Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours start another season of running

Whilst a lot of Blackpool tram enthusiasts attention was turned eastwards and the East Anglia Transport Museum on Good Friday, 29th March 2024, the same day also marked the start of another season of running for Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours. The Easter weekend saw three types of tour run with the return of Promenade and Coastal Tours alongside some Mini Prom Tours.

As has been reported extensively already, 2024 will see a more limited pool of trams available with Heritage Tram Tour operations being run from Starr Gate Depot whilst the results of the condition survey of Rigby Road Depot (Tramtown) is still awaited. There is capacity for a maximum of five heritage trams to be housed at Starr Gate (shared with the fleet of Flexity2 trams) and at the time of writing four trams have been moved there.

Those trams – all of which saw use over the Easter weekend – are Brush 631, Balloon 700, Balloon 717 and Bolton 66. Its anticipated that during the year there will be some changeovers of trams at Starr Gate (such as in the Illuminations when the Western Train and Frigate are likely to head that way).

The weekend also gave many their first sight of a new look for Balloon 700. The “B fleet” Balloon still retains its wartime green and cream livery but has now been named Sir Ken Dodd and received small in between deck adverts for the new Showtown attraction located in Blackpool.

Its also been confirmed that tickets for this year’s Illumination Tours will go on sale from Friday 26th April. In keeping with the reduced output for 2024 they will only run Wednesday to Sunday in September, November and December whilst they remain daily during October.

Meanwhile, tours of Tramtown/Rigby Road Depot have also now returned – although with much of the facility still out of bounds these will be revised from what was previously seen. They will be centered on the Fitting Shop with tours lasting 60 minutes and looking at the equipment used to keep the wheels moving on the heritage trams. They are running every Monday and Saturday at 1600 until June, after which the offering will be reviewed ahead of dates for the summer.

One of the four trams to have run so far this year has been Brush 631. Its seen here at North Pier waiting to depart with a Heritage Tour. (Photograph by Peter Dockerty, 30th March 2024)

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12 Responses to Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours start another season of running

  1. Nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Glad I made it up for Easter. 631 is a delightful and very useful tram. It looks fairly traditional from the exterior viewpoint but quite modern internally. This 1990s upgrade should ensure that it endures the Blackpool weather for some time to come. I always felt it was a good decision that swing over seats were reinstated to add to the heritage appeal. I beleive that the Heritage Trams will do a fine job this year in providing a reasonably interesting turnout. Let’s hope that it won’t be too long before they can be joined by 147. That, added to Balloons, Brush Cars, Boats and 66 would provide quite enough variety, not forgetting of course the illumated fleet later in the year.

    • Kev says:

      631 is an awful hybrid made even worse with that painted tower. It should have been left as a 90s example (though at the time it was the only Brush intended to be retained). The seats are awful, especially those silly bays made with the fixed ones (I don’t think these have been changed recently?)

    • Andrew says:

      The scary thing is, you could well be right on one thing here – that this reduced pool of operating trams could well provide enough variety for the current operation. Why invest in restoring more trams and rebuilding Rigby Road depot when you can manage with a basic fleet of trams based at Starr Gate?

      I agree with Kev on 631 though – its a hideous tram and the seats are such a mish-mash of different styles it looks ridiculous. Its a pity that it has seemingly been chosen as the representative of the enclosed single deck fleet this year instead of 621. Maybe that one could be loaned out to a museum tramway (Beamish perhaps?) to keep it ticking over, and to add extra capacity and interest elsewhere? I’d love to see 680 back at Heaton Park too, especially if it ends up sitting idle throughout 2024. Its a shame to waste perfectly good, working trams and the worry is that sitting in a damp shed for too long could lead to problems when they are eventually required for use.

  2. Andrew says:

    Poor old 700. Is there no respect at all for what is surely one of the most historically significant trams in the whole fleet? I accept that its current appearance with widened doors etc. is very much a compromise, but the repaint back into wartime livery was absolutely superb and it looked very smart again. Now, once again, its integrity has been sacrificiced.

    When 700 previously received T side adverts briefly in the 2000s, and indeed when 703 was in wartime livery with St Ivel T side adverts in 1995, there was outcry. At least then though, it could be argued that they were public service vehicles first and foremost, so commercial needs came first. Now that the trams are effectiely a tourist attraction based on their unique historic value, I would have hoped such nonsense would have ended, but apparently not!

    • Kev says:

      It should have been on 723 but given 700 is out more its 50/50. Given there isn’t one single mention of a Tram in showtown it seems odd there is an advert (which you can’t read anyway because the font is awful and its narrow.

  3. Andy says:

    Can you get a few more trams repaied and into service? Sorry, not enough money or manpower.
    Can you clean the trams so they look presentable? Sorry not enough money or manpower.
    Can you spend time and money sticking and inauthentic advert on a recently repainted heritage team to make it looks cheap, tacky and ruin its heritage look? Absolutely. You sure one advert will be enough? We could also stick a random person’s name on it as well. Money no object.

    • Steve Hyde says:

      I think you need to do some research before making comments like the one above. Yes the heritage operation may be short of sufficient funds and resources to do everything you would like them to do. However advertising vinyls bring in considerable funds which can then be used to progress projects. Furthermore the application of the vinyls doesn’t require the use of heritage resources, the work is carried out by the advertising agency’s contractors.

      • Nostalgicyetprogressive says:

        Well put, Steve. It’s all too easy to forget that Blackpool Heritage Trams is not like Crich and needs therefore to be run on a more commercial basis, notwithstanding the valuable contribution of the many volunteers.

        Blackpool trams have something of a tradition of raising money by applying adverts to their vehicles. What we see now is nothing compared with the contravision advertisements applied to all manner of what are now considered heritage trams. Recall, also that garish bingo advert applied to Princess Alice in the late 1980s even obliterating the Royal name it bore.

        However much we disliked these features, they were absolutely necessary then to the continuation of the tramway. Therefore we should be willing to accept at least a more restrained and arguably more tasteful form of advertising on the heritage trams if it can help to secure their future. Frankly, the return of 706 is so long awaited, personally I’d be happy to see it run with another garish advert than not at all for the foreseeable.

        • Andy says:

          You are aware that the advert in question is not a commercial one as it is for a council owned attraction and is therefore not bringing in any additional revenue? Equally, are you aware that no commercial advertising is allowed on the BTS wned heritage trams as that would compromise advertising revenue on the Flexity fleet. Research duly done!

    • Ken from Knotty Ash says:

      Will enthusiasts cough up 6-figure sums to fund a restoration and return to service to their exacting standards? – No? so indeed there isn’t not enough money or manpower to progress at the speed we’d all like.

      Will they find a cleaning solution that is effective on Pantograph grease and be able to use it for more than a couple of weeks before environmentalists (the same ones who campaign for electric powered vehicles) get it banned?

      If someone offers a large chunk of money (to put towards those enthusiasts desired restoration) in return will you allow contractors to spend a little of their own time to place some temporary vinyls that can be easily removed without damaging the fabric of the tram? – Absolutely – your be pretty silly not to…
      What do we think of someone who’s never heard of Ken Dodd?? Unprintable 🙂

      • Andrew says:

        Enthusiasts have been putting their own money into restorations, though. 663 and 704 have both come with large sums attached for their restorations, and neither is progressing. I believe that 704’s owner even paid for an additional member of workshop staff who could work on not only 704 but also other jobs as needed.

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