British Trams Online regular contributor Andrew Waddington reports from the increasingly popular Totally Transport event held on New South Promendade in Blackpool every June.
Over the past few years, Totally Transport has become established as the major event in the Blackpool tramway calendar. Not only is this the best opportunity for enthusiasts and regular passengers alike to see, photograph, and ride on a selection of historic tramcars along Blackpool promenade, but there is also an impressive gathering of cars, buses and other vintage vehicles on display along New South Promenade, which is closed to traffic for the duration of the event. Add in a few trade stalls, live music and other displays, and you have a recipe for success, so it’s no wonder that this event has become such a huge success.
Unfortunately, apart from the first ever event in 2005, Totally Transport has not been too lucky with weather. My only previous visit to this event was in 2006 when, despite a promising start, rain stopped play and the vintage tram service was pretty much wiped out by this. 2008 was even worse, with Blackpool being hit by ferocious gale force winds – and this seemed to put off a large amount of potential visitors.
On the tram front, Blackpool Transport had pledged to operate five special trams between Starr Gate and North Pier throughout the day. When I arrived the service was already in full swing, and was being operated by Coronations 304 and 660, along with Standard 147 Michael Airey, wartime Brush car 623, and er… Railcoach 680! The latter had come out as a replacement for Bolton 66, as the open-fronted tramcar wasn’t really the most suitable of trams for this day! 623 was also a substitute for an Open Boat which never even left depot, however with two Coronations and a Standard operating down to Starr Gate, I don’t think that anyone could really complain.
Also of interest to tram enthusiasts was a display of photographs illustrating progress on the Western Train restoration project, and there were some excellent model layouts to see inside the Solaris building at Harrowside, including one layout of the tramway museum of my dreams! This included a working illuminated Western Train and illuminated Standard, as well as miniature versions of the Rocket, Leeds 602, Blackpool 166 and even a Swansea & Mumbles car, to name just a few. Sadly virtually all of the outside stalls had to be abandoned due to the appalling weather conditions, but the traders who had been allocated a space indoors seemed to do well.
As a result of high winds, Standard 147 returned to depot at around 1pm. This only really left the two Coronations out of interest, and at lunchtime cars 304, 680 and 623 all parked up for crew breaks at Pleasure Beach, leaving not much in the way of interesting traction in service! To make matters worse, the timetabled service seemed to fall apart during the afternoon; Balloon 701 on Fleetwood service was seen terminating at Foxhall on a southbound run, using one of the new crossovers to reverse for Thornton Gate. Oh dear. 713 was also seen heading for Bispham instead of Cleveleys, whilst 726 ran in to depot from Fleetwood service mid-afternoon. Presumably this tram was defective as it had ‘Not In Service’ on its destination blind.
In order to compensate for the above, 623 was ‘borrowed’ from the vintage service and ran as a special to Fleetwood. Two more Brush cars also came out at around this time – 622 ran first to Cleveleys and then to Starr Gate. I suspect that this tram had taken over from 726 on Fleetwood service, but with so much late running and loads of short workings, it was very hard to know for sure exactly what was going on. 630 also came out and was seen just once, bound for Starr Gate, but was not out for long as it was back in depot quite soon after. At North Pier some youths were seen riding on 724‘s rear bumper – so much for improved safety on the Millennium cars then I guess!
Another oddity occurred throughout the day at North Pier. Presumably to make life a little easier for the crews of specials, all trams used the centre track for northbound journeys, with service cars continuing north whilst specials reversed on the crossover. This did add a little bit of additional interest to the day.
However, amongst all this chaos, the Coronations really stole the show and made this a very enjoyable day. Both trams managed to stay on the prom all day long despite the appalling weather conditions and late running service cars, and both proved popular. It’s a shame then, to report that by about 4pm there were very few vintage vehicles left, most of the visitors had gone home, and the inspector at Pleasure Beach told the conductor on 304 to terminate at Pleasure Beach on southbound runs for the rest of the day, as there was hardly anyone left on New South Promenade by this point in the day.
As 6pm drew near, all the special trams were put away. 723 also went back to depot – as far as I could tell this was a service car, however what came out in its place (if anything did) is a mystery. It was very sad to see Coronations 304 and 660 running around with two or three passengers on board towards the end of the day, and I think this sight probably summed up the day. For much of the day the sea was crashing up against the promenade and anyone trying to photograph the trams would have been showered in salt and sea spray. Despite this however, I would like to think that everyone who did brave the elements would have had a good day, and that the huge amount of effort put into the event was not wasted.
In summary, having two Railcoaches – particularly 680 in its bizarre plain blue livery – operating on a vintage tram service may seem poor, but in reality Blackpool Transport had very little else available to them in view of the conditions. I was actually very impressed that 147 ran at all, as Standards are notoriously unstable in the slightest of winds, and any day when two Coronations are running is always enjoyable! As Box 40 was unavailable this was probably the best line-up of trams that could have been mustered. It is also worth noting that the wonderful Balloon 700 was out on normal service all day – which may seem a little odd as for the past two years, 700 has been classed as a special tram for this event and used as a special! The day was also notable for the fact that no Centenary cars ran at all, which is probably a sign of things to come judging by reports on the future of the tramway.
I think that Blackpool Transport deserve a pat on the back for even attempting to run anything vaguely interesting on such a horrible day, and it was just a shame that the trams were so lightly loaded at frequent times. All trams out were very dirty by teatime, with 712 in particular being absolutely filthy. The event organisers also deserve a great deal of praise for what is clearly a massive event to organise, and I hope that the disappointing attendance on the day does not deter them from putting on an equally good show next year.
Finally, here is a list of all trams noted in service on this day. I have tried to say which tram did what, but with some very odd journeys being performed (e.g. Foxhall – Thornton Gate: when was the last time that happened?), I will apologise now if there are any mistakes!!!
Starr Gate – Fleetwood service (daytime)
701, 709, 711, 712, 715, 724 & 726 (until mid-afternoon)
Pleasure Beach – Cleveleys service (daytime)
700, 713, 719 & 723 (until approx. 6pm)
Starr Gate – North Pier heritage tram service
66 (ran in before I arrived in Blackpool), 147 (until approx. 1pm), 304, 623, 660 & 680 (replacement for 66)
622 (may have been on Starr Gate – Fleetwood service in place of 726?), 630 (out briefly late afternoon; possibly a replacement for 147?)
Total = 19 trams used. This may not sound a lot but certainly towards the end of the afternoon, this was actually far more than necessary!
Still, a big thank-you must go to everyone who made this event as good as it was, and I sincerely hope that the weather next year is MUCH better!