So far the 2012 season in Blackpool has been dominated by the new Flexity2 trams and much older cars such as Bolton 66 and Standard 147; however a growing number of the retained Balloon cars have also been in service recently. As reported previously, flat-fronted car 724 started the ball rolling with an ill-fated outing on April 5th, and a few days later this was followed by car 713 which even managaed a journey to Fleetwood Ferry in service!
Since then, 713 has enjoyed a few more outings although so far its run through to Fleetwood has remained a one-off. The tram is currently based at Starr Gate depot, increasing the chances of this tram being used again if sufficient crews are available for extra trams to run. 707 also moved to Starr Gate on Easter Monday and is still believed to be there, but it has not carried passengers so far this year. The other widened Balloons have stayed at Rigby Road awaiting their first use of 2012.
‘Princess Alice’ 706 has made several appearances on the new heritage tram tours, but sadly has proved very unreliable and has developed a compressor fault on a few occasions, which led to it being hastily replaced by the illuminated Frigate 736 on Saturday 21st April. Restored car 717 also ran on the tours on Easter Monday and was requested for a private hire on Wednesday 18th April, but due to a defect sister car 700 stood in alongside Standard 147. As 700 had been cleaned and prepared for duty, it then made a further surprise appearance on the heritage service on April 21st – only its third day of public service since being modified with widened centre doors! Although the choice of this widened Balloon car for heritage tours has been criticised in some quarters, some enthusiasts were delighted at having a rare opportunity to sample a ride on this tram and purchased heritage day tickets just to do so, suggesting that Blackpool Transport probably made a good call in sending it out on this occasion. Incidentally, 700 has received modern fluorescent destination blinds in place of the black and white ones it has had since 2004, but although the lower deck has been spoilt by its latest workshop attention, upstairs the car retains its swingover seats and roof windows, so a ride on this semi-traditional tram is still an enjoyable experience – so long as you ride upstairs anyway!