Following the unfortunate circumstances which surrounded the start of tram services on the upgraded Blackpool tram system, the second day of operation was effectively a chance for Blackpool Transport to wipe the slate clean and start again, with the opportunity to give locals and visitors a more positive impression of the new era than had been possible on the first day. Indeed, Thursday 5th April was a lot less eventful, although some issues continued to create a negative initial impression on many passengers.
Thursday saw six Flexities used on the timetabled Starr Gate to Fleetwood service, and the chosen trams were 001, 004, 007, 008, 010 and 011. Sadly, we must report that there are a number of minor defects on several of the new trams, with items such as heaters, destination displays, signal bells and passenger information systems noted as being faulty. Perhaps of more concern, several tram stops are not yet complete due to the late addition of surfacing between the rails, and these stops have disapointingly not been brought into use yet, even though timetables are clearly displayed. This has caused a great deal of confusion and upset, so hopefully the required work can be finished soon to enable these stops to re-open.
The promise of a tram ride from Starr Gate to Fleetwood has often been broken with surprisingly heavy loadings on the first two days of service often causing late running. This has already lead to a number of journeys being turned short at destinations such as Fisherman’s Walk and even Bispham, which is really not acceptable. Hopefully these issues, which may well have been addressed sooner had a whole month of ‘ghost running’ operated as planned before the grand opening, can be resolved soon. A new timetable is expected to be introduced with a ten-minute daytime service on most days reportedly starting from late June, and this will be an ideal opportunity to assess how the existing timetable has worked in practice and consider whether longer running times are needed.
However, the number of passengers using the trams has exceeded expectations to the extent that the high-capacity Flexity cars have actually been noted leaving passengers behind! The crush loadings also made it almost impossible for tram conductors to move along the aisles and collect fares at peak times. To help resolve the situation, the first special of the season was brought into action on Thursday afternoon with rebuilt Balloon car 724 doing the honours, and duly becoming the first old (albeit modernised) tram in passenger service this year. This was an unexpected treat for the enthusiats who had turned out to sample the new trams on this day, but unfortunately the chance to ride on a double-decker was short-lived as 724 suffered a fault with its plug doors and was terminated at Little Bispham. Had this not happened, the tram would have run to Fleetwood which would have certainly been a high point for many enthusiasts, particularly as the widened Balloon cars were never supposed to run to Fleetwood in service! The appearance of this car did at least remind us all that faulty trams are nothing new to Blackpool, as of course the modified Balloons were very unreliable last season with 724 itself suffering the same fault on the last day of the 2011 season!
April 5th also witnessed the arrival of Flexity 012 at around lunchtime. As all eleven of the Flexities which had arrived previously have already been running, 012 is likely to be commissioned quickly so it will be interesting to see when it debuts in service. Further interest came in the shape of Balloon 713 which paid a visit to Starr Gate, although unlike 724 this car was running ‘out of service’.
Hopefully at least some of the concerns mentioned above will be ironed out quickly, because the passenger numbers so far give a clear message that there is no shortage of people in Blackpool who want to give the new-look tramway a chance to prove itself. With the heritage trams due to enter service on their new coastal tours on Good Friday, Easter will be an important time for Blackpool Transport and hopefully the long weekend can be a success and set a positive scene for the season ahead.