In Pictures: Balloon 715 says goodbye as Blackpool celebrates 137 years of operation

The farewell public runs of the Fylde Transport Trust’s Balloon 715 was one of the highlights of the latest special event in Blackpool as 137 years of the tramway was celebrated on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September. In total 15 heritage trams ran on daytime tours over the weekend – including a few surprises as the days went on!

There were depot tours at Rigby Road on the Saturday and Starr Gate on the Sunday but the main focus of attention was out on the Prom with an enhanced heritage tram service in operation on both days. This was advertised as featuring seven trams (lettered A-G on the timetable) and it was confirmed on the weekend as well that an eighth tram would be in action on each day running specials. The timetable saw trams running the entire length of the tramway (although not all in one journey) with Starr Gate featuring on a number of journeys as well as hourly trips through to Fleetwood.

Saturday 24th September

The first tram of the weekend was to be Balloon 700 which started things off at North Pier and Tower with a northbound trip to Little Bispham. After running around the loop it then became the first tour down to Starr Gate and as it did more trams started to come into service. Centenary 648 was the second northbound car before Balloon 715 became the first tram to head to Fleetwood. As “Tram C” it would run to Fleetwood throughout the day (along with “Tram F” to provide an hourly service).

Boat 227 was “Tram D” and this diagram included the rare use of a trolley fitted tram down to Starr Gate on its first southbound trip of the day. Unfortunately, this was not without incident as on the approach to the curve leading to Starr Gate terminus the trolley dewired and was difficult to retrieve. This required assistance from Starr Gate Depot and after a brief delay the tram was able to resume its journey to Starr Gate with no real delay to the light rail service.

The other operational Boat Car in the fleet, 600, was allocated as special and its first journey was an extra to Fleetwood! Following this trip it settled into more traditional Promenade specials – until the end of the day that is when another Fleetwood trip beckoned.

The current heritage running weekend timetable sees two trams due to run to Fleetwood within 15 minutes of each other (trams “A” and “D”) giving the chance to photograph the two together on the Esplanade at the northern terminus of the tramway. Throw Boat 600 into the mix and this actually meant that there were three heritage cars there at the same time instead! As the day started this should have seen Bolton 66 and Boat Cars 227 and 600 but 227 had suffered a fault and was returned to depot where it was replaced by Trawler 737! And so the trio at Fleetwood were 66, 600 and 737 – not a bad way to end the daytime heritage offering!

Evenings in September mean only one thing – Illumination Tours! This evening saw no fewer than five trams run nine tours. As well as the three illuminated feature cars (including the Trawler with its troublesome LED illuminations seemingly working at the moment) this saw Boat 600 and Balloon 717 which joined in after it ran The Ghost Tram trip earlier in the evening.

Trams in service

Daytime heritage service: A – Bolton 66, B – Centenary 648, C – Balloon 715, D – Boat 227 (replaced by Trawler 737), E – Balloon 700, F – Brush 621, G – Balloon 717, Specials – Boat 600

Real Ale Tour: Balloon 717

The Ghost Tram: Balloon 717

Illumination Tours: Boat 600, Western Train 733+734, Frigate 736, Trawler 737, Boat 600, Balloon 717, Western Train 733+734, Frigate 736, Trawler 737

Sunday 25th September

Onto day two and it was much of the same – but with different trams! The day this time actually started with a Mini System Tour which saw Rebuilt Balloon 707 take participants to parts of the tramway not normally covered by heritage tours.

The main heritage tours started with Brush 631 running the same North Pier and Tower to Little Bispham and return to Starr Gate trip. The first Fleetwood journey of the day was due to be Railcoach 680 but unfortunately on its northbound trip a problem with its transponder was experienced and after receiving permission to cross the road at Little Bispham it turned on the loop and went back to North Pier and Tower. It was stabled there for a little while before running to Little Bispham and into depot to allow the non-faulty transponder end to be leading.

So with 680 unable to continue its diagram as “Tram C” what would come out to replace it? The Frigate that’s what! With this diagram running loop to loop throughout the day it would be no problem for this tram to operate like this and so it made several trips to Fleetwood for the remainder – how long since it last ran several times to Fleetwood in one day? The other main Fleetwood car of the day as “Tram F” was Balloon 723.

The tram due to run specials on this day had originally been Boat 227 but after its failure the previous day it was replaced by Bolton 66 which was confined to Prom specials after it came out a little after midday.

It was no coincidence that “Tram D” was allocated to be Balloon 715 as this is the very last tram to return to depot – and this was of course scheduled to be the last public tours that 715 would make before withdrawal. It was due to be joined by Boat 600 in the double tram photo opp at Fleetwood but as with the previous day they were joined by a third tram. That tram was Rebuilt Balloon 718 which had been in use as the Shop Tram all weekend but would make one trip with passengers from North Pier and Tower to Fleetwood and back to Manchester Square. All three trams ran back to depot (600, 718 and then 715) to bring another anniversary weekends event to an end.

The evening saw more Illumination Tours. Because of the deteriorating weather the Trawler replaced the planned Boat on the first tour of the night (a quick shout out to Heritage Tram Tours here as when it became clear the weather wouldn’t suit an open top tram ride through the lights an email was sent to all pre-booked ticket holders to inform them rather than letting them turn up and get a surprise of a change of tram – excellent customer service!) and it was once again joined by the Western Train and the Frigate. All three ran two tours each as the strengthening winds continued to make their presence felt.

Trams in service

Daytime heritage service: A – Boat 600, B – Balloon 700, C – Railcoach 680 (replaced by Frigate 736), D – Balloon 715, E – Brush 631, F – Balloon 723, G – Rebuilt Balloon 707, Specials – Bolton 66, Rebuilt Balloon 718 (one trip after Shop Tram duties finished)

Mini System Tour: Rebuilt Balloon 707

Evening Private Hire: Brush 631

Illumination Tours: Trawler 737, Western Train 733+734, Frigate 736, Trawler 737, Western Train 733+734, Frigate 736

  • We will have lots more photos from the weekend in a future British Trams Online update

Boat 227 is trollied through the complex spaghetti of wires outside Starr Gate Depot as it heads back north to Thornton Gate.

Balloon 700 arrives onto Pleasure Beach loop.

On its penultimate day of operation Balloon 715 waits at Cabin when running another trip to Fleetwood.

The Trawler and Bolton 66 sit on Fleetwood Esplanade having arrived with trips from Blackpool. Boat 600 had just departed for its journey back south.

Day two at Cabin with Rebuilt Balloon 707 going north with the Mini System Tour and Brush 631 heading to Starr Gate.

Railcoach 680 had been going to Fleetwood before transponder issues caused it to go back south. This is Bispham where it meets up with Balloon 715 which is heading for Little Bispham.

The Frigate replaced 680 and we see it here at Bispham with a service for Pleasure Beach.

Up at Fleetwood with Rebuilt Balloon 718 and Boat 600 on the Esplanade as they wait for Balloon 715 to arrive.

And here is 715 arriving in Fleetwood. This is North Albert Street with the track from Pharos Street seen on the left. (All Photographs by Gareth Prior)

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16 Responses to In Pictures: Balloon 715 says goodbye as Blackpool celebrates 137 years of operation

  1. Andrew says:

    It sounds like this was an improvement on other recent Blackpool heritage events considering the available vehicles. Clearly a bit of thought went into the allocations and the sight of three heritage trams together at Fleetwood Ferry is really impressive, especially that 66/600/Trawler combo! Its a pity that some of the highlights were unadvertised as the use of the illuminated cars on daytime service and the ‘special’ each day really added value to the lineup. I suspect had these things been announced beforehand they might have got a few extra visitors!

    Its a pity there were no depot lineups or bus tours this time, but its good to see some efforts to put on a better event. Hopefully a few tweaks and some ‘new’ operational trams will see next year’s be even better! I just wish we could get the atmosphere of 2013 back but I fear that may be gone for good sadly!

    • jOhn says:

      Andrew – Both daytime appearances by illuminated cars were unplanned changeovers! how could they advertise in advance that 227 or 680 would fail??

      All three illuminated cars made scheduled and pre advertised daytime appearances over the August Bank Holiday – did that prompt you to visit and ride that weekend? (I don’t recall seeing you at all). If not you cant really complain that thay didn’t advertise an unplanned apearance.

      And the Special was exactly that – A SPECIAL – going wherever and whenever directed so it didnt have a fixed route just like all the journeys in 2013 were. Even I’ve got to admit what they did with 600 on Saturday was good. Would of been easy t0 just use the Special to cover for the breakdowns instead.

      • Andrew says:

        What I meant was that the use of the illuminated cars made the event more interesting, and had they been part of the planned output I suspect it may have attracted a few extra visitors. Frankly whether I attended the last event and why I did or didn’t is none of your business – I just want the operation to do well, and surely that involves running trams that are popular with the general public? I’d be surprised if 631 or 723 encouraged many extra riders, but the Frigate might.

    • Anonymous says:

      Better event? It was the same old, same old. With Trams dying and being replaced. Even 715 failed to draw in the crowds and all were fairly empty most of the time. Even the shop had just the same old tat! A rethink needed.

      • It was certainly an eye-opener on Sunday seeing just how bad things were after extended period away. Personally I struggle to see how it survives the winter (maybe another season if its lucky). The goodwill & support that existed has largely evaporated. Some of the dwindling supporters seemed at best optimistic (hopefully predicting x y z next year).

        The shop am not sure what to make of it. It just looked pretty desperate and does not really align with the premium priced tours on offer. Cost me £18 for the day.

  2. Attended the Sunday. Overall pretty poor experience it has to be said. One of the highlights of the day was the 75 Bus back to where I was staying with one of the fabulous 2012-2014 paid BTS Heritage crews driving (like most have transferred across to bus side or left company completely). It just far cry from the optimistic early years of the Light Rail era. All aspects of the tramway in need of attention and staff morale seemed through proverbial floor. Blackpool Council certainly have difficult decisions over the winter to make.

    The positives were the updated BHTT uniforms looked smart, the ticket machine upgrades across both Bus / LRT / Heritage.

  3. Nathan says:

    It’s a shame that every Blackpool-related article seems to attract so many negative comments. It must be so disheartening for staff and volunteers to read.

    I think some people on here would be wise to remember that the heritage operation doesn’t just cater exclusively to the whims of enthusiasts. This is true for all heritage attractions; railways, museums, etc- they have to appeal to the general public. Given that the tramway is currently the #2 top rated attraction in Blackpool according to TripAdvisor, they must be doing something right.

    I highly doubt that there’s some kind of institutional conspiracy within the tramway’s management to ensure the heritage tours fail. Like most organisations, they’re probably trying to do the best they can in difficult times.

    • Well am just not sure who 66 was catering for aimlessly plodding up and down at times completely empty between Tower & Beach. Indeed the handful paying to ride the rest. Far cry from previous “anniversary weekends” that saw trams leaving Pleasure Beach completely packed. The “shop” to be blunt am surprised they sold anything at all other than few calendars and token almost feeling sorry for them purchases (as many mistakenly believe its a charity running “Heritage Tram Tours”)

      I attribute very little weight to Trip-Advisor given fact literally anyone can comment (simply ticking a box to say you have been). Its interesting slipped from Number 1 in recent years though. A far better meaningful measure is paying passenger numbers & good old fashioned profit/loss something they in no rush to publicly confirm.

      Of course in past some very senior individuals within company have been quite open in the past that they wanted the tour operation to fail as did not want what they saw as a loss making distraction to impact on core business. Whilst some of them have departed its legitimate question whether some still within entity hold them views. Certainly when the Tour operation is now seemingly been subsidised heavily and they are set to make fairly eye-watering cuts to staff and routes you can see why even some frontline staff question why its been retained who previously very supportive.

      I think damage is done now. No amount of senior managers / directors retiring/departing this winter will reverse the trend. The state things were in hard to see how they operate tours in 2023.

    • Michael says:

      Sadly Nathan, there are a few with personal grievances with either the management team or the company in general who choose to use this forum as a personal soap-box. For example, the most vociferous and regular critics include a former volunteer, a former Officer of an enthusiast group, and an individual known to have failed the Railway industry standard assessments that all volunteers are required to sit.

      Thankfully, the Volunteers I talk to are well aware of who is behind the pseudonyms, and appreciate that the criticism is not aimed at them personally or collectively and know to ignore the sniping.

      Unfortunately some readers with less inside knowledge will be taken in by the words of these individuals. Sure, not all is perfect with the current service offering, but the volunteer crews do one hell of a job for no personal gain. It is for those of us who know and appreciate the commitment of the volunteers to shout louder, spread the word and not let the negativity of a minority dominate.

      • John says:

        I very rarely comment on here these days but I feel I must say something after that rather sweeping attack basically labelling all former volunteers as bitter failures.
        As a former volunteer myself I have no axe to grind (I left on and am still on good terms – I left because the hours had got too much and other things were happening in my life which needed more time I wasn’t able to give sufficient tiime to) I make no secret of the fact I think the currect format needs reversing as I know how much money came in before and it can’t possibly equal it. I make no secret of the fact I think poor decisions have been made (and enforced on Heritage) re specidic vehicles etc. Do not mistake genuine criticism for nagativity for nagativities sake – everything is not awesome in the world and it isn’t healthy to pretend it is. An awful lot is awesome too. The volunteers do an amazing job there is no doubt and I haven’t seen a single comment saying otherwise.

      • Andrew says:

        No pseudynom here – I use my real name and make no secret of who I am. Having done a lot to help the heritage operation in the past – including donating money, organising tram tours, and promoting fund-raising appeals – I take it I should just sit back and not say anything after being treated like rubbish and just watch the tramway I love being ruined? I believe that people who bury their heads in the sand are doing more harm than those who offer negative feedback, as the only way things can improve is if people are aware of what is wrong and act accordingly.

        Back in 2012 we were made well aware that to succeed the heritage operation had to not lose money, and not get in the way of the core tram service. After doing very well in both regards for several years, loadings on the tours are now much poorer (presumably due to the emphasis on longer journeys and higher prices, as is often said by many people) and the number of breakdowns has skyrocketed, often inexplicably leading to the entire tramway being shut down until the demic vehicle is towed back to the depot. I genuinely worry that one day someone will say enough is enough and pull the plug, it just doesn’t feel sustainable and then all the efforts of those hard-working volunteers will have been for nothing, which would be gutting. I highly doubt that anyone reading this site wants that to happen – I most certainly don’t!

        There also seem to be comments here stating that the heritage setup is only catering for enthusiasts, and also that enthusiasts are complaining because its more aimed at the general public… which is it? Incidentally, there are plenty of bad comments on TripAdvisor, Facebook etc. from customers who are definitely not tram enthusiasts – admittedly many comments are positive but any bad feedback is a cause for concern, especially when the same criticisms come up repeatedly.

        What I find most bizarre is that I actually gave some positive comments about this particular event! Praise where its due all and all that.

    • Malcolm Bury says:

      I can’t help wondering if now, there’s a clique running the whole show purely for enthusiasts. How is restoring 704 to 1950s condition going to attract the general public. To them it will just be another balloon, basically undistinguishable from the other balloons operating. Where are the trailer units? Where are the Coronations? Why aren’t the efforts given over to 704 spent on the always popular 706? The present economic situation is dire so maximum attention should be given to making the heritage operation attractive to as many people as possible, not just a handful of die hard tramaracs!

      • The reason the likes of 704 were pushed ahead was the pretty perilous financial position meant that privately owned & funded initiatives were naturally attractive. The issue (as many predicted) is Blackpool Transport Services hopelessly underestimated ability to deliver these projects in part because they had never undertaken a similar project with the skeleton retained workshop staff. The likes of 663 & 704 were a mistake in hindsight. Indeed same way 20 was created significant ill feeling and damaged companies reputation.

        Am not sure subscribe to the idea its a “clique”. I just think harsh reality is the skeleton workshops are not capable of work that extends beyond repaints & general running repairs. Having attended “anniversary weekend” not even convinced capable of maintaining existing “micro” fleet never mind adding to it.

    • Anonymousbusman says:

      Perhaps if the operation was managed competently there wouldn’t be so much nagativity.

      • I think concerns around general competency has certainly contributed to the problems.

        They refuse to own past poor decisions which certainly that lack of contrition and the “blame game” that follows.

        I don’t like approach to blame which ever person departs (therefore not about to defend themselves). That was apparent again over the weekend. Its just the same every time someone senior departs the narratives pushed out it was all there fault and now a “fresh start”. I assume we will see the same when the Finance Director retires in January.

  4. Louis Buxton says:

    It would appear that most of the critiques are coming from people who assume BHTS was created, and run, to satisfy their own needs

    The general public are by far the biggest users of the service, with most of the illumination tours fully booked (from my own experience), which is great to see. I was also there on the bank holiday weekend in August, and it was lovely to see trams going past with lots of people/families on board enjoying them as it was intended

    It is also very confusing that donations to fund special projects are looked upon negatively. It definitely feels like there would be an element of joy if the organisation was to fail, which is rather odd indeed!

    I have absolutely no doubt the service will operate in 2023, as it has done in 2022, contrary to many of the views on this comments page – If you don’t like it, don’t use it and save yourself the keyboard time

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