So Long Starr Gate! The Last Day of Trams before the Upgrade

The section of the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramway between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate was shut to trams from the end of service on Sunday 6th September to enable work to commence on upgrading the track and to build the new Depot for the Supertrams. Although trams will return to Starr Gate from Easter 2012 this was the last day of the full length “traditional” tramway and to mark the occasion the very first Tramways Monthly/British Trams Online tram tour took place. Gareth Prior gives the low down as we said “So Long Starr Gate!”

It all started with an email, a little over two weeks before Starr Gate would be taken off the tramway map for a few years. Tramways Monthly Editor Jack Gordon wanted to know if British Trams Online would be interested in helping TM with a tram tour on the last day of trams to Starr Gate. I had obviously had a bang on the head as my reply was swift and in the positive. And so the whole saga of the tour could begin.

So as not to bore you with all the toing and froing with Blackpool Transport during the planning (those of you who were actually on the tour may be surprised to know there was actually planning involved!) I will jump forward to the “final” plans for the day. We were given the option of two trams and chose Blackpool & Fleetwood Box 40 as it is not often seen out which we hoped would encourage more people to join the tour. In addition it would probably be the last chance 40 would have to get to Starr Gate as it is likely to return to the Tramway Museum Society before the tramway reopens.

We could then move onto the route and timings the tour would take. Obviously the main part of the tramway we wanted to cover was the Pleasure Beach to Starr Gate section and we planned to do this several times to make the tour worthwhile. Unfortunately we were unable to fit in a visit to Fleetwood because we didn’t want to start too early (1900 was the chosen time) with an event taking place at the Heaton Park Tramway and with 40 not being fitted with halogen headlights it could not travel to the northern extremity of the tramway after dark. After discussions between the three of us (the third and probably most important member on the day of the organisation team was Andrew Waddington) we came up with the following route (although even on the day there was debate as to what route we were taking!):

Depot – Foxhall crossover – Starr Gate – Thornton Gate – Starr Gate – Foxhall crossover – Starr Gate – Little Bispham – Depot

I came up with some very rough timings to try and give us the maximum amount of time at various locations for photo opportunities. The timings planned to see us back at depot somewhen between 2215 and 2230.

And so to the day of the tour – Sunday 6th September. Unfortunately the weather was not going to be kind to us (maybe it was upset at the end of real trams to Starr Gate?) and a grey, cloudy and windy day had gradually turned into a wet and windy afternoon and early evening. Bookings had been steady in the lead up to the tour (although there was never any danger we were going to sell out!) and at around 1830 people started to congregate outside the Depot in readiness for the “So Long Starr Gate” tour. Up to this point everything was going exactly to plan but that was practically it as far as the plan went!

At around 1845 we were informed that because of the wet weather 40 was not able to be used (due to its electric brakes and the fact in order to operate the windscreen wiper the driver has to take his hand off the controller) and that we were to use Standard 147 instead. Unfortunately a couple of people chose not to carry on with the tour because of this but we did manage to pick a couple of people up who wanted to travel on 147.

We left Depot slightly early at 1854 and made our way down Hopton Road, Lytham Road and then onto the Prom for the short journey to the Foxhall crossover. Here we reversed and made our first journey to Starr Gate – in almost daylight (because of the weather it was already pretty dull). Photo opportunity number one was taken at the Starr Gate loading stop and then after reboarding we moved onto photo stop two by the Giant Mirror Ball at Harrowside. We then carried on northbound and the plan was to run through to Thornton Gate for the next photo opportunity. However, upon arrival at Bispham Balloon 700 was waiting in the southbound stop and so there was another quick photo stop taken here. And then from here a non-stop run was made to Thornton Gate where more photos were taken.

After a very short break we started to make our way south again without much incident until we got to the Pleasant Street/Cocker Street area to the north of the Metropole Hotel. The first round of the “World Fireworks Championships” were taking place at North Pier and this always leads to disruption to the tramway and this day was no different! I had tried to do the schedule so we avoided any major disruption in connection with the Fireworks but I obviously failed! An unscheduled photo stop was taken as all trams were at a stop to allow the crowds to disperse. We eventually started to make out way cautiously south until we got to Tower, where another not to be missed photo opportunity presented itself. Trawler 737 and Balloon 717 were on the centre track and northbound track respectively and after photos we continued on out way to Starr Gate for more photos – this time at the unloading stop.

Then things started to go way off the plan! The crew needed a break and so instead of heading to the Foxhall crossover we went a little further up the line to Tower for a 30 minute rest. During our time here Western Train 733+734 was towed back to Depot in disgrace by Engineering Car 754 having failed at Little Bispham. Once the break was over we headed back to Starr Gate and then things started to go way off plan! After discussions between the crew and the inspector at Pleasure Beach it was decided that our tour was going to run the final journey from Starr Gate!

So we left Starr Gate for Little Bispham where another photo opportunity was taken on the loop as we waited for Balloon 718 (which was running the last timetabled service to Starr Gate) to pass. And then at 2350 (some one and a half hours after my schedule had seen us back at Depot!) we left Little Bispham for the run through to Starr Gate. At Starr Gate 718 was still awaiting departure and so we drew up behind allowing yet more photo opportunities. At 0023 718 departed with the last timetabled journey and then just one minute later 147 was the last passenger tram to leave Starr Gate – and it was on our very first tour!

The actual routing we took was:

Depot – Foxhall crossover – Starr Gate (photos) – Harrowside (photos) – Bispham (photos) – Thornton Gate (photos) – Pleasant Street (photos) – Tower (photos) – Starr Gate (photos) – Tower (break/photos) – Starr Gate – Little Bispham – Starr Gate (photos) – Foxhall crossover – Depot

Obviously because I was involved in the organisation of the tour I won’t be giving a “mark out of 5” for the tour and will let other people decide whether it was a success or not! And despite the fact I spent the whole evening saying it was a “one off”, when are we doing it again! Just don’t let me anywhere near the timetabling!

I would like to end this article by saying a huge thanks to the crew we were given for the night – I doubt we could have hand picked a better pair, nothing was too much trouble! Also thanks to everyone who attended the tour I hope you enjoyed it (although not yet fully confirmed it looks like we raised £200 for the Blackpool Tramcar Preservation Fund through the fares). Finally, thanks to Andrew Waddington for taking the lead in organising the tour on the night and to Jack Gordon for doing all the initial leg work for the tour and then not actually attending and leaving it to Andrew and myself!

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