The 70th Anniversary of the Streamlined Trams in Blackpool afforded the opportunity for some major tram special events for the first time in 6 years in the north western town. In this report Gareth Prior gives a run down of what happened over the weekend of 11-12 September…
Saturday 11 September 2004
The weather in Blackpool had been mainly bright and sunny in the week leading up to the events weekend, so obviously that meant it would have to change. And of course it did! The morning of 11 September started dull and grey with a very strong wind coming off the Irish Sea. The first of the events organised was to be the procession of trams from Pleasure Beach to Little Bispham showing the different members of the streamlined tram fleet.
I went down to the depot early on in the morning to see the trams set off to take part in the Procession. The first tram to depart was Standard 147 which had been renumbered 177 for the occasion. 177 was the last built Standard and the organisers wanted to show the major change in the design of trams between the Standards and the streamlined trams. This tram left depot at 0928 following out the first specials of the day. Next out was Balloon 700 (at 0934) followed by Boat 600 (0936) and Open Top Balloon 706 (0947). The heritage liveried Balloons were next out with 712 at 0949, 702 at 0951 and 703 at 0952. The final batch of trams for the procession were led by Ex Towing Railcoach 679 (0953) and then Jubilee 762 (0954) and Rebuilt Balloon 724 (0956).
The trams had all left depot before 1000 and so they had just over 30 minutes to be prepared at Pleasure Beach for departure. Having watched the trams leave depot I decided to watch the trams pass at Gynn Square whilst they were on their way to turning at Little Bispham. The plan was for the Procession to depart Pleasure Beach at 1030 with all other trams being held whilst all the trams left the loop. Before they got to Little Bispham there was a commentary at North Pier as they all came back together. After the commentary the trams continued on their merry way and were seen at Gynn Square as follows: 147 (at 1107), 700 (1110), 600 (1111), 706 (1111), 712 (1112), 702 (1114), 703 (1116), 679 (1118), 762 (1123) and 724 (1124). It should be noted that the later trams in the procession were used as specials in service with the final three even managing journeys to Fleetwood. For the trams which had remained as part of the Procession they turned at Little Bispham and then returned to Pleasure Beach where they too entered service as specials. This included Boat 600 for most of the day but at around 3pm the heavens opened and this was run to depot. However it did make one final journey from North Pier to Manchester Square with the wind blowing the rain onto the poor people on the tram (I should know I was one of those people!)
The remainder of the day continued to be wet which meant that the planned launch of the Illuminated Frigate 736 was a very drenched affair. However despite the adverse weather conditions there were at least 50 tram enthusiasts at Blundell Street to see the Mayoress of Blackpool officially launch the tram and see it undertake its inaugural journey. The tram was parked outside of the Blackpool Transport Services Limited offices on Blundell Street surrounded by barriers. It started off the ceremony unlit but after the Mayoress and all the other dignitaries arrived and did their official stuff the illuminations were switched on for the first time in anger. The tram crew for the evening were dressed in traditional sailors uniforms to make it an extra special occasion. Before the tram departed the rain came down even more heavily which meant everyone scurried for what little cover there was (the canopy surrounding Sommerfield was quite popular) and the tram departed to hit the Promenade with a tour for the first time since the end of the 2001 season.
Sunday 12 September 2004
After the heavy rain of the day before the day of the Open Day started cloudy but dry and did afford some sunny spells. Of course for the first time in 6 years the Rigby Road depot of Blackpool Transport Services Limited was open to the public. One thing I will say about this is that the depot looked less open than it does at any other time of the year as there were barriers to make people use one entrance!
The depot fan was used to display interesting trams from the fleet with Illuminated Frigate 736 and Brush 636 leading the way at the front. Also on display on the fan was Stockport 5, Blackpool & Fleetwood Box 40, Coronation 304, Sheffield 513, Boat 600, Blackpool Replica Vanguard 619, Illuminated Trawler 633, Twin Car 674+684, Balloon 700 and Rebuilt Balloon 724 (I don’t think I’ve left anything out!). As an added bonus the Illuminated Western Train 733+734 was on display in front of the Electrical Compound completing the tram displays. Of course it was also possible to see into the depot with the trams which had not gone out into service for the day and this included withdrawn trams. The withdrawn trams seen were Balloons 704, 716 and 717, OMO 8, Illuminated trams Rocket 732 and Hovertram 735 and Works Brush 259. Also in the depot on this day were Boat Cars 602, 604, 605 and 607, Brush Cars 621, 626, 627 and 637, Centenary Cars 645, 646 and 648, Twin Cars 671+681, 673+683, 685, 676+687 and 677+687 and Balloon 722 (and possibly others which couldn’t quite be identified or seen).
There was also the opportunity for a behind the scenes tour of the workshops. This started in the Paint Shop where Coronation 660 was in the process of having a repaint following its mini overhaul this summer and Twin Motor Car 675 was awaiting a start to be made on its repaint. Here it was explained that Blackpool Transport still hand paint all of their fleet (the last company to do so in the UK), although they no longer do a “coach” finish. The tour then moved on to the Body Shop where Balloon 713 is undergoing its major overhaul and this showed its traditional streamlined appearance being retained but finished with a steel underframe. This tram also showed off the new style bumper and lifeguard at the front. Also here was fellow Balloon 715 which was almost ready to return to service. Then it was onto the Fitting Shop where Brush 625 was seen receiving attention. There were also different parts of bogies in differing stages of repair/dismantling. Then it was across the depot yard to the Electrical Compound where Centenary 642, Balloon 708 and Twin Car 672+682 were noted. This part of the tour also showed the sub station which is situated in this part of the depot. The tour was then finished with visits to two parts of the bus depot. The Lancastrian Transport Trust’s Depot was open to the public on the day as well with a free vintage shuttle bus being offered for this purpose. There are two trams here with Engineering Car 753 (ex-Standard 143 – the next restoration project) and Coronation 663 being displayed. There are also many buses in various states at the depot owned or loaned to the LTT. The final part of the days events were shuttle tram services from just outside the depot to North Pier or Cabin. There were three trams used on these with Open Top Balloon 706, Standard 147 (still as 177) and Bolton 66 undertaking the duties. The advertised plan had been for these trams to be running only to North Pier and costing £1 but in the end they ran basically as normal specials, just from the depot. Fares cost as they usually would from Manchester Square with Travelcards valid and as previously mentioned some ran through to Cabin. Again the rain came down and again I seemed to be on an open tram, this time 706, and got wet yet again for the weekend!
The final event of this special weekend was the first public Illuminations Tour using the Frigate 736. Due to the rain getting heavier during the course of the afternoon/early evening I didn’t go down to see it set off for this tour but it was seen passing St Stephens Avenue at 2016 northbound. The crew were again meant to be in suitable clothing (presumably the sailors outfits again).
And so that concluded the special events for the 70th Anniversary of the Streamlined trams in Blackpool. The events were well organised and I am sure I speak for everyone when I thank those who were in charge of the events as they were very enjoyable. Just next time could they possibly organise some decent weather?!?