Compared to last year, Blackpool’s ‘B Fleet’ Balloon cars have not seen a great deal of use so far during the 2017 illuminations. Whereas 2016 saw the trams kept busy with a mix of stage carriage work and illumination tour duties, little of either has been recorded this year with the exception of recently repainted 718 which has been one of the first choice cars for lights tours.
However, on the evening of Friday 29th September, Balloon 700 was briefly used as a special, running to supplement the ordinary LRT service and using the platforms as a service tram – the first such working by any of the B Fleet cars this year. The tram was sent from Rigby Road depot to North Pier empty and stabled for a while on the passing loop, the idea being to help clear the crowds of people when they dispersed following the World Firework Championships finale. Unfortunately, as it turned out, by the time 700 was dispatched north, most of the crowds had already been gobbled up by Flexities and as a result the car was very lightly loaded! The Balloon ran from North Pier to Little Bispham and then to Manchester Square and depot.
The following evening saw a second appearance by one of the modified Balloon cars in normal passenger service, and this time it was 711‘s turn. It is believed that the tram was called upon to work some extra journeys in place of Flexity 010 which had sustained a broken window due to an act of mindless vandalism – something which has sadly been quite common in recent weeks affecting trams, buses and buildings in Blackpool. Before entering service, 711 ran empty from Rigby Road to Starr Gate and then operated the following sequence of passenger journeys: Starr Gate-Little Bispham-Starr Gate-Little Bispham-Starr Gate. It was then stabled in the modern tram depot before heading back to its usual home early the next day.
It is pleasing to see that the modernised Balloons can still be called upon if needed in an emergency, although the lack of work for them this season – other than as honoury heritage cars of course – does not bode especially well for their future use. It remains to be seen whether the trams will run again during the traditionally very busy half-term week at the end of this month, although with Blackpool Transport reportedly unable to provide many extra staff for illumination tours, with volunteers making up for the shortfall, it is unclear if enough crews will be available to take out Balloons even if the demand is there.
With thanks to Rob Bray for providing details of both 700 and 711‘s movements on 29th & 30th September respectively.