the relief of many enthusiasts who wanted the chance to say goodbye to old friends in the forms of Brush and Centenary Cars at the start of Wednesday 2nd November this decision was reversed and the single deck/double deck split was reintroduced.

Six Centenary Cars and two Brush Cars were on the service during the day but Brush 632 did suffer a fault during the day and was seen at North Pier returning to Depot for this to be repaired. This was repair was effected and the tram returned to service later on in the day. Centenary 647 also experienced problems and returned to Depot earlier than planned and was replaced by the only other available single decker – Trawler 737. Whilst this changeover took place Centenary 648 – which was on the North Pier service – managed a journey through to Little Bispham.

Further testing was undertaken down at Starr Gate depot during the day as well with three Balloon Cars – 707, 715, 718 – being used to test the automatic signals and points at this location as continued preparations were made for the start of major winter testing of the Flexity2 trams.

You will have seen reported previously on this website that the Friday and Saturday evening service during the Illuminations had been operated as ad hoc specials rather than adhere to the timetable to ensure trams were sent where they were needed and when. This more or less worked OK as there were not only the five timetabled cars out with several specials so there were plenty of trams to allow crews to take their breaks on the trams. During this week Blackpool Transport decided to let the crews take their breaks on the trams again and operate the service as specials – with just five trams. This meant that at times there were large gaps in the service with only three or four trams actually available for service – with any luck the new Supertram service will not see decisions made like this.

In addition to the five double deckers in service Trawler 737 remained out on specials throughout the evening following on from its use on service and after running one Illumination Tour Frigate 736 joined it in operating a couple of specials before returning to Depot.

Trams Out

Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 631, 642, 645, 646, 647 (737). (Eve) 707, 718, 723, 761, 762

Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 644, 648

Specials: 736 (after tour), 737

Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 733+734

Also Out: 707, 715, 718 (all involved in testing at Starr Gate depot), 754 (used on rewiring work north of Little Bispham)

See also Photos from Wednesday 2nd November 2011

Thursday 3rd November 2011

Gareth Prior reports

Not a great start to the day as the first trams were delayed from departing Depot for some reason and as a result Centenary Cars 645 and 642 (as the first two northbound trams of the day) arrived at Bispham within a couple of minutes of each other with the latter terminating and not completing its journey to Little Bispham. It would appear that Centenary 644 was due to be used on service but failed before departing Depot, it was seen on the Depot fan later on in the day with fitters on board. As a result of this tram being unavailable and with no other single deckers operational this meant that Trawler 737 was pressed into passenger service again being allocated to the North Pier service which led to half of its journeys being made backwards.

With the end of the tramway in site there were a number of Tram Driving Experience courses held during the week and this day was no exception with popular Balloon 717 allocated. A further tram out on the tramway during the morning was Western Train 733+734 which was being used on a Private Hire with a party of school children on board.

Once again the service provided in the evening was pretty poor with the all too familiar large gaps in service and then two trams running together (I thought the idea of running the trams as specials was to regulate the service!). Balloon 724 added to the problems as during one journey southbound at Central Pier it suffered from power issues and was stationary for around five minutes whilst this was sorted. Only one special was used during the early evening to help with the service this being Trawler 737 which was then used to operate one Illumination Tour.

Trams Out

Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 631, 632, 642, 645, 648. (Eve) 709, 711, 723, 724, 761

Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 646, 647, 737

Specials: 737 (before tour)

Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 733+734, 737

Also Out: 717 (TDE), 733+734 (Private Hire)

See also Photos from Thursday 3rd November 2011

Friday 4th November 2011

Gareth Prior reports

Once again the day didn’t get off to a particularly good start with a presumed failure of a tram before leaving depot – this time Centenary 645 was seen on the Depot fan undergoing fitters attention with its destination blinds already set. As a result Trawler 737 made it into service again, this time allocated to Little Bispham service. Presumably because it was pressed into service late its first two northbound journeys were rather short affairs only running to North Pier and then Bispham.

Possibly the last two Tram Driving Experiences ever were run during the day with the first leaving Depot early with Twin Car 672+682 allocated to this. The second used two different trams, firstly Twin Car 675+685 and then this was replaced by Balloon 717 Set 2 and 717 took their breaks together at Bispham allowing photo opportunities of these two trams next to each other on the tramway for possibly the last time ever.

Come the evening and power supply problems caused all sorts of issues to the service with large gaps in trams as a result. Once these problems had been sorted the service returned to normal (which means slightly smaller big gaps in the service) as once again the trams were being utilised as specials with just the normal five double deckers with a solitary single decker (Centenary 644) on specials.

Trams Out

Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 631, 642, 646, 647, 737. (Eve) 709, 713, 718, 719, 720

Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 644, 648

Specials: 644 (evening)

Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 733+734, 736, 737

Also Out: 672+682, 675+685, 717 (all TDE)

See also Photos from Friday 4th November 2011

Saturday 5th November 2011

Andrew Waddington reports

Saturday kicked off with the familiar line-up of Centenary cars on service, including 645 fit and raring to go after missing out on the Friday fun. Joining them were 632 and a surprise in the form of Balloon 723 on North Pier service, fully manned with both decks open. This was not the only double-decker in service either, as car 707 was also out on specials. Additional interest was also provided from late morning by the first of four enthusiast tram tours to be held over the weekend. The chosen cars were Open Boat 600 and Balloon 717 – perhaps not the best choices considering both trams are expected to see further use on the tramway during 2012 and beyond – however, their appearance did certainly provide a bit of variety to the day’s output. After a slight delay due to 600 requiring fitter’s attention before leaving depot, the duo left Pleasure Beach after 1100 and spent most of the day running in tandem between Little Bispham and Pleasure Beach.

The second tour of the weekend commenced at 1400 from North Pier. This event, organised by the Lancastrian Transport Trust, featured another traditional pairing of Standard 147 and the LTT’s own Balloon car 715. After loading passengers on the passing loop at North Pier the trams proceeded to Little Bispham where a photo opportunity took place in brilliant autumn sunshine. After this time the duo shuttled along the open section of tramway until late evening. A particularly great moment occurred at the end of the LTT tour’s first southbound run, when 147 and 715 ended up chasing fellow LTT tram 632 along the promenade. Better yet, on arrival at Pleasure Beach we found that 600 and 717 were just departing, meaning that for a brief moment all five green & cream liveried trams in the current operational fleet were gathered together.

As darkness fell, the double-deckers took control of the normal public journeys with most of the single-deck cars returning to depot. Having finished its use on the North Pier service 723 ran a trip to Little Bispham and then returned back to Depot – this may well have been its last working on home ground. However, the highlight of the day was surely the appearance of car 762 on service. This tram had been absent for a few days, causing many people to suspect that it had already been withdrawn in preparation for a move off-site, so its use during the evening was certainly a very welcome surprise. The tram duly attracted a considerable amount of attention from enthusiasts and became ‘the’ tram to ride on, upstaging even the tour cars! This did indeed prove to be 762’s finale in Blackpool and proved to be a fitting end to its 29-year career.

Trams Out

Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 644, 645, 646, 647, 648.

Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 642, 723

Daytime Specials: 707

Evening Service: 642, 647, 648, 707, 709, 713, 718, 719, 723, 761, 762

Enthusiasts Tours: Daytime: 600, 717. LTT afternoon/evening: 147, 715

Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737, 733+734, 736, 737, 733+734

Also Out: 754 (used on rewiring work north of Little Bispham)

See also Photos from Saturday 5th November 2011

Sunday 6th November 2011

Andrew Waddington reports

So it was, that all too soon the very last day of the Blackpool tramway as we know and love it was upon us – and what a day it was! For various reasons this turned out to be an unforgettable day of tram riding, socialising and photography as countless enthusiasts and other well-wishers turned out to bid a fond farewell to old friends that have served the Fylde coast so well. The day started off fairly unremarkably with the usual selection of six Centenary cars plus Brush cars 631 and 632 on timetabled service; however this selection was hardly a cause for complaint, as every one of these trams was expected to face withdrawal that same day. Once again the first tram tour of the day kicked off from Pleasure Beach at 1100, and this time it was Twin Set 672+682’s turn in the limelight for a special series of farewell trips. After an unexpectedly eventful start, the excitement continued when the trams were forced to turn back at Cabin on the first northbound run, due to a breakdown incident involving Centenary car 645. Indeed, all trams were forced to terminate at Cabin for a short time, until 645 was dragged back to the depot by Unimog 939. Sadly this marked the end of its working life in Blackpool and was certainly not the glorious end it might have hoped for! However, there was a silver lining as 645’s place in service was taken by sister car 643, a tram which had not been seen all week and which many had presumed to be ‘dead’ after failing itself the previous weekend. However, 643 was rapidly repaired (reportedly using a part from the demic 645) and sent out into service in a very impressive short time, meaning that the entire Centenary class except 641 had been used on this historic day. Another unexpected bonus was a one-off run to Little Bispham made by Brush car 632 which was in fact allocated to North Pier shuttles on this day, but managed to stretch its legs thanks to the timetable being severely disrupted by 645’s antics. This may well have been the last time a Brush car headed this far north and I was therefore rather pleased to be on board for the return leg!

Once again a second tram tour commenced from North Pier in the afternoon, this time organised by the Fylde Tramway Society who hired Twin Set 675+685 and Balloon 715 for what would almost certainly be their final workings on the Blackpool tramway. Departing from North Pier shortly after 1430, the pair initially worked together before splitting up and working to a timetabled shuttle service, with plenty of opportunities to change cars. There were also some superb photo opportunities in the last of the day’s bright sunlight.

As dusk approached all of the single-deck cars headed back to depot for the very last time and it was certainly strange to see a Centenary car with ‘Rigby Road’ on its destination blind, and realising that this was really the end of its life in Blackpool. For the record, the last Centenary car journey was appropriately worked by the last one built, car 647, which ran to Pleasure Beach then Foxhall and depot just a short distance behind sister car 648. The last Brush car of the season (and possibly ever) was 631, although 632 arguably upstaged it. The preserved car was due to end its day with a run to Cabin, but this was actually extended to Bispham before it headed back to the depot.

Disappointingly the evening output mostly consisted of double-deckers with widened doors, which will of course remain a feature of the tramway for some time to come. Some interest was provided by cars 711 and 719 which have not been modified, and Jubilee 761 which became the last of its type in service. This left most enthusiasts riding on the FTS tour, until a surprise twist occurred…. during the course of the evening Balloon 711 sustained a minor fault, and rather than repair this it was run in and a replacement sent out to cover Route 14, in the shape of – Twin Set 672+682! To say this was a welcome surprise would be a bit of an understatement and the set duly earned its place in the history books by becoming the last Twin set to operate in Blackpool, and as if that wasn’t enough, it was being used on timetabled service as well!

The FTS tour ended with some spirited runs along the reserved tramway between Cabin and Little Bispham, before 715 led 675+685 to Pleasure Beach, Foxhall and depot. A good number of photographers gathered at Manchester Square to see the trams in, and as luck would have it, 761 then pulled up behind, also heading back in for the final time. Most of the tour participants then transferred onto 672+682 which ended its career on the Fylde coast with a late journey to Little Bispham and then back to depot with a full load. Such is the love for the Twin cars that Set 2 received a round of applause on its final departure from Little Bispham! It was then left to the final trams of the night to run in, these being, in order, double-deck cars 709, 720 (a special as duplicate for the last tram), and finally 707 which brought the curtain down on 2011. This was certainly a less than inspired choice – indeed the last three trams were all cars that should see further service next year, and were therefore hard to enthuse about – but the appearance of 672+682 certainly more than made up for this letdown and will doubtless be a talking point for those who witnessed its final outing for many years to come.

The last night of traditional tramway operation had certainly been an emotional occasion, but a very enjoyable one and a fantastic atmosphere was present – particularly on the FTS tour and on Set 2’s last runs. The crews on various trams, and particularly those who worked on the various tours over the course of the weekend, also deserve considerable praise for working the trams so hard and providing some of our dear old friends with the send-off they deserved. Who says Balloons and Twin sets can’t go as fast as the Supertrams again!?

Trams Out

Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 642, 644, 645 (643), 647, 648.

Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 631, 632, 646

Evening Service: 707, 709, 711 (672+682), 713, 718, 719, 720, 724, 761

Enthusiasts Tours: Daytime: 672+682. FTS afternoon/evening: 675+685, 715

Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737, 733+734, 736, 737

Also Out: 939 (to tow 645 to Depot)

See also Photos from Sunday 6th November 2011

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