Next week the Blackpool illuminations will switch on for another season, and the start of the first with the tram service mainly operated by modern LRV units. 2012 also marks the start of a new era for the illumination tours, which will begin and end from the Pleasure Beach loop for the first time in many years. This will be a major break in tradition as the illuminated trams have traditionally loaded up at North Pier.
Blackpool Transport have now updated their website with some details of their plans for the revised tour operation for 2012. As expected, the daily heritage service will be replaced by evening use of the illuminated and vintage cars although the start time for the tours has not been confirmed as yet. It is still believed that the plan is to operate a twenty minute frequency on weekdays, increasing to every ten minutes at weekends – however, following numerous disruptions to the heritage tours over the summer due to staff shortages, it remains to be seen whether such an ambitious level of service will actually occur.
Further confusion concerns the ticketing which will be valid on these tours. The BTS website states that tours will be priced at £5 for adults and £2.50 for children, with no reference to the £10 heritage day pass. However, it is believed that this will continue to be sold throughout the autumn and that it will be valid on the illuminated trams, although as this is not mentioned on the website this cannot be confirmed by us yet. However, an unwelcome change is that boarding will only be permitted at Pleasure Beach – effectively leaving the other three heritage tram stops at North Pier, Cabin and Bispham useless for the final part of the season. Hopefully some effort will be made to hide these stops in some way, or at least put up prominent notices stating they will not be used, as otherwise this could lead to further complaints from would-be passengers. It is thought that tour participants will be able to alight at any of these stops but like many of the finer details, this may not become fully clear until the illuminations have begun.
One very disapointing development is that the switch-on evening, Friday 31st August, will be completely devoid of illuminated trams this year. Presumably due to the ceremony itself, featuring performances by artists including Scottish singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald and X Factor winners Little Mix, a split tram service will operate that day with trams running between Starr Gate and Tower/North Pier and Fleetwood Ferry. Conseuqently the heritage service has been axed on this day as it would not be viable to operate it. A similar service will also be in force between around 6:00pm and 11:30pm on Tuesday 28th August for the annual ‘Ride The Lights’ event, when the promenade road is closed to all road traffic bar cyclists who can enjoy an early preview of the illuminations display.
Of course, for many readers of this website the 2012 illuminations will be most notable for the inclusion of two static trams: the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust’s Brush car 290, which is located at Pleasure Beach, and the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s unique ‘Rocket’ 732 which is on display at Gynn Square. With Twin set 672+682 also expected to join the heritage fleet, hopefully the weeks ahead will be a good time for fans of the Blackpool tramway and some of the concerns being voiced now will soon be forgotten about.