This is the tenth year in a row I have spent at least a week in Blackpool in September – some might say I need to find somewhere else to go on holiday – and it would be fair to say that the tramway is at by its far lowest ebb in many a year with very few interesting trams in service, an incredibly limited tramway (still only running Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham) and the worst timetable in living memory. What follows now is a brief diary (and it is fairly brief because of the monotony of the same trams in service day after day) of what happened on the tramway between Friday 9th and Thursday 15th September (for a report on what happened between Friday 16th and Monday 19th September from Andrew Waddington click here.)
Friday 9th September
The core daytime service had swapped to single deck operation the previous day as a result of a conductor shortage and eight trams which would become very familiar over the following week were in use on this day: Brush Cars 630, 631 and 632 and Centenary Cars 642, 645, 646, 647 and 648.
The evening saw five double deckers (Balloon Cars 707, 709, 713 and 720) come into use on the Little Bispham timetabled service and they were joined by a further three Balloons (711, 718 and 719) on specials although with it being a “Firework Friday” (every Friday in September sees the World Fireworks Championship taking place from North Pier) the service soon disintegrated with trams being sent on break at the same time and none of the timetabled routes actually being kept to that route. In a period of observation of Cocker Street between 1935 and 2125 only four trams managed to travel southbound.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 642, 646, 647, 648. (Eve) 707, 709, 713, 720, 724
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 631, 632 (replaced by 647), 645
Specials: 711, 718, 719
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737, 733+734
Saturday 10th September
Illumination Saturdays used to be a time when there were lots of trams in service as the crowds flocked to Blackpool – not any more! The single deck daytime service continued – which gave the usual problems of a lack of capacity heading southbound in the morning from north Prom – with the same eight trams as the previous day. Two specials supplemented these trams (Balloons 709 and 718) during the day.
As late afternoon arrived the five Little Bispham routes went over to double deck operation as scheduled. One of the trams which came onto service was Balloon 724 which suffered problems with its new power operated doors at Gynn Square. With a queue of trams starting to congregate behind, and the crew seemingly unable to solve the problem, passengers were detramed. Fortunately the problem was soon solved and 724 continued empty to Bispham where it was met by fitters – the tram was soon passed fit and returned to passenger use, although out of its route slot and as a result was seen running several shortened journeys to get back onto time.
In addition to the five Little Bispham cars there were a further five trams out on specials during the evening including Standard 147 and Balloon 718 (the other three were all Centenary Cars). Trawler 737 was also used on specials after it has completed its solitary Illumination Tour of the evening – running North Pier-Little Bispham and then back to Manchester Square whilst unilluminated.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 631, 645, 646, 647. (Eve) 707, 711, 713, 719, 724
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 642, 648
Specials: (Day) 709, 718. (Eve) 147, 645, 646, 647, 718, 737 (after tour duty)
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737, 733+734, 736
Sunday 11th September
A breezy Sunday in Blackpool (getting windier as the day went on but nothing compared to the following day!) and to be honest on the tramway there isn’t really a lot to mention about what happened. The same eight single deckers were on the daytime service (the only difference being that they were on different routes) with two double deckers entering service on specials early evening, and this (coupled with the five double deckers on Little Bispham service) proved to be ample enough capacity with people thin on the ground probably due to the strong winds. The evening saw just the two Illuminated Tours whilst Trawler 737 was noted out on a Private Hire.
This day also saw an Open Day at the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s Depot at Brinwell Road. Three trams from their collection are on “display” there with Coronation 663 and Railcoach 279 able to be viewed easily enough but Brush 622 was stuck in the corner behind a couple of buses meaning only its trolley tower was really visible.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 631, 645, 647, 648. (Eve) 711, 713, 718, 720, 724
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 646, 647
Specials: (Eve) 707, 719
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736
Private Hire: (Eve) 737
Monday 12th September
The day the winds came – and how! The tail end of Tropical Storm Katia hit the UK on this day with strong gusts being experienced in Blackpool (making photography quite a challenge!) and waves bashing against the sea wall, particularly noticeable at Little Bispham. Once again the same eight trams were on the daytime service with the only noticeable difference being that Brush 632 escaped the confines of the North Pier shuttle, instead being allocated to the Little Bispham service.
A number of other trams were also seen out during the day with Balloon 715 being used a TDE and Balloons Cars 707, 713 and 723 all being seen returning from the new Starr Gate Depot where they had presumably been involved in some sort of testing.
With the winds seemingly getting stronger the normal changeover to double deck operation on the Little Bispham service did not materialise as it was decided it was too risky for the double deckers to be out. As such the five single deckers on Little Bispham service stayed out (including 632 with the exception of Brush 630 which returned to Depot as planned. This was replaced in service by Twin Car 682+672 to add some extra capacity to the tramway during the busier evening period – running Trailer first throughout (although to be honest it probably wasn’t needed).
The wind also meant changes were made to the evenings Illumination Tours with all three feature cars also confined to Depot. With double deck trams banned the choice of which tram could possibly run the night’s one and only tour was rather limited with either a Centenary Car (those which had been on North Pier service during the day), Brush 630 or Twin Car 675+685 the only options (it is a night like this that the likes of Box 40 and Coronation 660 are sorely missed on the tramway). The Twin was chosen and set off from North Pier with a fairly sparse load. However, this Illumination Tour could well have been immensely historical as it may well have been the last ever Twin Car to operate a public Illuminations Tour in Blackpool? (Only time will tell if it is!)
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 631, 632, 645, 646. (Eve) 631, 632, 645, 646, 682+672
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 642, 647, 648.
Illumination Tours: 675+685
Also Out: 715 (TDE), 707, 713, 723 (all in connection with testing at Starr Gate)
Tuesday 13th September
It was still windy on this day and the same eight single deck trams were on service during the day but the main excitement on this day was to take place away the service trams and down at Starr Gate Depot…
A trip down to the new Starr Gate Depot to see just what was going on proved that quite a bit was actually going on and it was nothing to do with a Flexity2! On arriving the first thing I noticed was Balloon 700 standing within the Depot confines – excellent I thought, well worth the walk down here considering I hadn’t seen the tram since it had its “bulges” put on and was unlikely to see it this year with the limited number of double deckers now needed – but the best was yet to come! Out the back of the Depot complex was a cream single decker and it took a while for my brain to quite work out what it was but eventually I twigged – it was Coronation 660! Probably the rarest tram move of the year (unless a tram is seen on the tracks in Fleetwood at some point and that isn’t going to happen!) as 660 is not fitted with a transponder and is not on the list of trams available for service as a result. Both trams were down at the Depot to help with the testing of the new Wash Bay and it is believed 660 was used due to its unique width to check the wash worked with all varieties of tram. After a couple of goes through the wash both trams returned to Rigby Road separately with 700 going first followed around half an hour later by 660 – which could well prove to the last non-transponder fitted tram to operate on Blackpool Prom. Later on in the day Standard 147 was also seen heading towards Starr Gate Depot, presumably to continue with the testing of the Wash Bay.
The wind has obviously died down sufficiently enough to allow double deckers out onto the Prom in the evening (although it didn’t seem so!), so the changeovers took place as normal with three Illumination Tours also taking place.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 631, 645, 647, 648. (Eve) 707, 709, 711, 713, 718
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 632, 642, 646
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737
Also Out: 147, 660, 700 (all to Starr Gate Depot testing Wash Bay), 715 (TDE).
Wednesday 14th September
After the excitement of the previous two days you would be forgiven for thinking that this day would be calm with nothing out of the ordinary taking place – but no! The first journey north was delayed with Centenary 646 suffering from severe wheelspin at various points and as a result it had Brush 632 hot on its tails. 646 ran its next journey only as far as Bispham to allow for fitters attention, and this obviously solved the problem as it remained out the rest of the day.
Later on in the morning 632 itself developed a fault and had to return to Depot. With a distinct lack of available single deckers the only suitable tram to replace it was Trawler 737 – a rare use on service for this tram in 2011. The Trawler remained out on route 1 for the rest of the day but this wasn’t to be the end of its work on service on this day as Centenary 645 also developed a fault just after 737 had returned to Depot and so off out it went again, finishing 645 journeys on the North Pier shuttles.
The evening saw more problems with Balloon 719 believed to have had issues near to Pleasure Beach. As a result severe delays were experienced and on at least two occasions all five service trams were found to be north of North Pier with the all too familiar “Blackpool Bunching”.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 630, 631, 632 (737), 646, 647. (Eve) 709, 718, 719, 723, 762
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 642, 645 (737), 648
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737
Thursday 15th September
Guess what? It was the same eight single deckers on service with Brush 632 and Centenary 645 having their problems from the previous day fixed. The main excitement out on the Prom on this day was a TDE which utilised Boat 600 and then Twin Car 672+682. 600 was only out briefly as it suffered a dewirement at Bispham which damaged the trolley pole and led to Balloon 719 being summoned to tow the errant Boat back to Depot. 672+682 soon replaced the Boat on the TDE and this seemed to operate for the remainder of the day without any problems.
Another trip down to Starr Gate also gave me my first look of Flexity2 001 which was being used in connection with testing of the Wash Bay.
The evening saw Twin Car 672+682 out again – this time on a Private Hire – whilst the timetabled service seemed to disintegrate for no apparent reason. For most of the evening the five trams were running in three groups with 723 and 711 within a couple of minutes of each other, 724 and 762 also within a couple of minutes of each other and poor old 707 operating more or less as it should have done.
Pleasure Beach-Little Bispham service: (Day) 631, 632, 645, 646, 648. (Eve) 707, 711, 723, 724, 762
Pleasure Beach-North Pier/Cabin: 630, 642, 647
Illumination Tours: 733+734, 736, 737
Also Out: 001 (at Starr Gate Depot testing the Wash Bay), 600 (TDE until failure), 672+682 (TDE from late morning and evening Private Hire), 719 (towing 600)
* For the following four days in Blackpool read Contributing Writer Andrew Waddington’s “Weekend in Blackpool” here.
Related Photos on British Trams Online
To view photos taken during this week in Blackpool by Gareth Prior visit Gallery 271: A Week in Blackpool September 2011.