The start of the 2012 illuminations has been a rather challenging time for the Blackpool tramway. This is of course, the first time that the illuminations have shone in the ‘new’ tramway era with Flexity2 LRVS providing the core service. As expected, crush loadings have been witnessed on the new trams with passenger numbers soaring on the first Saturday evening of the lights season.
As reported previously, the tram service was severed on switch-on night, Friday 31st August due to the switch-on ceremony taking place at the Tower Festival Headland. Once again the tramway was split in two, with some trams working between Starr Gate and Tower, and others managing the North Pier to Fleetwood section, with the usual chaotic results. No vintage or illuminated cars appeared all day which made for an extremely disapointing start to what is supposed to be the peak of the year in Blackpool.
Unfortunately, Saturday 1st September was not a great deal better as the trams struggled to cope with the huge influx of passengers. Thankfully Blackpool Transport have vastly improved the evening service, and the pathetic half-hourly frequency which ran during the summer is now a thing of the past. Trams are scheduled to run to Fleetwood at twenty minute intervals until circa 10:00pm, with additional cars running as far north as Little Bispham to offer a much better evening service for those who want to use the trams to travel through the illuminations display. Unfortunately, on the first illumination Saturday evening of 2012, the timetable was soon forgotten as due to heavy loadings, many trams were turned short to recover lost time, leading to big gaps between trams, which in turn led to massive queues at tram stops of angry tourists. The number of fares lost due to conductors being physically unable to walk from one end of a tram to the other cannot even begin to be estimated. Once again the modified Balloon cars were sorely missed, as all of them remained tucked up in Rigby Road depot.
There was also disapointment for the revised heritage/illumination tours, although it is pleasing to report that a huge number of people appeared at the polo stop sign at Pleasure Beach to wait for a tour. Apparently due to staff shortages, the advertised ten-minute frequency failed to materialise and just the three feature cars were used, which proved to woefully insufficient, with some sizeable gaps between departures leading to yet more complaints. It is to be sincerly hoped that this situation will not occur every week, as this could potentially mean that the vintage trams would not run again in 2012 – and regular patrons are unlikely to support the tours if the same three trams run nightly! Indeed, a few comments have been heard expressing disapointment that no double-deck trams ran that evening, surely a first for a weekend during the illuminations season. It is highly ironic that after running with very few passengers since Easter, the vintage fleet were all confined to depot when there was actually a great number of people in town who were very willing to pay to ride on them!
Hopefully now that Blackpool Transport have some idea of how the modernised tramway can work on such a busy evening, tweaks will be made allowing things to improve as the season progresses. However, more tram crews are desperately needed so that more service and tour trams can be brought into action, otherwise the next nine weeks could be a dire end to the tramway’s year.