Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust still looking for a new owner for Balloon 710

If you ever read the comments section of this website, or indeed many other places on the internet, you will be well aware that the story of Blackpool Balloon 710 is one which sees passionate exchanges from all sides. It’s a tram which remains owned by the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust but as part of the disbanding of their collection they are still seeking a new owner for the tram which it seems is proving to be a pretty hard thing to do.

Balloon 710 – which retains its Purple and Yellow Metro Coastlines livery – has been in outside storage in Fleetwood since it left Rigby Road Depot in July 2011 and unfortunately the 11 years which have passed since have done nothing for its condition, potentially putting off any prospective buyers.

The tram’s biggest claim to fame, if you need reminding, is that it is the one that “killed” Alan Bradley in 1989 when he ran across the tracks in front of the Strand Hotel on North Promenade in an episode of ITV’s soap opera Coronation Street. Despite the fact this was 33 years ago there still seem to be a sizeable number of people who remember this which seems to give the tram almost iconic status amongst some.

Despite this the tram remains stored at Wyre Dock waiting for its saviour to come. With the Trust having to remove all their trams during 2022 if a new owner cannot be found it will have to be broken up for spares and scrapped. Anyone who is interested is advised to contact the Trust via John Woodman’s Tram Talk website at https://www.tramtalk.co.uk/.

  • 710 is just one of the trams at Wyre Dock. With Railcoach 678 spoken for (East Anglia Transport Museum), Brush 637 (privately owned), Centenary 641 and Twin Car 673+683 also have had no news on new owners.
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19 Responses to Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust still looking for a new owner for Balloon 710

  1. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    I really find it very hard to believe that nobody would show any interest in rescuing this priceless tram, especially given that some trams that have been restored were recovered from fields in the condition of being little more than rotting shells. No doubt it could be argued that in those cases the tramcars concerned were unique. However, this tram has a very interesting history in terms of having represented Blackpool Tramway Centenary Year at Crich, this being in addition to its TV fame. Also this is one of those rare Balloons to have carried the Metro Coastlines Livery.

    I think it would be very remiss of the tram preservation movement to allow this one to follow on from 716. The loss of 705 and to some extent 722 was the unavoidable outcome of accidents, but this will become the second Balloon to disappear due either to neglect or lack of interest and one wonders then how many others will be allowed to follow in time as we see 101 (703), 708 and 726 in various ownership but with no foreseeable prospect of fulfilling a useful role whether in service or on static display plus the failed prototype ‘porch’ Balloon 720. Given the number of people who claim to be concerned about tramcar preservation, it seems inconceivable that of all these none has either the means or will to save this special tram.

    Imagine the horror of interested visitors to Tram Town or indeed other transport museums, who upon enquiring about the ‘Alan Bradley’ tram are told of its demise. I would think that more than a few would view the tram preservation movement in an unfavourable light, the ramifications of which could include diminished financial support across the board, regardless of who or what organisation has actually been responsible. Many might well ask themselves, ‘are these so-called enthusiasts really serious about preserving trams?’ Then they would decide they could do far better things with the money they would have donated. I really feel the tram preservation movement needs to get serious about matters such as 710 to retain its credibility.

    • Well perhaps if you think preservation hinges on its survival you should consider dropping the cloak of anonymity that you continue to enjoy “nostalgicyetprogressive” and purchase it yourself. In contrast I am quite content to say under my own name I’d have ensured multiple disposals prior to the upgrade and avoided the long drawn out sorry sagas that have followed if in charge. Far to much junk has “survived” and these basket case projects that swallow up decades/£££ and ultimately either end up scrapped or directly contribute to other better examples been scrapped. Personally “progressive” preservation means making difficult choices and working with the hand you were dealt. If you could roll back the clock you probably would have retained but harsh reality is in 2022 much more pressing issues so if it survives great if not move on.

  2. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    It all depends on what type of Heritage service is desired. Initially it was proposed that a very small number of heritage trams would survive, mainly for Illumination Tours, but due to the all-important commitment by volunteers and through funding, the situation is far better than that originally envisioned. Back in 2011, many other enthusiasts were predicting that their interest in trams would have to take them away from Blackpool to places such as Crich, Seaton and The Isle of Mann. However, many still visit Blackpool and with Tram Town an added attraction, this should continue to be the case.

    Mr Callan’s comments seem to suggest that there are very few organisations that might be able to preserve a tram in so far as another acquisition could prove to be the proverbial ‘straw’ that breaks the camel’s back. However, there are many who could benefit from gaining this Balloon car, even if only for static display and this would include possible overseas museums. Think of how many Boat Cars have crossed the Atlantic – one twice! No doubt if the aforementioned gentleman had been in charge of Blackpool Transport, the system would resemble what Mr Roberts was planning – a modern system which would almost completely be the preserve of impersonal people movers, with occasional very limited moments of nostalgia on the rare occasion.

    Most ironically, under such circumstances, 710 could well have prospered in the museum originally proposed for Fleetwood by FHLT, given that there would in that situation be more of a need for such a venue and that it would have attracted far more funding than a modern system with a small handful of historical vehicles on the side. However, the Blackpool Heritage Trams have proved very successful and with staycations becoming more popular, it would seem important to take a long-term view of what may well be possible when life in general improves and ensure that there are the trams still available in this eventuality, instead of needing to resort to less-than-authentic replicas. It seems very negative thinking to suppose that times will always be too hard to justify doing the best possible to preserve these important historical vehicles. Both as an expression of gratitude to all those volunteers who make the Heritage Tram Service possible and of confidence in the future, let us not throw away golden opportunities just because the world isn’t too bright a place now.

  3. Malcolm Bury says:

    I really don’t get the obsession with ‘Alan Bradley’ as being a reason for adding yet another balloon to the Heritage fleet. The character was killed off in 1989, some 33 years ago, so it would only be of interest to those who watched it back then (and possibly a few who follow ‘classic Corrie’ on catchup) and who happen to visit Blackpool. If you were to ask some younger visitors to Tramtown they’d probably ask ‘Alan Who?’. And if someone did ask about the fate of the tram, what would be wrong in saying that because of age and condition, it was stripped down for spares to help keep similar trams in the heritage fleet running?

    • John says:

      Malcolm – it might be 33 years, but when i was driving only few years ago I was asked many times did you kill alan Bradley? And people do ask is the Alan Bradley death tram still here.

  4. Nathan says:

    Has anyone actually read the blog? The latest update seems to suggest a home for 710 has been found, hinting that it’s new home will be somewhere not exclusively focused on tram preservation.

    I think ultimately the heritage tram operation at Blackpool has turned out far better than imagined and I certainly disagree with the attitude of sending things for scrap for the sake of cost-cutting. 701, 723 and 642 were all intended for disposal, and now they’re cherished members of the heritage fleet. But there has to be a sensible limit and with four operational Balloons in the heritage fleet I don’t think 710 should be a priority.

    • That the issue though they are from “cherished”. The heritage fleets has had minimal work with them opting to squeeze out every last bit of life with sticky plasters. This approach keeps people happy in short term (“ooh look x is back in new paint job”) but its just that a temporary solution to the long term problem. We just not seeing the trams re-tyred, truck overhauled, trams lifted at the rate required to sustain operation. Since the upgrade the likes of 660 have languished in back of depot. The “quick wins” turning likes of 723 back on and slapping paint acts as a unwelcome distraction. Look at the state of 717 now.. it just screams “we have not got enough money/workshop capacity to maintain even our flagship tramcar”. 701 thankfully seems to be have been quietly withdrawn. Presumably someone finally took seriously the fact water was pouring through the light fittings putting to one side the fact it smelt like something had died inside.

      • Nathan says:

        That must be a recent development, since 701 seemed fine in 2019 when I last visited.

        Don’t forget that with the onset of the pandemic there’s probably a backlog of jobs that need sorting out and I’m sure they’re aware that 717 needs a clean. Don’t forget that they’re trying to restore and redevelop the Rigby Road depot too, which has probably had an impact on how much restoration work they can carry out.

        I agree that the unique trams in the collection should be prioritised, but don’t forget we should see 143, 279 and 304 running in the near future. Add in the new museum that is planned and the future suddenly looks a bit brighter.

        • For whatever reason sadly enthusiasts until they take a step back don’t tend to notice things.

          701 has been a absolute crate ever since it returned (indeed its FTS winter hire in 2014 was folk literally with buckets & paper towels as water poured down stairs). The tram is a joke (and not particularly funny one given what we saw with 272/T2 and water ingress). It went through spells where crews openly admitted not using it in the rain… Should never have been done in first place. They were as usual just to keen to take people money for the repaint without really understanding cars condition.

          As for 717 “needing a wash” it needs a far more comphensive program. You could spent £10k+ on it easily and still need more. People seem to forget 717 refurb was in 2008.. (2014 simply a paint extending re-varnish and trucks painted and window changed).

        • Andrew says:

          701 has been in an absolute state for years. I remember riding on it in heavy rain in 2015, and the rain was pouring in from multiple angles; water was literally cascading down the staircase like a waterfall. Add to that a generally shabby interior and I’m amazed that anyone could think it looked fine. I hope it never runs again in its current state – it could however be a good candidate for eventual restoration to original open top condition!

          I’ve said it many times before but the heritage fleet needs to focus on quality rather than quantity. Trams like 631 & 723 don’t add value to the fleet, they’ve used up scarce resources that could instead have been devoted to larger but more worthwhile projects. I look back to 2012, the very first year of the heritage operation, when the active fleet initially comprised Box 40, Bolton 66, Standard 147, Boats 230 & 600, ‘Princess Alice’ 706, Balloon 717 and three illuminated cars. Apart from a distinct lack of suitable cars for use in bad weather, that was a fantastic fleet! Add in a Coronation, Brush and Twin car, and maybe another Balloon, and I’d not grumble at that as the operational fleet if all of them were well turned out and looked after.

    • Anonymous says:

      701 was never intended for disposal as I tried to buy it and was told it was being kept. 723 was also never seriously intended to go. It was originally in the B fleet programme.

  5. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    It must not be overlooked that the Coronation Street connection is not the only virtue of 710. This tram retains many original features not found on other preserved Balloons. To start, there are the Alhambrinal ceiling panels to be found on both decks (I know 701 still has these, but it’s a heavy rebuild). Then we have the original rounded upper deck corner windows, plus copious chrome fittings and traditional swing-over seats on both decks. This was one of few ex open top Balloons to gain a set from scrapped railcoaches. Remember that 704 seemed a hopeless case and is now well on the way to representing the Balloon of the 1960s.

    If we ignore the ceiling panels on the upper deck, this tram could easily become a candidate for the re-creation a traditional ‘Luxury Dreadnought’, which I believe is one of the aims of the Heritage Trams. It would make good sense to have another open top Streamliner as with two there would more likely be one available for service at any given time. As we see with Princess Alice, when there is only one example and it ‘in dock’ then there is nothing to run in its place. I gather that Heritage Trams also have an Edwardian Paisley car, which is little more than a shell and will require years of commitment and funding before it can run.

    I do not deny given the number of visitors from ‘North of the Border’ that having such a tram available for service will create a lot of interest and bring revenue. However, given that it’s really only the top deck of 710 that is in a ‘far gone’ state, it seems that this would provide the opportunity for a somewhat easier project to provide an additional open top double-decker which is also of local relevance. Of course, this would still require a good deal of funding and effort, but probably sooner achievable than starting almost from scratch with a salvaged shell. Although it has been suggested that 708 could be a candidate, it is by no means certain that it would become available, whereas 710 is very much available. It would almost be a crime to miss such a gift to the tram preservation movement.

  6. Andy Cooper says:

    The problem with letting ANY examples of ANY form of classic vehicle slip away is once it’s gone it’s gone forever. I’m sure some similarly negative comments to those on here were made in the 1950s and 60s when Br was scrapping steam engines. Look at the situation now… we are having to build replicas at huge cost to satisfy the ever increasing demand for these vehicles. It was incredibly short-sighted of Blackpool Transport to let any of their unique fleet go in the first place, especially since they had no clue at the time what the future would hold.

    Blackpool is now a very dull place. With a tiny fleet of ‘heritage’ cars available for service and very short running hours, I haven’t been to Blackpool since 2014. I used to make the trip 2 or 3 times a year, but I have no interest in modern vehicles, nor do I care for the sterile operation of the heritage fleet between 9-5 at a vastly increased cost to the passenger. The truth is the fun of a trip to Blackpool was catching the last balloon or twin car to fleetwood on a freezing october night with the rain lashing at the windows. It’s all about atmosphere, which the so-called ‘upgrade’ has killed stone dead!

    The Blackpool Tramway should have been treated like a listed building and fully preserved as both a heritage assett and a mode of transport all in one. A small fleet of new wheelchair-friendly vehicles could have been purchased to provide the core Fleetwood service, which could have been built to retain the streamlined style of the operation, which would have kept the voiciferous accessibility lot happy. But instead they spent millions of pounds of other people’s money to solve a problem that didn’t exist in the first place. And now they’re doing it again with the link to North Station, which wasn’t even popular enough to make it worth relaying in the 60’s, when Blackpool had many times the number of visitors it has now.

    In short, I (like many others I suspect) used to visit Blackpool to experience the operation of the old trams. Now that operation is curtailed and the fleet is so reduced, with diesel at £2 per litre, it’s simply no longer worth the journey. Until some effort is made to put things right, the town in general won’t benefit from receiving the contents of my wallet and more.

    That’s why EVERY member of the old Blackpool fleet should survive. In the long term it makes pure economic sense.

    • I just don’t understand why anyone thinks its financially viable to try to run low capacity vintage tramcars at ordinary stage carriage prices. Even Blackpool Transport will have to start paying vaguely competitive wages given staff retention issues. If the “sterile” heritage operation is not for you surely you inadvertently making the argument dispose of the lot as lets face its complete fantasy to think council going to drag tramway back to the dark ages just to please a handful of enthusiasts (who lets face it average age is creeping up and up and numbers dwindling)

    • The likely retort will be “but volunteers can drive”. Why should the union allow them on stage carriage work whilst constantly seeing staff squeezed more and more. The further blurring of lines in 2021 whereby volunteers became zero hour contracted paid staff on B Fleet (and guarding A Fleet) was problematic at best.. Thankfully seems to have stopped.

  7. Chris of Sheffield says:

    I think that Andy has raised some important points, you can list a building but there is no such protection for a vehicle that has provided over 80 years of service and pleasure to the holiday makers. Also I think that in the past Blackpool transport have been all too quick to dispose of trams that would have been a real asset to the heritage collection, for example the dreadnought nearly lost in a fire, standard 49 not been used in years, and a boat lost to America so 147 could return home. The cost of modernising 680 only to give it away and then have to loan it back. Not to mention Fleetwood rack 2 and pantograph 167 . I know it’s easy to be critical when you have the power of foresight but it seems to me that money has been squandered on rebuilds and double door conversions when the intention of Blackpool council was too dispose of the traditional fleet not too long after.

    • There was never any intention of disposing of the modified balloons. Indeed even if they wanted to couldn’t (and can’t) as there retention was the Councils contribution to the upgrade.

      In terms of 680 what was exactly have they “lost”. They don’t pay a loan fee (the costs of transport were offset by donations) and Heaton Park Tramway paid for the Heritage Painting 90s repaint. Indeed just like 66 “loan” the operator remains largely indebted to the kindness of preservation movement.

      The likes of 2 & 167 your turning back time lot further back. I’d argue filling shed with junk makes it harder justify things like a Pantograph Car (either replica liberating the western train carriage eventually and building a “new carriage”). I still maintain a small representative fleet of 15-20 tramcars restored (as opposed to mass retention) far more sustainable.

      Some seem to want the resort to be frozen in time which ironically goes against Towns “progress” moto. You can preserve representative small collection, you can have nods to the past but ultimately its time the resort starts writing the next chapter.

    • John says:

      Sheffield Chris – the tramway wasn’t expected to last 10 years afetr it was voted to keep it in the 60s and capacity was at a stretch so why would Vintage trams have been kept instead of more useful all round vehicles? Even if kept they would have likely gone in 2010/11 anyway as the 20 car expectation was still around then. Not to mention they would be due heavy overhuauls and lots of work by now. 680 was rebuilt almost 30 years before it was sold! Hardly still holding a book value.
      You have to remember the situation in 1963 and 2010/11 was very different to now.

  8. nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Looking at the tramtalk blog again, it seems possible that a home has in fact been found for 710, although there seems nothing to confirm this absolutely. I do agree that Heritage Trams realistically must limit the number of trams they are able to run at any given time in order to provide an effective service. However, now that they have a Tram Town Museum, one would think that facility allows scope for trams on static display. Such trams would be maintained in reasonable condition by not being exposed to the elements. Given the correct care, they could well outlast the running examples or else exchange places when the latter are no longer viable for passenger service.

    Of course, the advantage of having a static exhibit elsewhere will be to advertise the Blackpool Heritage Trams to a wider audience and potentially should bring in more visitors to ride on those trams in service on the Blackpool and Fleetwood line. In the event that this is the role 710 is set to play in future, it can only be seen as an all-round benefit and indeed far preferable to losing this historic stalwart of the Blackpool Tramway. I don’t doubt that it would be great to see 59 run again, although this will be for the distant future. At least it is being stored so that there will always be an opportunity to restore it. Had it been disposed of, that would have been the end of any such hopes for all time. Ought not saving 710 to be viewed in a similar light? What seems absurdly out of the question today, could well be the possibility of tomorrow.

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