A highly successful season of operation for Blackpool Transport’s heritage tram fleet has now come to an end, co-inciding with the final night of the 2013 illuminations on Sunday 10th November. That evening saw just two trams operate on illumination tours, the Frigate 736 and Balloon 717, with 717 doing the last tour of the year. This therefore seems an ideal time to reflect on what has undoubtedly been a defining year for the remaining historic trams in Blackpool, in which the heritage service has really gone from strength to strength.
Despite a considerable reduction in the number of running days for the old trams, the number of cars actually used was a noticeable increase on what was seen in 2012, ensuring that each day they ran offered something slightly different. A very credible total of seventeen different heritage trams ran over the course of the year, consisting of: Balloons 701, 706, 717 and 723, Open Boats 227, 230 and 600, Illuminated cars 733+734, 736 and 737, Centenary cars 642 and 648, Fleetwood Box 40, Bolton 66, Standard 147, Brush Railcoach 631 and Twin Set 272+T2. These were joined by eight of the nine modified Balloon cars (all except 720 which remain out of service all year), meaning that a healthy twenty-five traditional trams carried passengers at Blackpool this year! Furthermore, the much improved operating pattern meant that all of the aforementioned heritage cars ran to Fleetwood at least once with the sole exception of 736, although the Western Train and the Frigate only made it past Little Bispham on private hires. Considering that just a couple of years ago, it was feared that none of these trams would ever visit the northern terminus again, this is pretty incredible!
Highlights of the year were plentiful, and included the reactivation of cars 642 and 723 which had been disused since the end of the traditional tramway in November 2011, as well as 227 (ex-602) and 701, both of which had been stored since the end of 2010. In addition, both Brush car 631 and Centenary car 648 lost their expired advert liveries in favour of traditional green and cream, although both were slightly upstaged when Boat 602 was repainted cream and red, as well as regaining its original fleet number. Bolton 66 was also restored to a more authentic external condition during the summer, when its long-lasting Acdo adverts were finally removed and the tram ran without any advertising for the rest of the year.
Although the vintage trams were no longer a daily sight on the promenade, the pitiful loadings witnessed last summer were also a thing of the past, and instead the trams were usually packed full of passengers whenever they ran. This has hopefully set a fine precedent for the long-term future of these trams, and the continued investment in them shows a real determination to ensure that they remain a key part of the tramway. The deal involving the transfer of several trams previously owned by the Lancastrian Transport Trust to the custodianship of Blackpool Transport is also a huge leap forwards, as is the plan to create a new charitable trust to support their continued preservation in Blackpool.
However, although the heritage fleet may be taking a well-deserved rest from passenger duties over winter, that doesn’t mean that the activity will end completely as Balloon cars 701 and 723 are both being refitted with snowploughs and may well see use in this capacity if needed. It is also anticipated that further workshop projects will result in even more trams being restored to a more pristine and authentic appearance for 2014, and hopefully some non-operational cars may even return to action. With the English Electric streamliners celebrating their 80th anniversary next year, 2014 is sure to be another exciting year and we will be there to report on all that happens!