Another season ends for Blackpool

Sunday 9th November marked the end of the Blackpool illuminations for 2014, and with it the end of the peak season for the town’s famous tramway. This brought the curtain down on another enjoyable year of public use for the heritage fleet, with all three illuminated cars out on the final evening – the Western Train 733+734 and Frigate 736 being used for illumination tours, whilst the Trawler 737 was otherwise engaged with a private hire. Earlier the same day, Bolton 66 had made a rare visit to Fleetwood in connection with the town’s services to mark Remembrance Sunday.

Unfortunately, the 2014 illuminations will probably be best remembered for all the wrong reasons as Blackpool Transport have really struggled to cope with passenger demands both on the core service and the lights tours. Things came to a head during the notoriously busy half-term week at the end of October, with complaints from intending passengers escalating and reaching the local press. Already, the company’s new manager Jane Cole has promised to review what went wrong and aim to improve the situation next year, although in fairness the Blackpool system has always suffered from extreme contrasts in passenger numbers through the year. Long queues and delayed trams at the height of the season are certainly nothing new and were common during the illuminations even in the days when 70 or more trams ran on Saturday nights – however, the business has at least highlighted that any concerns about a dramatic fall in patronage resulting from the NOW concessionary passes for Senior Citizens who live outside of the Blackpool boundary were definitely pessimistic. In fact, it has been claimed that the half term week was the busiest for some time, something that once again serves to highlight the huge success of the upgraded tramway and the incredible popularity of the Flexity2 trams amongst visitors and local residents alike.

The heritage fleet have also had a difficult autumn with budget cutbacks meaning that only two cars were able to perform illumination tours on many nights, although these were imaginatively used with the cars that did run generally staying out for longer, and once again the available crews could not cope with the phenomenal demand for tours during the school half-term week despite additional crews being rostered whenever possible, to enable additional trams to run. The output during the week (and indeed for much of the last few months) favoured the aforementioned illuminated Train and Frigate as well as Balloon cars 701 and 717; these double-deckers no doubt being favoured to provide extra seats for the waiting hoards. Sadly Trawler 737 remained very much out of favour all year and although its use did increase during October, its small seating capacity meant that it was often confined to the depot even at times when four or five trams operated tours. It had been hoped that this tram would receive some cosmetic attention this year to improve its appearance, but if the crewing situation does not improve dramatically then such a project may well be in doubt as it seems unlikely that its sponsors or Blackpool Transport will invest a large amount of time and money in a vehicle which sees so little use. Hopefully 737‘s fortunes will improve next season as despite being criticised by some enthusiasts, it remains a popular tram with the general public.

Other than the trams mentioned so far, Twin set 272+T2 made a small number of appearances during October which was much appreciated by the enthusiasts who rode on it. Standard 147 and ‘Princess Alice’ 706 were also regular tour cars whilst Boats 227 and 600 were also selected for tours during September thanks to some unusually mild evenings. Probably the most welcome appearance, however, was made by Coronation 304 which managed just one evening out on 1st October. Unlike last year when it was used extensively during the illuminations, Brush car 631 remained in the depot apart from a sole private hire working, as did Bolton 66 which is quite surprising as this has traditionally been one of the most popular of the vintage trams for tours of the lights.

Despite some negativity, the illuminations appear to have been a very profitable time for the heritage tram operation and hopefully this, combined with the money saved by running less trams on quieter nights, will serve the Blackpool Heritage Trust well as it seeks to further safeguard the future of these priceless trams and their continued presence on the tramway. The heritage fleet can now enjoy a long winter break apart from a few private hire commitments, with the Western Train expected to see further use for school parties as is common with this tram as a condition of the Heritage Lottery Fund money which financed its restoration, and at least one other private hire expected to see the illuminated Frigate 736 also light up the tramway next month with a rare winter appearance by this tram. Balloon 701 will also be making a further outing for the Fylde Tramway Society’s 2014 Christmas Tour on Sunday 28th December, which should provide the unusual treat of a full length ride on a Balloon car from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. In fact, who said that winter was quiet in Blackpool!?


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16 Responses to Another season ends for Blackpool

  1. Frank Gradwell says:

    The busy half term week serves to demonstrate the timeless appeal of the illuminations and the facilities along the promenade that Blackpool offers.

    The prices being demanded by hotels until last week, and the hours businesses were opening, demonstrates this too.

    Providing insufficient transport hadware to move the business offering in no way demonstrates the success or popularity of anything, let alone the Flexxity fleet. The people freezing to death for unnacceptable periods along the prom would have accepted anything on wheels to move them – and they wouldn’t have cared two hoots what it was. If 70 cars were needed in the old days and none of them were Flexxities – then QED!

    On the first night of the half term week I stood at Beach and could look up and down the prom for ten minutes or so and see nothing on the rails anwhere. Walter Luff would have had a fit! He would have been storming round the depot wondering why trams were sitting idle with good business offering.

    I fully understand the financial restrictions applicable to the council and its departments, but like so many councils, if a revenue centre is attacked then the results suffer, the costs rise and commercial revenue to both the council and businesses suffer.

    Blackpool Council needs to apply joined up thinking and make sure that it’s tourism departments realise the value of both the commuter fleet, and the heritage fleet, and assist the new Trust with both the legal and administrative framework to permit maximum utility for both the commuter, and heritage fleet. The council has plenty of lawyers – time for them to weave their words.

    There is absolutely no practical reason except for official stupidity why heritage cars, which are NOT a public transport obligation cannot use platforms but this is held up like some form of mantra, and totally confused with inapplicable DDA obligations.

    I know that there are plans for putting more resilience into the heritage operation for the future – that’s great. Those are the cars that are of real long term tourist value to Blackpool.

    I don’t really care what happens to the Flexxity fleet – it cost £32m on its own and is a business asset – the council and BTS will deserve everything they get if half that investment sits silent on the busiest nights of the year. Perhaps some of that EU Grant should be paid back for under utilisation a la TDA payments on main line railways.

    I heard all sorts of reasons why training on the Flexxities has been unpopular – but more drivers and crews, and if necessary more casual, or on call drivers, are obviously needed. If this raises the union genie to need magicing away, then so be it. But it would actually be creating new jobs, not less!

    The transport facilitiy with rails is the only way to practically link north and south on illuminations nights. Failing to resource it is wrong.

  2. Ash Tomlinson says:

    Does anyone know if an Illuminated tram will be attending the Fleetwood Christmas lights switch on this year?

  3. Peter Narramore says:

    Following on from the comments on late running during half term week, I was left wondering what had happened to the timetable when I visited Blackpool on 5th November. We wanted to travel to Fleetwood just after lunch but instead of the advertised 4 trams an hour all the way, there were long gaps and short workings to Cabin and Bispham. After seeing many would be passengers trying to squeeze onto the buses, we gave up and settled for a short working to Fisherman’s Walk. This decanted a large number of young schoolchildren short of their destination, leaving them to walk on in the gathering dusk. Will their parents insist they use the bus in future? Considering the explanation given for turning back was “late running” the crew did not seem in any hurry to cross over, load up and get back to Blackpool.
    After dark, however,things were back to normal. The Western Train made a magnificent sight moving off from Pleasure Beach to the sound of distant fireworks, while the Trawler passed on a private hire.
    Good luck to the new boss. Blackpool has a magnificent tramway and it MUST be a success!

  4. Paul D says:

    Once again Frank, you are (possibly deliberately) misrepresenting the situation. What was really demonstrated last week was the massive fluctuations in demand that BTS has to contend with. That is why hotels that normally are in the £20-30 price bracket could demand £60+ per night last week!

    It is not that BTS were short of vehicles – the 16 Flexities would have coped with demand if they could all have been deployed – there wasnt “insufficient transport hadware” (which you later contradict anyway with your statement that “half that investment sits silent”), there was a lack of drivers to operate them. If BT were to employ sufficient staff to crew all 16 for 18 hours a day, how would their wages be funded the rest of the year? As I understand it, even with current number, the permanent staff will be working 4-day weeks this winter. In the past it was possible to meet the additional peak demand through overtime working and using bus drivers (drivers doing full double shifts was not uncomon) but that is no longer permitted under drivers hour regs. If a driver does extra hours one day, it can delay his starting time or even mean he can not legally work at all the following day…

    It is irrelevant what type of tram A, B or C fleet is deployed – if the crew isn’t there for one they aren’t there for another, and infact if an extra crew can be found, they are far better deployed on an extra 200 capacity Flexity than a 52 capacity Brush car…

    Where I do agree with you is that Seasonal Staff is the only practical solution and indeed 2/3s of guards are already seasonal, however seasonal drivers carry a significant re-training overhead each year.

    • Nev Sloper says:

      Also, I believe there are no “dual purpose” drivers anymore, who can drive both buses & trams. It is unreasonable to expect any business to have resources in place just to cover one busy week each year. The world has changed and the days of 16 hour shifts are now history. And, as has already been said, it was no better in the 70’s & 80’s with every available car & crew in use. The queues were still massive!
      To be fair, the new boss has only been in place a couple of weeks and has already indicated her awareness of the problem. Let’s give her a chance.

  5. JOHN says:

    Not this tired old argument again – the Heritage cars are banned from using platforms. End of. (except in emergency or where there is no choice ie Tram Sunday shuttle) This was stipulated by DfT. I think it will be changed in time but for now its a no go.
    There was no money for more staff and insufficient time to train them. again. end of. those are the facts and no amount of slagging BT off or arguing will change them. the new MD is looking into it to improve things in the future so stop looking backwards and look forwards.

  6. Frank Gradwell says:

    I was misrepresenting nothing of the sort. What we have all seen is the massive misuse of expensively procured hardware at a time of peak demand, because no-one thinks outside the box, and the public are left stranded as a result; to the detriment of the tramway, commuter and heritage, and the resort too. When the market is at peak demand so should be the response.

    The pleasure beach is a similar disgrace being run by bean counters to maximise yield for minimum outlay, and not by promoters seeking to make the resort somewhere to stay on into the evening. When I was younger the pleasure beach was somewhere we drove to after leaving the pub in Bolton and stayed until 02.00 or thereabouts. Now its closed at six at night – Disneyland doesn’t do it -why does it happen here?

    Public transport is just that – and when it isn’t transport its a failure, both financially and operationally.

    When the road between Starr Gate and Bispham is static with illuminations traffic the sight of a deserted and empty tramway is simply unacceptable, in financial or any other terms. Of course Blackpool’s market is cyclical. Everyone knows when peak demand occurs – everyone talks about it in advance – so why not plan for it too? Let’s hope the new manager can apply a new broom and bring in new working practices.

    You pick up the salient point right at the end.

    No-one is asking for a 52 week full time contract to provide driver resources, but for an on call or casual contract base to be put in place.

    That is probably anathema to the unions, and to some staff members too, but they need to move with the times, just as do the management and the council. There is neither the market nor the resource to provide 52 weeks a year employment, so the need has to be accepted as intermittent and the opportunity to be paid to drive or to crew similarly.

    Any overheads that are involved would, of course, have to be factored in – but that is true of any business. The more use that is made of seasonal and on call staff the more economically viable will be the result.

    Let’s watch this spcae shall we?

  7. Michael says:

    I have seen it mentioned elsewhere, but not confirmed, that Blackpool Transport did in fact try to recruit additonal platform staff for the Illuminations period but that only a very small number of applicants managed to pass entrance tests and checks etc. If this is correct than BTS did make the effort. However, no reference has been made to this in statements given by BTS officials to the local press.

    Officially, according to the printed timetable, there was to have been an enhanced service during half term week so BTS presumably were expecting to have enough staff available.

  8. Phil Hart says:

    What has happened to all the illuminated trams that there once was?
    3 now seems miserly.
    Apart from the 3 they have now what about the Rocket (I know it needs restoration) – The Hovertram – The Blackpool Belle – Lifeboat – HMS Blackpool.

  9. Frank Gradwell says:

    “Not this tired old argument again – the Heritage cars are banned from using platforms. End of. (except in emergency or where there is no choice ie Tram Sunday shuttle)”

    So they aren’t banned then! This is a tired “can’t do outlook” that has had it’s day and needs to be overturned.

    Britain has a far too rigid compliance outlook that mitigates against good business practice just for the sake of box ticking.

    You are either in one camp or the other – I have declared my hand.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Just feels like your showing all the people including Bryan who worked tirelessly on the THE RAIL VEHICLE ACCESSIBILITY (NON-INTEROPERABLE RAIL SYSTEM) (BLACKPOOL TRAMWAY) EXEMPTION ORDER 2014 and all proceeding legislation little respect which am sure was not your intention. They worked dam hard to get the legislation as flexible as they could whilst legally sound. Not sure what the purpose is of every single thread been hijacked by this trail of thought. Posts on a tramway blog never going to bring about the changes to the legislation you want.

      As for your comments about “I don’t really care what happens to the Flexity fleet” fails to recognise that for the tramway as whole to succeed they are very much part of that. A thriving and successful Light Rail system is the key to extensions and on going infrastructure investment. These can only benefit the Heritage operation. As well as employing the people who part of the operation… When will people realise for Blackpool to succeed both operation need to prosper. A thriving Light Rail system can and will open so many more doors for Heritage. And the thriving Heritage operation with a museum can open so many doors for Blackpool.

      In all honesty though pretty disheartened with enthusiasts approach to preservation. Hampers progress. Divisive “camps” (your words not mine) offer nothing but problems. Their so much potential at Blackpool and elsewhere untapped. Seems some intent on trying to tackle currently unachievable aims as opposed to getting down and sorting things they can play a apart in.

      • Andrew Waddington says:

        Thankfully though your last paragraph is not true of everyone – recent developments with Burton & Ashby 14 and Blackpool 621 prove that. It’s always easy to say what places SHOULD be doing but when it comes to who is prepared to help them do it, then we find out who is really committed to the cause (and I don’t just mean money either)!

  10. roger woodhead says:

    I am sorry but this is really annoying to me.Andrew gets it the rest is just repetitive annoyance.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Thank you Roger. Any further comments which cover old ground on this thread will no longer be approved as the same tired arguments are being covered over and over again, and I fear it is now reaching the point where it is discouraging others from posting comments or even reading the website.

  11. David Butterworth says:

    As I pointed out sometime ago, there is simply NO reason why the heritage trams could not use the platforms. It would be much easier to step across a five or six inch gap (on the level!) than having to struggle to climb aboard, for example a Coronation car, with their high entry platforms. I say this as someone with mobility issues. Failing this, again there is simply NO reason why the number of heritage stops could not be increased. Again, going over old ground, this arrangement works well at the present heritage stops. The problem of meeting increased demand has always existed at illumination time. Typically, I recollect trying to board a tram with my parents at Bispham, in October 1959. The queue was of enormous length and tram after tram (including service Coronations) loaded to capacity; after about twenty or thirty minutes we finally managed our journey south in order to catch the train home to Oldham, from Blackpool Central station.

  12. Peter says:

    I personally wish to thank Bryan Lyndop and all the rest of the team at Blackpool for an excellent season, and I am looking forward to next year. I believe that the work that is done, both visible and also behind the scenes, is amazing, and shows the enthusiasm and motivation of the whole team.

    Blackpool is also now one of a small group of systems worldwide running both LRT and heritage trams on the same system, and this actually puts Blackpool in the limelight internationally as well as domestically. Only last week I was talking with French tram enthusiasts who now know about Blackpool and are planning a trip next year.

    And as for the comment on “camps”, I believe that people fall either into the “glass half full” or “glass half empty” catagories, that is just human nature and I find this rarely changes. Luckily the main actors in the Blackpool system (i.e. the decision makers, the “do’ers”, the staff) are of the “half full” variety 🙂

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