In Pictures: Bolton 66 returns to service – and then to depot

One of the bigger complaints in the tram output in Blackpool so far in 2019 has been the lack of variety with only Box 40 (now departed) and Standard 147 flying the flag for the pre-1933 era. But all that should be about to change with the overhaul work on Bolton 66 now having been completed and the tram available for service once more.

Visitors who took part in the tours of Rigby Road Depot during the recent Totally Models event would have seen 66 in the Fitting Shop where it was approaching the end of its overhaul which had seen significant attention to its bogies as well as a touch-up of its paintwork. Not long after this 66 was released for testing and its first noted appearance on the Prom was Friday 28th June when it undertook a few test runs. With these test apparently successful 66 was then made available for a special tour on behalf of the Bolton Tramcar Trust which ran on Thursday 4th July, including a trip through to Fleetwood.

66 first public use then followed on Saturday 6th July when it operated as a third tram on the two tram Promenade heritage service with a spare crew off a private hire. However, not all went to plan as it suffered from some teething problems with a hot axlebox identified causing it to be terminated at North Pier and returned to depot under its own power during the afternoon of another sunny day in Blackpool. With a length absence and a return to service after significant attention it is to be expected that there will be few teething problems and hopefully it won’t be too long until we 66 back on the Prom once more. But for now it is good to see the work on 66 complete and it cleared for service once more.

Welcome back Bolton 66!

Bolton 66 pauses in the loop at North Pier/Tower with a fitter taking a look at its hot axlebox. With a fix not possible on site 66 returned to Rigby Road Depot under its own power and is seen here with its destination blind amended to Manchester Square. (Photograph by Peter Dockerty)

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12 Responses to In Pictures: Bolton 66 returns to service – and then to depot

  1. Chris Callan says:

    Lets hope it settles down into traffic soon. The inability to return things to traffic smoothly is becoming something of a unwanted theme that is really starting to hold operation back. Since the 2012 Upgrade just some of the projects that stand out:

    Illuminated FF Trawler – The half lit (and that is been kind) shambles that is the Trawler in its hideous updated incarnation which continues to prove to be a complete liability and source of real embarrassment for the individual who personally championed the project. It was blindingly obvious it should have been a simple cost effective refresh that did not attempt reinvent the wheel and delivered something that was easy to maintain and refreshed inside and out (not just swapping seats with another tram inside it). Instead they have managed to create something that virtually unusable during the day time (as unlit or lit in bright sunshine visibly it borders on been an eyesore).

    Centenary Car 642 – Pretty protracted return/makeover taking far longer than anyone could have anticipated. Fails unceremoniously earlier in the year and has sat seemingly unmoved in depot ever since.

    Boat Car 227/602 Protracted restoration to put it mildly. A rewire that would have took a contractor literally days managed to spill into a near three year marathon project. Returning late last year in depths of lights. Its sporadic period in traffic since with various electrical faults (again failing recently) with its half lit string lights which looked stunning when it first rolled out just add to the frustration.

    Modified Balloon 707 – Seemingly seeking a prize for the longest repaint in the companies/corporations history. The phrase “protracted” does not do this particular project justice . Indeed worse still a worrying number of dents were on freshly painted tram have already been commented on by keen observers whilst it was sat in the fitting shop from visitors at Totally.

    Twin Sets – Set 5 Rewire as result of the well documented 272/T2 incident a rewire that would take a contractor a month tops (and that is been conservative) still seemingly no end in sight.

    Standard Car 143 – Only time will tell will tell whether they manage to complete it on time for the Fylde Transport Trust. Certainly looked a long way off in recent photos (Totally Models Weekend)

    Birkenhead 20 – Sure i don’t need to expand particularly on the site who sponsored the loan how well that went…

    Back to article I applaud the 66 Trust for doing so much of the cosmetic work (through their own contractors & volunteers) which no doubt helped speed project along . It looks absolutely stunning. Hope for everyone’s sake BTS sort the “teething issues” soon.

  2. John1 says:

    The two car service on 6th was 147 and 227 (replaced by 600). 66 came out and did a few additional runs due to having a spare crew after a hire to give everyone a treat and a chance to see the gorgeous ‘new’ 66.

  3. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Whilst it can be appreciated that some enthusiasts may feel frustrated by the apparently slow progress on certain projects, to be fair to Blackpool Heritage Trams, as they do rely upon a commercial organisation that needs to remain profitable to survive (i.e. Blackpool Transport) to provide engineering services on their behalf, it has to be observed that they manage very well indeed. Blackpool Transport is very generous in providing the Heritage operation with this technical support when they have a sizeable fleet of buses and LRT vehicles to maintain in order to keep a reliable service running, retain the public’s goodwill and thus remain in profit and in business.

    I wholeheartedly believe that it is very fortunate that Heritage trams are able to run alongside the modern fleet in an upgraded system; something achieved in very few other systems, either in the UK or overseas. Should we not therefore consider ourselves very much indebted to both Blackpool Transport Services and the Heritage operation for making this possible along the Fylde coast, rather than looking a gift horse in the mouth by being too ready to find fault? As long as Blackpool Heritage Trams can put half a dozen Balloons in service and the odd boat in fine weather, then how could it possibly be denied that they are a great success story? Far better to avoid expressing dissatisfaction and support the Heritage Trams by riding and making the most of the excellent service (made possible by volunteers, let us not forget) so generously provided.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I’d agree with you to an extent – arguably BHTT have tried too hard to please enthusiasts by spending precious workshop resources on cars like 621, 642 etc. rather than focusing on providing a good, attractive small pool of appealing heritage trams to attract the general public to ride on them. Back in 2011 if you’d told us we could have a sample of Balloons and Boats to enjoy, most enthusiasts would have been delighted.

      However, the whole ‘be thankful’ argument is being wheeled out too often and doesn’t work on those of us who WERE thankful and supportive. Many of the tramway’s supporters have been grateful and, in some cases, have contributed financially to help the operation to make positive progress. It hasn’t helped. Look at Chris Callan’s post – every bit of it is true. Donating money to help workshop projects either seems to result in said project being delayed multiple times in favour of someone else’s chosen project (perhaps understandable) or, more worrying, the project is carried out only to create a ‘new’ tram which is highly unreliable and becomes a further drain on resources. As Chris rightly says the Trawler was refurbished with external funding and has been a complete flop. 642 is seemingly dead again and 227 keeps suffering from electrical faults after being completely re-wired, indeed it is less reliable now than it was pre-overhaul. Hopefully 66′s issues will be nothing more than teething problems but only time will tell. Likewise I hope 143 will be a success and doesn’t keep returning to the works like some of the above vehicles as it should potentially be exactly what the heritage operation needs.

      147 was a greatly successful project and I hope we see more of that quality, because right now I can see no good reason to donate towards Blackpool heritage projects. Unless things change soon I genuinely fear for the future of heritage trams in Blackpool, because this ongoing scenario of the same trams failing, being repaired and failing again thus diverting workshop resources from completing other jobs surely cannot be sustainable.

    • Chris Callan says:

      Its always has been an amusing aspect of the tramway community that a good number are reluctant seemingly to put their name to comments hiding behind a cloak of anonymity…

      You imply that Blackpool Transport Services provide engineering support out of sense of generosity. When in reality the retained skeleton heritage staff wages are paid for by the not for profit department created as the umbrella entity in which the heritage operation now finds itself. These are staff only retained as a result revenue generated income generated on track by the heritage operation alone. They in effect work for BHTT and as such do not carry out other activities on behalf of BTS (other than contracted work for example the maintenance work for Engineering Car 754) Particularly during the much maligned (wrongly in my opinion) Trevor Roberts era there was an annual subsidy in the formative years (as a result of operating losses 2012-2014). Indeed, during same period Starr Gate Engineering Staff were routinely very generously seconded across to assist often at no cost to the Heritage Operation.

      I know some will interpret my posts as a “kick out” at the volunteers working arses off for nowt developing operation honestly it’s not intended to be. Just someone who is getting fed up and finding it increasingly difficult to blindly defend operation. I’ve been one of its biggest cheerleaders at times last 7 Years at times. I believe in a small retained representative fleet. I believe in museum of some description emerging (that may or more than likely not be at Rigby Road) but something got to give surely.

      Supporters seem to been asked to accept more year on year and expected to blindly follow like sheep. With the “give us more money” and “well your lucky to have anything at all” type responses increasingly common.

      To me there is no shared published vision set out in any detail bar a few platitudes and teased statements in terms of operations future and visitor attraction. How can we continue to get behind something with future that looks increasingly uncertain? As every year passes, I become increasingly convinced Rigby Road will become a housing estate… (indeed it remains on land site allocation document for housing in most recently council literature) I remain genuinely worried that the operation is not on a stable secure footing and I am increasingly convinced that by remaining silent I risk inadvertently becoming complicit in that process.

  4. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Maybe the maintenance resources at Rigby Road are overstretched in keeping what must be a rather specialised and time-consuming schedule of works going and one has to wonder whether it is possible that, quite unwittingly, owing to pressure certain short-cuts are taken, hence the resultant problems. I often think it is a pity that volunteer engineers cannot be sourced. That said, I did mention the idea to Bryan Lindop on one occasion and he wouldn’t rule out the possibility at some point in the future. Of course, considering that the work at Rigby Road is financially supported by revenue from the Heritage Service, maybe there is also a problem related to the generation of insufficient income.

    Sad to say, so many times this year I have witnessed perfectly good heritage tramcars, including Balloons, running more than half empty throughout much of the day, sometimes with only a solitary soul to accompany the hard-working crew. This, I should add, occurred on the Gold Weekends, which one would expect to be relatively busy. It would come as no surprise if at least some of those volunteers, sacrificing their spare time to staff these wonderful trams, were beginning to feel somewhat disillusioned. However, what is the solution? Surely it is for those reading these posts and their tram enthusiast friends not only to support the Heritage Tram Service in the most logically practical way – to visit Blackpool and ride as often as they can – but also to spread the word. To put it in a down-to earth equation: More bums on seats = more revenue = better funding for maintenance = an overall better operation in terms of both reliability and given time, variety. I believe we should all be involved, in whatever way possible, in promoting the Heritage Trams and not abrogating that responsibility to those running the service. Surely they do all they can as it is, but lack what they need and probably crave the most, our collective support by means of committed patronage. Remember the popular saying ‘use it or lose it’!

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I was planning to take a step back from this conversation but this cannot go unchallenged.

      I think most people with any interest in the Blackpool tramway know that enthusiast support alone cannot possibly sustain the heritage operation, certainly not on the scale that it currently exists. That is a ridiculously short-sighted solution. The general public have embraced the heritage era to an extent but you can have too much of a good thing – I’ve never believed that running old trams on weekends in January or weekdays in June is of any value to anybody and I suspect few would miss it if these extra running days were quietly dropped next year.

      Regarding the gold days, there are simply too many of them for it to be reasonable to expect enthusiasts to support them all. They aren’t really ‘special’ anymore, because there are so many you can virtually predict in advance which trams will be out. That cannot be helped but telling enthusiasts they must visit more is just ridiculous! Everybody has limited time and money and its not that easy for some of us to get to Blackpool. And do we need to support other tram events as well? After all, why should a person attend multiple Gold events at Blackpool which are quite similar, and not support events at Crich, Beamish or Heaton Park? Some of the smaller places arguably put on more interesting events than Blackpool sometimes – recent examples including Beamish borrowing two trams for their Steam Fair and the Heaton Park day with the likes of 173 and 702 posed for photography. The latter shows that even with a small fleet, few volunteers and a shoestring budget it is possible to come up with fresh, interesting ideas for events – but not if you try to do it every month! Crich only do one big enthusiast event a year nowadays and the car park is usually packed full, because that’s when most people go as they know it will always be a great day.

  5. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    As I understand it, Heaton Park among others relies upon volunteer engineering staff and I have to say that the results speak for themselves, as indeed they do at many other museum sites which operate trams – interesting events that engage with the public provided by a well cared-for fleet. So to return to the question of funding for maintenance staff at Rigby Road, why not put in place a system that allows for the recruiting, induction and training of volunteers for this role? Given that Blackpool Heritage Trams is competing with other tram-operating organisations for the patronage of enthusiasts and public alike it would seem logical to involve volunteers in order to put them on an equal footing with the other heritage operations elsewhere. It would seem that they are currently at something of a disadvantage in that respect.

    In the current FTN, Bryan Lindop has indicated that it would be a good way forward if the Blackpool operation were to become a charitable entity. In this case it would seem almost imperative that training and employing volunteers for maintenance duties is undertaken. This would allow potentially for an enlarged workforce at very little additional cost and would enable the team at Rigby Road to become more efficient and effective. It is akin to achieving economies of scale in the commercial world.

    As to which events to attend up and down the country, it’s really like the ‘million dollar question’ – you pays your money and takes your choice; but as to the overall level of support – how many events to attend across the board and how often, it must surely be down to the level of commitment felt by enthusiasts and to a certain extent a matter of conscience. I have heard it said that a true tram enthusiast simply cannot get enough of the tramway scene! As for limited money, as a dedicated supporter, I have made some real sacrifices to support the endeavours of tram preservation and restoration, particularly in Blackpool, because I have faith in them. I have done without other things I would have liked, but I expect such self-denial is born of a genuine love of the trams. I think if more of us did have faith in the Blackpool operation, it would lift the spirits of those involved, provide greater incentive and the results would be reflected in a more successful operation.

    • John1 says:

      It is no trade secret that the agreement does not provide for Volunteer Engineering staff – strictly Operational only at this stage. Its still very new to everyone even in its fifth season!

  6. John1 says:

    The discussion of number of operating days and Gold events etc is an interesting one. Without giving company info away I was surprised at some of the takings from fares on winter v not winter days and in some cases a fine, bright winter day does much better than a drizzly spring day.
    Even a lightly loaded day, look at the number of posts on social media etc trams are spotted and photographed – publicity you cannot buy! Its been a strange year with Boats in February and a scorching Easter which affected the May Bank Holidays (not just in Blackpool but everywhere).
    Have you done a comparison of all days on all Tramways? All the empty or lightly loaded journeys run everywhere? Or are you singling Blackpool out again? I visited Crich in April and there were only 2 of us on a few journeys. I’ve seen plenty of empty Trams photographed at Heaton Park and Birkenhead. Just not seen them highlighted on here.
    Thank goodness for the people who do support us rather than kick us and the general public who love their Heritge Tram rides.
    And before you say I can’t take criticism, I can. I have been critical of aspects of Heritage myself (just in the correct way not whinging to the world) I just get tired of the endless bitter Blackpool kicking.