Eventful first day for Blackpool’s upgraded tram service

The long-awaited commencement of passenger services on the upgraded Blackpool tramway occured on Wednesday 4th April 2012, with Flexity 006 becoming the first of the new low-floor trams to run in ordinary passenger service. The car was allocated to Route ‘A’, the first departure of the day which is timed to set off from Starr Gate at 5:00am. This was a very historic occasion for many different reasons, but sadly an incident in Fleetwood spoilt the occasion and resulted in some unwanted negative press for the tramway on what should have been a fantastic day.

On arrival at Fleetwood Ferry, 006 experienced some problems with the wheels struggling to make contact with the rails. Due to severe weather conditions overnight, a large amount of sand had blown onto the track and when attempting to depart from Bold Street and turn towards the former boarding stop, 006‘s front axle left the rails. All passengers were duly transferred onto a tram replacement bus, and following trams were forced to terminate at Fisherman’s Walk in scenes remiscent of the 2010 season, when this site became the temporary northern terminus whilst the upgrade work was in progress. The breakdown crew soon arrived on the scene and 006 was rerailed and mobile again by about 9:00am – the process of rerailing the tram not helped by strong winds, and the fact that engineering staff are not yet used to dealing with derailments involving articulated trams! The car was then driven ‘bang line’ back to Fisherman’s Walk, where it used the crossover to return south on the correct line and head back to the depot.

Although a derailment was obviously a terrible way to start the Blackpool tramway’s new era, the incident is genuinely thought to have been nothing more than very bad luck. Ever since the tramway opened in 1885, sand blowing onto the tracks have caused no end of problems for the trams; 006 is not the first victim of being derailed by drifting sand, and is unlikely to be the last either. However, at a time when Blackpool Transport’s every move is being closely observed by the new-look tramway’s many critics, this was the last thing that the company needed, and to make matters worse, the BBC were soon on the scene with the derailment being reported on the local news bulletins, and on the BBC website.

Once 006 had been moved out of the way and the remaining sand was cleared from the tracks, a tram service to and from Fleetwood Ferry finally commenced with car 011 being the first succesful southbound departure from Fleetwood after 10:30am. Although there were some further issues – such as the all-too familiar short workings caused by late running and a few faults with the new trams’ bells – the first day appeared largely succesful apart from that first high-profile incident. Passenger loads on the trams looked healthy and it must be hoped that these people will continue to use the tramway as a form of transport once the novelty of the new vehicles has worn off.

On a brighter note, this day was of course a historically important one for a whole host of different reasons. As well as marking the first use of Flexity2 trams in public service, this was the first time that a full tram service between Starr Gate and Fleetwood Ferry was on offer to the travelling public since September 2009, when the Starr Gate to Pleasure Beach section was closed for track renewal work to start. 006‘s early morning journey was the first service run north of Little Bispham since November 2010, and the first north of Fisherman’s Walk since November 2009. It also marked the welcome return of early morning tram journeys which have been greatly missed in the last few years. For the record, the other trams used in service on this day were: 001, 004, 007, 008, 009 and 011, the latter replacing 006 after its first trip. Cars 002 and 010 were also being used for driver training purposes. All of these trams have now been fully branded with the final livery details, except for 009.

Here at British Trams Online, we are of course passionate about the traditional Blackpool tram fleet, but at the same time we are welcoming of the new era for this much-loved system. We hope that things quickly settle down, and that the new trams and modernised tramway will prove to be a success. Whilst some of the system’s unique character may have been lost, Blackpool will now be the only place in the UK where we can ride on both traditional and light rail trams, and we intend to enjoy what is on offer this year. Look out for extensive coverage of the Easter weekend in the town on this website, which will of course feature the return to service of some of the retained vintage cars from Good Friday onwards. The future has arrived, even if it struggled to stay on the tracks at first!

After derailing on Bold Street corner, 006 is seen gingerly following the Unimog on the wrong line through Fleetwood. (Photo by Mervyn Williams)

006 in all its glory heads through the streets of Fleetwood on its way back to depot following its ill-fated first passenger journey. (Photo by Mervyn Williams)

Workmen are seen clearing windblown sand off the rails prior to the resumption of the through tram service to Fleetwood Ferry. (Photo by Mervyn Williams)


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7 Responses to Eventful first day for Blackpool’s upgraded tram service

  1. Geoff Pickles says:

    I wonder who “the new-look tramway’s many critics” are and what their problem is. I’m not old enough to remember Walter Luff, nor the new trams that he introduced from 1934 onwards, but I wonder whether he had to suffer similarly reactionary and ill-informed comment. Had he not breathed new life into the tramway then, it probably would not have survived the Second World War, or succumbed shortly afterwards. The same is true today: if the tramway had not modernized, it would die. Those lovers of old vehicles not prepared to travel to Crich or Beamish etc. will still be catered for with the “heritage” service. Are the British only talented at moaning nowadays?

    • Clifford Stead says:

      Well said! Blackpool now has a world class tram service after all the time and investment in the system, Walter Luff would be proud to see all these shiny new trams in service!

  2. Graham Sidwell says:

    There’s a steep learning curve for all connected with the new trams, both operators and passengers. Had they ever done a rerailing exercise? Did nobody look at the heap of sand ahead? What steps will be taken to mitigate the problem, which surely isn’t new at that location given the proximity of the sand dunes? When I arrived in Blackpool at midday, it was clear something was wrong as the timetable seemed to have been thrown out of the window. When I finally arrived at Fleetwood Ferry another car followed five minutes behind (which I see was 010 on driver training!) and then nothing for an hour. No way of knowing what had happened. Predictably the car (007, surely a ripe number for a James Bond link-in!) started full and was packed by Cleveleys. At least it had two guards who were manfully coping with those awful ticket machines. The problem was exacerbated by several wheelchair users who had chosen to celebrate their ability to ride a tram. And here is the passengers’ turn: they have to learn how to open the doors and to press for a request stop. Also predictably the trip from Fleetwood to North Pier took 50 mins and the posters advertise 35! As to “many critics” well, this is modernisation-lite, with none of the trappings of the existing light rail systems such as passenger information displays, CCTV at stops and central control. Finally, several stops are closed because they haven’t been finished, yet the info displays and “voice” (surely that should have a Lancastrian accent?) still displayed them and the driver (or the guards) didn’t override. Time will tell.

  3. Geoff Currie says:

    I have kept my peace over the updating of The Blackpool Tramway, but now feel it time to comment. I detest what has been done to the Balloon Cars and others remaining at Blackpool. Even more than that I feel that Lancashire County Council, and Blackpool County Borough Council are completely misguided in thinking the public will use the updated tramway as a means to travelling to work in Blackpool. There simply not enough people working in the town to warrant this vast expenditure. If the railway lines of the Fylde i.e. those lines west of Preston, including a reactivated Poulton to Fleetwood line had been included in this project then I am sure it would have a chance of success, but not just the surviving line from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. Maybe someone can convince me I am wrong!

    • Joe says:

      I think at some point the tramway will be extended, then the new trams will come into their own, blackpools moto has always been progress, Walter Luff would have been shocked to find all the old trams still running…..that said I love the old trams and it’s such a relief that some will remain, I can’t understand why the doors on the balloons were modified, surely the new stops could have been designed to accommodate the old enterences, seeing as balloons and brush cars are step free like the flexities this shouldn’t have been a problem, which goes to show that Luff was ahead of his time by creating step free tram designs in the 30’s !

  4. Ken Walker says:

    I fully agree with Geoff’s comments. Using the tramway to commute will only work for those who live and/or work close to the tramway. If it is extended to North railway station then people living near the tramway might use it tenroute to catch a train, but how many of the coastal population will that cater for? Not many I would think

  5. David Swann says:

    Don’t Blackpool transport do daily track inspections each morning to check for these things?! It would seem pretty logical, if not essential given the proximity to the sand and salt water.

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