Blackpool seeking to expand the tram fleet?

Ahead of construction work for the branch line off the promenade to North Station, expected to be started in 2017, thoughts are now beginning to turn towards the expanding of the Blackpool tram fleet. It is understood that Blackpool Transport are keen to purchase two more Flexity trams in order to cope with the anticipated requirement for additional rolling stock to operate the core service when the short extension opens.

It is not yet known whether all service trams will divert from the promenade to serve the town’s main railway station, or if alternate cars will run there – but whichever option is ultimately chosen, the number of trams required for service on a daily basis is likely to increase. Early talks have suggested that the operator would like to add two extra Flexities to the fleet, with the possibility of more to follow if required; presumably this would depend on the affect of an extension on passenger numbers, as well as whether any more extensions are built in the years ahead. The most likely option would be to tag this order on to another system’s order from Bombardier in order to keep production costs down, and so the timescale involved is likely to be a decision based on convenience more than anything else.

Blackpool Transport’s Managing Director Jane Cole has already shown her willingness to utilise the under-valued ‘B Fleet’ of modified Balloon cars for normal passenger service, albeit only on rare occasions. It is therefore tempting to wonder if these trams may have a greater role to play in the future when the North Station line eventually opens. Even if the main service is operated solely by the LRT trams, the rebuilt Balloons could be used to provide some welcome extra capacity along the busiest section of tramway at peak times – indeed, this was the original intended role of these cars when they were converted to be suitable for use on the upgraded tramway.

The future of Blackpool’s tramway is certainly looking very bright and it is remarkable to think that not so long ago it was in serious decline, and indeed a few years ago it was widely feared that the upgrade would turn out to be an expensive white elephant project. To see Blackpool Transport even considering buying more new trams, after many had predicted that the initial order for sixteen Flexities was far more than would be necessary, is very pleasing indeed for supporters of the tramway and hopefully these plans will become a reality before too long.

Examples of both A & B Fleets seen at Starr Gate, with Flexity 002 meeting Balloon car 719. Both types of tram could well benefit from the new North Station branch and any further extensions to their tramway, especially with such progressive management in place. (Photo by Bradley Jones)


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15 Responses to Blackpool seeking to expand the tram fleet?

  1. Christopher Callan says:

    As predicted the tramway continues to go from strength to strength. The Light Rail era provides a solid platform for the system to flourish and realise its potential.

    Delighted the the operator & other stake holders (Blackpool Council, DFT) recognise now is the time to invest further in the tramway fleet. 017 & 018 will no doubt be very welcome additions that only serves to reinforce the respective stakeholders commitment to the tramway.

    Expect it wont be long before Starr Gate is Full and they will be looking at additional stabling options for more LRTs (naturally the tight radius into Rigby Road makes it unsuitable). With June fast approaching will be very interesting to read the “Sintropher+” report examining the South Flyde. Certainly a noble ambition to head South of Starr Gate towards Lytham.

    Exciting times that is for sure. With Fleet procurement, Extensions, Passenger Information Screens and of course the development of premier Heritage operation and attraction the tramway has the potential to match the aspirations of even the most optimistic commentator.

  2. John says:

    as Starr Gate has a capacity of 20, I think it could eb a while before its full! although the never built Heritage Shed on the site could be an option for the future.

    • Paul D says:

      I suspect that rather than extra accommodation at Starr Gate, a small 4-6 car outstation towards the northern end of the Tramway may be the favoured option.

      This would spread the fleet removing the risk of the entire fleet being trapped at one end in times of closures for track work, planned events such as concerts & the recent filming work or incidents such as when a car crashed on south prom, plus it would remove the need for effectively ‘dead mileage’ of the very early morning northbound journeys and last southbound journeys. The former Thornton Gate Sidings site or the Copse Road area are the obvious locations.

  3. Geoff, Isle of Man says:

    (Geoff, writing as ‘Franklyn’) – “Oh no, not more ‘nasty plastic caterpillars!’ Life just won’t be worth living.”

  4. Peter Narramore says:

    Does Edinburgh still have more trams than it needs for its current line?
    It could provide a short term solution to the problem

    • Gareth Prior says:

      Yes Edinburgh do have a lot more trams than needed but their length precludes their operation elsewhere anywhere else in the UK without a lot of alterations.

  5. Nigel Pennick says:

    The Syntropher project investigation seems to be for tram-trains running over current Northern Rail-operated tracks. Let us hope that this project does not require the re-laying of Blackpool’s grooved-rail tracks with a different profile, as is happening in Sheffield.

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Sintropher & in its latest incarnation Sintropher+ both looked at range of issues related to the tramway as a whole. Issues ranging from depot accommodation, possible extensions, fleet procurement and sharing best practise from across the Europe. Your correct that the South Flyde Study is looking at the various options for the existing heavy rail line. One of them options is tram-train. Although curtailment with trams effectively taking over the route is an option to Lytham or simiilar.

    • Johnny says:

      Tram/Train isn’t the reason for the track relaying in Sheffield! It’s 20years old and life expired! Manchester Metrolink was replaced on mass for the same reasons 5years ago!!

      • Nigel Pennick says:

        Indeed much of the street tramlines in Sheffield had deteriorated, as there was significant railgrinding in Hillsborough last year, but I believe the new track has a different profile to accommodate the new trams with wheel specifications that can operate on Network Rail track.

  6. Phil Hart says:

    It’s a pity that the North Station extension is not a circular one with a link back down Dickson Road to Gynn Square where the original North Station route used to go.

    Does anyone think there should be extensions re-opening the routes to Marton and Lytham Road. A Lytham Road extension could then go on to Lytham to Bispham, or is there just too much traffic these days?

  7. Franklyn says:

    A North Station extention to the tramway is a very bad idea. Blackpool Transport have already regularly demonstrated that they are unable to provide sufficient capacity on the tram routes they already have. Giving them another one would be madness.

    For trams to be a financially viable option you need very high capacity. It’s not necessarily about big vehicles but more about number of seats over a route per hour. Walter Luff achieved this with Railcoaches, which were small, fast loading and quick off the mark. Despite not being keen on the older cars in the fleet, he also had the common sense to know he would need to retain many of them to offer extra capacity at busy times.

    Now when the tramway gets busy BT just shrug their shoulders and cram more passengers, cattle truck fashion, into their nasty new fleet, despite having a depot full of perfectly capable vehicles sitting idle at Rigby Road.

    The solution would be to use balloons from the B-fleet, possibly with the new volunteer crews, in normal service, with revenue generated going back to the Heritage Trust.

    If new trams are required, then surely it woildn’t be beyond the wit of man for a British bus body builder to make a traditional looking double decker that is DDA compliant downstairs. This is what tends to happen in America, with very good replica trolleys being constructed for certain routes.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      But they ARE going to use the B Fleet to boost capacity – they were used in service earlier this month remember, and are set to be out in the October half term week due to last year’s well documented overcrowding. Give Jane Cole a chance to implement change please! As for using volunteer conductors to operate normal service cars, forget it, and why should BTS let their service fleet be used to help fund the heritage operation? You forget that this is a business and it is good that the income from actual heritage tours goes into a separate pot without taking money from specials at peak times as well.

      The only madness I can see hear is the nonsensical ramblings of someone who has quite rightly been left behind by a modern and progressive public transport system in more ways than one.

    • Jonathan Malton says:

      First of all, the North Street Station extension is a great idea. It would be the start of the expansion of the tramway, and a more integrated transport network. Visitors could get on a tram from the station straight to their hotel on the promenade. A perfect solution.

      On the contray, the tramway has proven that they are capable of suffient capacity. The only time this failed was during the October Half Term, but this year, with the new manager in charge and the growth that BTS are going through, this should not be an issue.

      The railcoaches were people eaters, but their crew to passenger ratio was poor, which is why smaller trams should not be built to form a larger fleet. More of what they have will be beneficial.

      Yes, the tramway gets busy, but what other transport system does not. From what I have experienced and heard from people who live in the town (unlike you, might I add) the service is better than what it was 10 years ago! The lack of trams (in your opinion) is due to not enough crews to cater for what you want. They might have 9 B-Fleet trams but they do not have 9 B-Fleet crews to take them out. These trams are not sentient, like you seem to think they are! Also, they have more than enough of the beautiful purple trams to cater for the service, as you will see in the October half term and the summer when the tramway is needed the most. If you are referring to the heritage fleet, then this is old ground (again) and cannot be used in stage carrying service anymore. They run the very popular heritage service. Use it some time, you might like it!

      I don’t think they can use volunteer crews for stage carrying service. If anyone has more information on that, I would like to know, but I think that would not be possible. Double Decker Trams would not pass the DDA, and the American laws are different to the British laws.

      Thanks for commenting Franklyn, I am glad the nasty new fleet still annoy you four years since being introduced. I would have hate to have known what you thought on the Centenary Trams in the 1980s, or the introduction of the Balloons in the 1930s!

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