Blackpool’s heritage fleet – a look back at 2012

2012 was the first year for Blackpool Transport’s designated heritage tram fleet, restricted to use on tours and private hires only. Although there have been trams in the Blackpool fleet that have been considered ‘special’, such as those borrowed from museums, for many years, this was the first year that these have been considered seperate from the main running fleet, and had a clearly defined role as tourist attractions.

The strong and weak points of the heritage coastal tours have been well documented before, and it is generally accepted that loadings where very disapointing for much of the year. However, in a complete contrast, the illumination tours were extremely well patronised, giving renewed hope that the future for vintage trams in Blackpool is likely to be a positive one. This article reviews the past year for the trams which made up the heritage fleet during 2012.

Fleetwood ‘Box’ 40‘s loan period was extended by the Tramway Museum Society, allowing it to return to use from 7th April. Unfortunately, 40‘s tendency to leak meant it saw little use during the rather soggy summer, but it did become the first vintage car to run to Fleetwood Ferry since 2009, when it operated a private charter on 30th April.

Bolton 66 returned to use on the first day of the heritage tours, 6th April, following the fitting of transponders over winter; this being its first outing since 2010. The tram was used quite often in the early season but was then admitted to the works, requiring attention to a defective axle. It was back in action on 30th August, and then ran a private hire to Fleetwood on October 1st, thanks to the fitting of small halogen lights on its end bumpers. This was also thought to be its last appearance of the year.

Standard 147 had a busy year on the heritage tours, starting on April 6th. High points included the tram’s use to carry the Olympic flame on June 22nd, in place of a Boat car due to the diabolical weather on this day. 147 was also a regular performer on illumination tours and was one of the favoured trams once the three illuminated feature cars had already gone out. The tram retains adverts for the Fylde Tramway Society.

Open Boat 230 was also reactivated for 2012 after an enforced lay-off throughout 2011, due to the lack of transponders at that time. The tram was outshopped in 1970s style livery and with its original fleet number, and named ‘George Formby OBE’, with images of the late entertainer on plaques within the trolley tower. After being launched on a very wet 9th June by members of the George Formby Society, 230 was then used fairly regularly up to the end of August.

Twin Set 272+T2 also regained their old fleet numerals following a repaint, which saw it returned to the 1960s cream livery with green lining. A small launch ceremony to welcome the Twin car into the heritage fleet took place at Pleasure Beach on September 14th. It then ran most weekends for the rest of the peak season, and ended a triumphant year with a tour to Fleetwood for the Fylde Tramway Society on 29th December.

Open Boat 600 emerged from Rigby Road for the first time in 2012 surprisingly early: on 29th February it was chosen to test the overhead alignment, venturing to Thornton Gate for the first time since its major overhaul was completed. Its passenger debut for the year followed on 5th May, and 600 saw regular use after that, concluding with a couple of illumination tours in early September.

Brush Railcoach 631 was not expected to run in 2012, but a decision to keep a representative of the Brush cars available for operation in Blackpool saw 631 back on the prom on July 8th. After this date, it was used extensively for the rest of the summer. After the illuminations it was transferred to Starr Gate for some work to improve its appearance, including the removal of its expired all-over advert for Walls Ice Cream.

Centenary car 648 was another tram which was thought to have run for the last time in November 2011, but due to popular demand (yes, really!) it was decided to use it as a ‘heritage’ tram. 648 ran just once in this guise, on June 10th, when it unfortantely suffered a fault. However, it was seen out again during October when it was used for crew training, indicating that BTS intend to continue to run this tram for the forseeable future.

Rebuilt Balloon car 700 is not technically classed as a heritage tram, having been rebuilt with widened centre entrances for continued use on the modernised tramway. Despite this, it was used on heritage tours on a few occasions in 2012, both before and after the application of the new purple and white fleet livery. At the end of the year, 700 lost one of its last remaining ‘heritage’ features: the top deck swing-over seats, hopefully meaning that it will be used more appropriately in 2013!

‘Princess Alice’ 706 ran on April 7th for the first time since returning from Heaton Park in November 2010, and after being fitted with transponders. Sadly 706 suffered numerous electrical faults whilst in service, and required some attention its inverter. The tram is not thought to have run since July, but is expected to return in 2013 when it will hopefully run much more succesfully.

Balloon 717 was kept busy during 2012, being one of the first choice heritage cars for use in bad weather. This included numerous illumination tours, particularly during the last week of the main season when it ran daily as part of an increased output.

The Western Train 733+734 ran occasionally on the heritage service in the summer, although it suffered from a number of breakdowns. Its trolley proved especially problematic, leading to it being towed in on several occasions. However, this didn’t stop the Train from running most nights during the illuminations when it proved as popular as ever, although the change of starting point for the tours meant that it had to perform a complicated shunt move each day to ensure that it arrived at Pleasure Beach facing the right way!

‘HMS Blackpool’ 736 was used quite frequently in the spring as an attractive fully enclosed car for the heritage tours. Although this was criticised by some enthusiasts, the use of the Frigate in daylight was a great novelty to many people. During the illuminations (1st September to 4th November) it is thought to have run every night and proved extremely reliable throughout the year.

Illuminated Trawler 737 was used for testing before the tramway re-opened, before it and the Frigate carried passengers on 6th April when poor weather saw them sent out as replacements for other older trams. 737 then saw semi-regular use until the lights switched on, and then it too ran nearly every night up to November 4th.

Other trams retained for the heritage fleet, including Boat 602, Coronation 660 and Twin Set 675+685, failed to run during 2012 but should do so at some point in the future. It remains to be seen whether any of these trams will receive the required work to enable them to run this year, but 2012 has showed that the Blackpool tramway remains full of surprises, and so just about anything is possible!

Undoubtedly one of the stars of the heritage fleet in 2012 was Boat 230 (ex-604), seen here at Pleasure Beach in between trips on a typically dull August day! (Photo by Andrew Waddington)


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22 Responses to Blackpool’s heritage fleet – a look back at 2012

  1. Ian Robinson says:

    What Blackpool Transport might consider for the future of running Heritage Trams is to publish (on their website) which trams are expected to run on a given day. This might at first appear to be difficult but if one considers that they probably would like to give each tram a run on a regular basis it might not be too difficult to arrange.
    They have to consider that it will be mainly the enthousiast who will take advantage of these tours and they might want to know which tram is expected to run before taking the trip to the seaside!
    I am sure this would be a positive step towards improving the patronage of these attractive tours.

    Ian Robinson

  2. Ash Tomlinson says:

    I think the heritage tram tours would attract more people if it ran to Fleetwood, especially on busy market days in the middle of summer to boost capacity! I think there’s nothing better than eating fish and chips outside on a glourious summers day in Fleetwood and watching heritage trams run along the streets!

  3. Andrew Blood says:

    Ian – the allocation for the heritage trams was published in advance throughout the Spring period on the Trams Today Facebook page, something which only ceased when the service went daily in August. This meduim was also used to announce the launch of 631, 648 and 604 before they occurred.

  4. Andrew Blood says:

    Do you honestly think that running to Fleetwood would attract more partonage on the heritage tours? With enthusiasts having generally given the tours a lukewarm reception during 2012, with many preferring to stand idly by and photograph the trams rather than riding and contributing to their survival, Blackpool Transport will, no doubt, consider the enthusiast market to be extremely limited. The aim will be to attract ordinary passengers, who would be unlikely to consider a two hour round trip sitting on the same tram to Fleetwood and back as a riverting attraction.

    • Ken Walker says:

      I think that at least some of the lack of patronage was due to the perceived unreliability of the heritage service. With heritage services cancelled for several days as a result of a points failure, and heritage runs cancelled to provide drivers for the basic service, BTS has given the impression that they are willing to cancel the heritage service at the drop of a hat. Whether that is the reality is somewhat irrelevant, it is the impression given that counts when enthusiasts are deciding whether to spend possibly a considerable amount of money in travelling to Blackpool, and possibly needing an overnight stay as well. Many have probably decided to go to Crich or Heaton Park or Beamish where heritage tram operation is guaranteed barring a major incident. I fully appreciate that the basic service has to be the main priority. Let’s just hope that 2013 brings a more reliable service so that people are prepared to take that chance with their ever-dwindling amounts of spare cash.

  5. Nigel Pennick says:

    Thankyou for a really informative round-up. When I was last there in August people were waiting for the heritage service at the marked stops, and walking away after a while when it appeared no heritage tram would come. It is unfortunate that when the tramway was upgraded there was no real-time information service installed at the stops, including the heritage stops. With a real time system, Blackpool Transport could inform potential riders of the operation of heritage vehicles, and give information on which trams were operating the service. As it is, it is hit-and-miss.

  6. Ash Tomlinson says:

    Well running to Fleetwood would certainly temp me to ride on them regular! Passengers could just swap over trams at Fleetwood and take a break or just hop on or off at different locations if they don’t want to stay on the same tram for a two hour round trip. I am entitled to my own opinion after all!

  7. Matthew says:

    I personally find that the reason it isn’t very busy is due to it being a tour, with this concept passenger numbers are always going to be limited. Perhaps the way it will be most successful is too add more stops so it can be used to get from place to place (such as stops at Central Pier, Hilton/Imperial, Norbreck) as this could easily be achievable since it is usually the heritage service that gets held up behind Flexity’s. I would like the service to go to Fleetwood, but I doubt BTS would consider this.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      But if there are more stops so people can use the heritage trams to get from A to B, then it won’t be a tour will it!? It then becomes a normal stage carriage service – something which the old fleet are not allowed to do anymore. That’s what we have the Flexities for, after all. Whether we like it or not, we have to accept that what is happening now with the heritage trams is as good as it’s likely to get, and that it could have been a LOT worse!

      • Matthew says:

        That’s the point – If it wasn’t branded as a tour it would be more viable to ordinary passengers! A few extra stops would not harm anything, as can be seen by the current stops in place at Bispham, Cabin and North Pier. This by no means makes them general stage carriage service as the stops would still be very limited in comparison to the mainline service and would obviously be at a higher cost than Flexity’s, so would therefore not be considered as directly taking revenue away from them.

  8. Andrew Blood says:

    You certainly are entitled to your own opinion and running to Fleetwood would certainly attract the odd extra enthusiast. However, as mentioned in my previous post, enthusiasts sectacularly failed to support the heritage service in 2012 and therefore it is unlikley that Blackpool transport would think it worthwhile considering their needs or ideas. It has been proved that, if left solely for enthusiasts, the heritage operation would die. It is ordinary passengers that need to be attracted and that means running on the prom where the tourists are not 11 miles away in Fleetwood.

  9. Ash Tomlinson says:

    Don’t take my comments seriously, it may sound like I’m moaning a bit because I would love to see heritage trams in Fleetwood, but at the end of the day, it is Blackpool Transports decision weather this happens or not. As the saying goes, “beggers can’t be choosers!”

  10. Paul says:

    I think the Heritage service has actually been far better than most of us expected (feared) this time last year and for that we have to be greatful. It has been proven with 40, 66 and 672/682 that the Heritage cars CAN run to Fleetwood on Private charters and maybe other special occasions, but it’s not realsitic to run to Fleetwood week-in, week-out… As I understand it the summer daytime tours were barely covering the costs so something has to be done different this year. Hopefully it will be a positive change in promoting the tours more widely to increase numbers rather than the alternatives of raising the fares or reducing the service…

  11. Pete Smith says:

    How about sorting out the destination blinds? Trams showing ‘North Station’, ‘1’ etc make great photo opportunities but make no sense whatsoever to visitors who want a top deck ride along the prom. Okay, so a balloon never ran in service on a ‘Coastal Tour’, but if it means people try to get on, surely thats better?

  12. Ian Statham says:

    I wish to state at the outset of my comments, that I am a Blackpool Heritage Tramway enthusiast, passionate about it,s successful survival (as I,m sure all the other contributers are), but I fear very much that it can,or could ever survive!.Let me explain, some time ago I and a fellow enthusiast, went to a heritage weekend, on locating a stop, we would have to purchase a ticket BEFORE boading the tram!, having done that we were with only 2 other passengers(armed with cameras for the whole trip!, whilst passing the regular stops full of bewilderd passengers nearly all trying to signal the tram to board!.When I left the tram I commented that, I wondered if the heritage trams could ever survive run this way?I have met the manager of Blackpools Heritage -Bryan Lindon, at Heaton Park Tramway, and felt that in the trams would be safe under his leadership, we as enthusiasts all knew this!-My point is this what about the passengers? Do they even Know these are now Heritage Trams?Do they know there are only 4 stops?, and do they know where these stops are?.Finally wil thnkey know that the adult fare has been hiked up 100% to £100? I think the answer to most, if not all of these answers is-no!, I certainly don,t know the answers, but I would suggest a lot more information/advertising would go a long way to help preserve what is one of the most iconic tramway systems in the world,along with Lisbons, and San Franciscos trams,if they can survive then so should,and can, Blackpools trams. These other systems still survive with street running, at least Blackpools is segregated! Finally, all dificulties solved, lon may Blackpools Heritage Trams continue to run!

  13. Ian Statham says:

    Ammendment- increased adult fare for the Heritage Trams should have read £10, (and not £100!, as this technical error indicated ,-That would certainly had the undesirable effect of finishing the service!)

  14. BTWE says:

    The whole heritage thing is farcical and is nothing more than a token gesture to keep the natives pacified. Supertrams have been wanted by the powers that be for years, therefore the classic trams were neglected, mothballed and the whole service became a joke. Hence they could usher in the Flexities under the guise of rejuvenation and hail the return of a working tramway.

    Likewise, keeping conductors is a token gesture as the powers that be know only too well that having a conductor arrangement on these Flexities just doesn’t work. It will soon be decided that self-service machines will be introduced because of the inability of a conductor system to work on the Flexities.

    The atmosphere has gone, the enjoyment has gone and the tramway is now nothing more than a victory cry for the people who wanted to the classic tramway to be destroyed. They now have what they wanted and the next steps will be the abolishment of the conductors and also the heritage fleet will be next to go because it will be decided that it’s not an economical viable system, passengers numbers are too low and it’s just not working. Of course if the trams were included in the day to day system then they would find that people would let flexities go by and wait for a proper tram. They know this and don’t want this – why do you think the ridiculous ‘heritage service’ is in place? Who in their right mind is REALLY going to want to pay £10 or whatever for a day’s travel on trams that they rode regularly day in and day out previously as part of the working infrastructure?

    The classic trams could easily work alongside the flexities if they were wanted that way, but doing so would show that they are more popular than the ugly, plastic-looking sterile monstrosities that are in service now. No, it’s preferred to keep passenger numbers low by having an irregular and over-priced system that serves absolutely no purpose any more other than to keep a tiny minority of enthusiasts happy.

    You have been duped, people, and fallen for the scam hook, line and sinker. The whole thing has been planned for years and engineered this way. Take a note of this post people, your beloved heritage fleet is living on borrowed time and will be gone soon. Sad, but true, mark my words. The Blackpool tramway is now dead and what’s left is nothing more than a light rail system. It’s ludicrous, unnecessary and borderline criminal what has been done to this once-great tramway

    • Gareth Prior says:

      One of the world’s greatest conspiracy therories hey? Of course Blackpool wanted modern trams to operate the core service – who wouldn’t? True the Flexities probably don’t have the character of the traditional trams but then the main purpose of the Blackpool Tramway is to transport people from A to B. Even in the main season most holidaymakers in Blackpool want to take a journey to the Pleasure Beach from their hotel and couldn’t care less what they are travelling on. To suggest that is “borderline criminal” what has been done to this “once-great” is really quite a laughable comment – it’s called progress and has made the Blackpool Tramway a modern and efficient transport system for the 21st century and has the added bonus of limited heritage tram operation to help keep some of the history alive.

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but I do wonder sometimes whether some so called enthusiasts are waiting for the tramway to fail (light rail and heritage operations) just so they can say “told you so” and “it’s not like the good old days”!

      Once again I urge everyone reading this website to “Support our Heritage Tramways” but also remember that modern light rail is here to stay across the UK and these systems can be the heritage of tomorrow.

      • Geoff Pickles says:

        Well said, Gareth! It’s worth remembering that the new trams introduced by Walter Luff in the 1930s were cutting-edge at the time, and must have seemed outlandish and revolutionary to people used to the Standards, Dreadnoughts etc. Had he not brought them in, the Blackpool tramway would almost certainly have been consigned to the history books in the 1950s or 60s. I think that Mr BTWE would see a conspiracy in the story of Little Miss Muffet!

        • Ken walker says:

          There were times in the 1960s/1970s when there WAS talk of closing the whole system due to the losses it was making.
          As regards the heritage fleet, for 6 months of the year tourists and enthusiasts make up very little proportion of passengers. How many ‘normal’ passengers want to travel to and from work or the shops on a 70 year old vehicle? And BTS can hardly be expected to use Flexities in the winter then mothball them and use only heritage cars in the summer. Whether we like it or not the vehicles had become very expensive to maintain, and most (including the relatively new Centenary cars) had been subject to ‘3 new heads and 4 new handles’ syndrome and had been so drastically changed by all the mods that many of them had lost their original looks – the Centenary cars in particular ended up looking like ugly boxes on wheels (in my opinion).
          BTS seem to have made an effort to encourage people to use the heritage trams this year – and they seem to be making an effort to return their heritage vehicles to something like their original appearance within reason. I travelled on 147 for the first time today and was amazed by the quality of the interior restoration. All this restoration work – 631, 648, 147, 272+T2 and others – will go to waste if we lose these heritage services.
          When Luff’s new fleet came in in the 1930s, people allegedly used to let the old cars go by and wait for a new one, not the other way round!

          • roger woodhead says:

            Gareth,Geoff, Ken all three of you are absolutely correct in what you say. Being born in 1945 (there’s an admission) I can remember the Coronation cars entering service and if one was in sight I would refuse to travel on one of luffts vehicles (still will!). I was not alone in this as the general public did exactly the same thing. Given the choice of a winter trip on a Flexity2 or a heritage vehicle in regular service I am absolutely certain which vehicle the public would use and it would not be a cold heritage vehicle. Posters who advocate using the heritage fleet as a hop on vehicle like the Flexity2 In suggest you all go to a library and study the relevant Acts and Statuary Instroments relating to Disabled access to passenger carrying vehicles and then perhaps you will understand why BTS run the heritage trams as they do and also realise that the B fleet may have to dissapear 2020, this same act is also causing the railways problems with the older rolling stock.

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