B Fleet Balloons run on split service in Blackpool

As reported previously, filming for a new feature film in Blackpool is causing chaos for the town’s transport services, with disruption to the tramway over three consecutive days, with a partial closure of the promenade enforced between 0700 and 1500. Whilst the return of the unpopular split service was no doubt cursed by the travelling public, it did have one positive side for tram enthusiasts – the use of members of the ‘B Fleet’ in ordinary passenger service.

Whilst the filming was due to take place, the promenade in front of the Tower was closed off meaning that a split service operated on the tramway, with four cars shuttling between Starr Gate and Manchester Square, whilst other trams ran between North Pier and Fleetwood – as usual, no through ticketing was offered and anyone wanting a full length journey faced a walk around the back streets to continue. In theory, enough Flexity trams should have been available to maintain this service, however the film company had requested use of three trams in connection with the filming, and with a few of the class currently out of service, it was necessary to call upon the modernised Balloon cars to supplement the modern trams. On Wednesday 6th May, two Flexities operated between Starr Gate and Manchester Square along with Balloons 711 and 719. This was only the second time this year that any of the ‘B Fleet’ had been used in normal public service, loading and unloading at platforms and performing ordinary stage carriage work rather than premium price heritage tours. Indeed, 711 had not been used in this manner since 2012, when it ran just once after being converted with widened centre entrance porches. Loadings were not especially heavy on what was a cold and wet day, but for the few enthusiasts around the use of these cars was certainly a rare treat. It was also pleasing to see Blackpool Transport’s willingness to use them in such an unusual situation, something that was unlikely to have happened last year when all of the ‘B Fleet’ were effectively withdrawn, except for car 700 which remained operational to partake in events celebrating 80 years of the Balloon class, rather than to assist with the core service.

By mid-afternoon, the full promenade had re-opened and both Balloons had retired to Starr Gate depot where 700 is also currently stabled awaiting possible use. One Balloon car is expected to run again on Thursday 7th May, and possibly again on Friday 8th although this is not confirmed. Further disruption may also occur next week if further filming is required, and this will be confirmed closer to the time, once Blackpool Transport are aware of the situation.

A very unusual scene at Starr Gate on May 6th, with Balloons 719 and 711 both seen in service. (Photo by Gary Conn)


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12 Responses to B Fleet Balloons run on split service in Blackpool

  1. Christopher Callan says:

    Full Credit to Blackpool Transport Services Ltd management for utilizing these assets to assist the core light rail operation. Future is certainly bright with such progressive decision makers at the helm. Jane Cole looks set to right the wrongs of past and help drag the operation forward. Exciting times that is for sure.

    • Ken Walker says:

      Quite so. It would have been easy to just turn out what flexities there were available and run a reduced service blaming it on the closure, which would have been tricky to disprove. But true commitment shown by BTS to their customer base. It is the council who should be hanging their heads. But there again if the B fleet keep making an appearance this week maybe we shouldn’t complain too loudly!

  2. Nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    Lets hope the use of these balloons, converted at no mean expense, sets a precedent for future operation at busy times, or during periods of disruption. On this occasion, it clearly demonstrates the flexibility and common sense approach that should help the tramway to prosper. Of course the travelling public will at this time feel hard done by due to the disruption to their normal journeys. However, I feel that it has to be taken on board that it is not uncommon for promenade based events to result in restricted access along the sea front in many other resorts and is an important source of tourism and income for these places. For example the Manx Rally, which has seen a large part of Douglas Promenade closed, or in 2013 even the quiet resort of Aldeburgh in Suffolk in order to mark the Centenary of Benjamin Britten saw the sea front commandeered for a performance of his opera ‘Peter Grimes’ on the beach. So it would seem not unreasonable for such upheaval to occur in Blackpool from time to time, bearing in mind that it is a major resort.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      This is quite a fair comment actually. And I think this is the sort of thing the modified Balloons should be used for – unusual circumstances. The fact that they need to be brought out infrequently seems to strengthen the argument that, whilst there is a role for them to play, the cost of buying more Flexities instead would not have been justified. That said, the extension to North Station could well change things significantly!

      • Ken Walker says:

        I think the main problem is that the council seem to have done nothing about providing a replacement bus service between the two halves of the tramway. The gap is quite a distance for many people to walk especially if the weather isn’t too good. As it is the council that has agreed to the closure surely it’s their responsibility. Unlike the Manx rally event, this tramway deals with everyday commuters with season tickets rather than just tourists. Plus the obvious fact that where buses are the only public transport affected they can be diverted. Perhaps the new tramway should have been routed down the back streets through the town instead of along the prom? No, maybe we’d better not open that particular can of worms! Nostalgicyetprogressive does make some valid points. And as I said before, if these events keep bringing the B fleet out on service maybe we should campaign for more of these events to take place!

  3. James says:

    a word of caution before everyone gets carried away thinking this means regular appearances from the b fleet. the only reason these 2 balloons are being used is because 3 flexities are being used for the filming. had they been available for service those flexities would have been used instead of the b fleet. the direction from the council is that the b fleet should only be used in normal service after every available flexity is in service.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Dont see anyone getting carried away. People simply recognising that the company continues to make steps across all aspects of the business to improve and be the best.

      Utilizing these assets (in any way) just yet another example of how far the tramway has come. The potential of the operation is their for all to see. Finally starting to capitalize on it.

  4. Ken Walker says:

    Interesting contrast in that not so long ago we were being told that the B fleet could not be used despite their expensive conversion because they still were not compliant with DDA, now due to the film company commandeering flexities the same B fleet are being used on service runs, rather than the film company being told that they will have to use the B or heritage fleet (would they have been able to tell the difference?). Not that I Foresee anybody complaining of course! Is this due to the change of top management with a more enlightened / honest interpretation of the rules?

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      As I understand it, the B Fleet are not to be used on stage carriage work unless all available Flexities are already in service – of course the definition of ‘available’ could be open to debate in cases like this… bearing in mind though that Blackpool Council own the Flexities, and they have endorsed the filming, it is hardly surprising that they have made their trams available to the film makers.

  5. Franklyn says:

    According to official documents between HM Inspector of Railways, BT and other organisations at the time of the ‘upgrade’ it was agreed (including with the disabled users group) that the B-fleet can be used provided the core timetabled service is accessible (ie flex). So assuming they have more Flexities than they need (which they must have as the core Fleetwood service used to be maintained by a fleet of 10 vehicles including spares) then even if there are serviceable LRVs the B-fleet can be used to augment the service. This is because it is wise to keep some serviceable LRVs in the depot in case of failure in the core service and needing to replace a vehicle in the middle of the day.
    [Please note original comment edited – Editor]

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