Blackpool’s blue timetable returns

To mark Tourism Week in Blackpool, the town’s heritage trams have been enjoying a bumper period of activity with a period of daily operation on heritage tour duties commencing on Saturday 5th March. Normally the traditional fleet would still have been in hibernation at this point but, having already appeared for two well-received ‘gold’ event weekends, the basic ‘blue’ service provision has now returned to operate every weekend until the end of the illuminations.

In addition to the weekend service, the Tourism Week saw Blackpool’s heritage trams run daily to showcase this unique attraction to the public. Unfortunately – but not all that surprisingly considering the time of year – these trips were not very well patronised, although the efforts made to include the heritage trams in this event was a welcome one all the same. The service provided was identical to that which ran last summer, with two trams running between Pleasure Beach and North Pier every twenty minutes (less often at times to allow for crew breaks), bolstered by extra journeys to Cabin.

The output across this week was not exactly inspiring, with the ever-reliable workhorse Balloon 717 used on eight consecutive days: a remarkable feat which may well have been its longest period of sustained daily use since the light rail upgrade? 717 was joined in traffic on each day by either sister car 715 or Brush Railcoach 631, the former being favoured at weekends whilst 631 ran on four consecutive days, beginning on Monday 7th March. It is believed that Railcoach 680 had been considered for use on this date but ongoing problems with its transponders conspired to keep it in the depot. One extra bit of interest was provided by Fleetwood Box 40 which performed a special tour to Fleetwood on Wednesday 9th March as a tie-in event with Harry Ramsdens fish restaurant, and this was very well supported.

This week brought back some memories of the trial season of 2012 for the heritage tour operation, when a poor summer led to 631 and 717 spending many days trundling along the promenade virtually empty – how far we have come since then! For a start, 631 has since shed its tatty advert vinyls for a more pleasing green and cream livery, but more importantly the number of customers has increased significantly. Whilst the past week may not have been the greatest triumph, to even be in a position to consider running heritage cars midweek pre-Easter speaks volumes about the much improved position Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours now find themselves in!

Balloons 715 and 717 meet at Pleasure Beach on a typically bright March day, Friday 6th, whilst employed on the 'blue' heritage service.

The other heritage car to run during the week was 631, seen here passing the Sandcastle complex on March 10th. (Photos x 2 by Rob Bray)

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5 Responses to Blackpool’s blue timetable returns

  1. Kev says:

    I think uninspiring output is a little harsh. So early in the season it is natural that cars are still being prepared. Don’t forget how small the workforce now is compared to what it was! A pool of 4 this early for any museum would be considered good. 680’s issues are unfortunate but I believe are being looked at.
    All credit to BTS and the Volunteers for turning out the Heritage on this Tourism week. Yes, I know the weather was boat weather a few days but again this was unexpected so they are still undergoing preparation.

    • Paul says:

      I wouldn’t call it uninspiring either, but nor is it the case that the limited range of trams used was due to others not yet being prepared – 11 or 12 cars have already run so far this year. It’s more about the suitability of the types of car to the conditions and operating requirements, e.g. it’s not boat weather, twins are labour intensive for the limited demand expected, illuminateds unsuitable for North Pier reversal, Centenaries not the best public draw.

      Maybe conservative, possibly repetitive, but ultimately sensible, practical and reliable cars which is what was needed for the target audience…

      • Peter Watts says:

        I agree with both Kev and Paul’s comments. As one of the Heritage guards on Saturday 12th, I can confirm that our choice of 715 and 717 was made in order to hopefully pull in some of the General Public crowds which the blue timetable is mainly aimed at. Although the midweek runs were lightly loaded, Saturday’s trams (certainly 717 on which I was working) had quite a healthy load for March, and only a very small handful on board were enthusiasts, the remainder Joe Public wanting to ride on an old double decker tram. Many on hearing about the Heritage service for the first time took leaflets with them in order to use the service again on a future trip to Blackpool later this year. Therefore as much as some enthusiasts would call the choice “uninspiring”, I would label the choice as wise considering the weather and the target population.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          I think some people are being a bit over-sensitive about my comment which was certainly not intended to cause such offence! The output for the week certainly was not inspiring to an enthusiast, but I highly doubt it was meant to be as surely very few people would be riding on the trams all week. The gold events are aimed at us, not a week of blue days! Box 40 was perhaps a notable omission up to the Sunday but otherwise it was probably about right. I also wanted to draw attention to how hard 717 has worked which is really pretty remarkable in the light rail era, especially in March!

  2. Kev says:

    701, 227, 66, 31 and 600 have not been prepared. 723 is in works. 642 and 230 may still be waiting looking at after electrical issues. 40 was waiting exam (which is why it ran sunday not Saturday). You could not expect 648 to run on blue. Insufficent crews for Twins and they are not inspiring to the general public.

    So BTS put out the cars they had and which the public like ie double deckers where possible. And they should be commended for it!

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