Changes announced for Blackpool’s heritage tours

Detailed plans for the operation of historic trams on the Blackpool tramway during the 2013 season have at last been announced, with a number of changes to the service that was offered last summer. With poor passenger numbers during 2012, it was inevitable that some changes would be made – and as a result of experience gained last year, heritage trams will be running much less frequently this year. However, a more appealing package will be offered to customers, which will hopefully make up for any disapointments.

Last year, heritage tours were advertised to run each weekend from Easter onwards, and then daily throughout the school summer holidays until the start of the autumn illuminations, when the tours switched to operating every evening with no daytime workings. Unfortunately, patronage was very poor over the summer months, and so the decision has been made that daytime tours will only be operated on Bank Holiday weekends. This means that vintage trams will be out and about on all four days of the long Easter weekend (29th March to 1st April inclusive), and then over the May Day, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday weekends. As expected no significant alterations are expected during the illuminations as this was by far the most profitable time of year for the heritage tram operation.

Clearly the reduced dates for heritage tours in 2013 is intended to encourage enthusiasts from out of town to visit on these dates, which will hopefully make the tours more profitable than they were last season. To add further incentive to visit, Blackpool Transport have a few more tricks up their sleeve to offer good value for money, whilst retaining last year’s £10 fare for a day ticket valid on all BTS tram and bus services. Perhaps the most exciting development will see vintage trams stretch their legs beyond the familiar Pleasure Beach to Little Bispham section, and run to Fleetwood! The first and last tour of each running day will be extended north to Fleetwood, meaning that both of the two cars in use will make it to the northern terminus just once. It is intended that all other journeys will terminate at Bispham, the tour route being shortened slightly to allow extra time for the single Fleetwood runs. Many enthusiasts have bemoaned the lack of opportunities to ride on any of the retained heritage trams to Fleetwood Ferry so hopefully this will encourage many more people to part with their cash and enjoy a trip back in time over virtually the entire length of the tramway.

In a further positive step, Easter will be a bumper weekend for the heritage trams as four different historic cars are rostered to operate each day! In addition to the usual two tours, a further two cars will be put to work between Pleasure Beach and North Pier for the day. These trams will only be able to load and unload at the designated ‘heritage’ stops but once again this will offer greatly increased opportunities for tram riding and photography. To be able to ride on four different vintage trams – two of them to Fleetwood – as well as the Flexity2 trams and buses all day for just £10 should be seen as an absolute bargain, and hopefully Blackpool Transport will be rewarded with a healthy number of ticket sales on the first really busy weekend of the 2013 season.

Although the use of additional heritage trams is expected to be a one-off for Easter, both May Bank Holidays should see two of the widened double-deckers out on specials alongside the two genuine heritage cars, providing even more interest for enthusiasts. Efforts will also be made to swap one of these during the course of each day, and reportedly all nine of the B fleet will be used during May. This will include car 720, which did not run at all in 2012, but the damaged doors on this car have now been repaired and it will join its sisters back on the promenade soon.

The selection of heritage trams available for service in 2013 should be the same as last year, with a couple of surprise additions. Following use as a snowplough car over the past winter, Balloon 701 is to be reactivated and should join the available pool of cars from May Day onwards. It is also believed that Centenary car 642 will be returned to use for just one day, joining its sister 648 in action. A refurbishment of Brush Railcoach 631 is also progressing well and this tram will also rejoin the heritage fleet later in the year. With the likes of Bolton 66, Standard 147 and Boat 600 already available for use, there should be a fantastic selection of different trams to be sampled this year and it must be sincerely hoped that their operation will be well supported. This is of course the only way to ensure that these trams have a viable future in Blackpool, and pressure has been placed on BTS management to cut costs. At least one of the Board of Directors recommended to axe the heritage tram service completely, and the resulting service is very much a compromise. If the revised service does not find favour, it may well be dropped in 2014 and so this is very much a case of ‘use it or lose it’. Blackpool Transport are quite obviously very determined to build a secure future for its priceless collection of vintage trams, but now it’s over to us, the enthusiasts, to support their efforts and do our bit to contribute towards this!

Two of the trams that are potentially ready to commence the heritage operation for 2013 - Boat 230 and Balloon 717 - repose at Pleasure Beach last August, with 230 standing by the heritage tram loading stop. (Photo by Andrew Waddington)


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38 Responses to Changes announced for Blackpool’s heritage tours

  1. Paul says:

    Realistically something had to change because of the poor usage, but the reduction is greater than I expected…
    I’m not surprised to see the summer weekday service stopped and the early season weekends reduced to the three bank holiday weekends, but had hoped that the summer (June – August) weekends might remain. It does mean that unless something special is arranged there will be no vintage cars out on the days of ‘Totally Transport’ and ‘Tram Sunday’. Perhaps an opportunity for the FTS or LTT to do something on one of those weekends??

    On the positive side, the run to Fleetwood should be popular with enthusiasts, and additional cars being prepared does show some faith in the service. Not mentioned in your article, but I have heard suggestions of a later start time and later finish, which I think should be beneficial for out of town enthusiasts and day-trippers.


  2. David says:

    10 pounds is still too much for a casual person to enjoy the trams. A lot of people don’t want to ride on public transport all day. THey should introduce a pound fare for 3 stops or something, a lot of people just want to sample the trams for a few minutes. Again, it’s Blackpool transport telling us what we want rather than listening to the feedback of users.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I appreciate your views David, but certainly don’t agree with them. Vintage trams in museums cost money to maintain, and vintage trams running on a light rail transport system are no different. Let’s not forget that for £10, you’ll be able to ride on up to 4 different heritage trams, including 2 rides to Fleetwood, as well as using all the modern trams and buses in service, all day long. I think most people would consider that to be excellent value for money. There have been tram tours run in the past offering just one trip to Fleetwood and back priced at £10, so by comparisan what BTS are offering is an absolute bargain! Naturally though it will be up to individuals to decide if they wish to support this venture or not.

      • David says:

        I agree that the Trams cost money to run etc.As an enthusiast I am one of those people who understands that. My point, put rather poorly, is that most people on holiday will make a judgement on entertainment spending on their perceived value for money, not on the “cultural worth ” of such a service. I’m not sure how much they charge for children, but once you add up two adults and children you’re up for more than 20 pounds. People compare that to other expenses in their holiday ie eating out, entertainment etc.
        Do the majority of the people really want to ride on public transport all day? I’d say a minority would, but I’d suggest most people just want a “taster” of an experience of riding a vintage tram for cheaper a lesser outlay of spending.
        Have BT done any market research on this?
        If BT reduced the price to say, two pounds for four stops of something, you’d get more people on : less outlay for a shorter experience.You may get more revenue. A similar venture here in Auckland, New Zealand to bring trams back to Auckland is struggling. They started charging $10 each which again soon balloons up with a family of four having to fork out $40 for two adults and two children.They have reduced the prices to $5 for adults and $2 for kids which hopefully will resonate more with people’s discretionary spending.
        Sometimes the best form of market research is to listen to the tills ringing…or not!

  3. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    Sounds good. Can’t wait to sample a Heritage Tram to Fleetwood.

  4. Frank Gradwell says:

    Mr Waddington – what a load of old codswallop.

    BTS are trying to offer a leisure option to Joe Public, in Britain’s last great day out destination from the perspective of a public transport operator selling just a day rover ticket. It just doesn’t work. Families do NOT want to spend all day tram riding. They want to do everything, and do it affordably.

    There needs to be a single trip option, a family trip option; the heritage trams are just as capable of using the Flexity stops as any other tram – God knows who dreamt up that restriction!

    There need to be inclusive deals with some of the pubs and eateries along the route – include a pint at the North Euston or a meal at Bispham Kitchen for instance, but can we get away from this silly idea that the public will ever pay enthusiast fares.

    Blackpool has always excelled at Quick Sell offers to its visitors. I want to see Brian succeed as much, if not more, than most – but last year’s offering was wrongly set out, too restrictive, lacked interest, and I went to the coast just three times.

    Heritage trams does not mean illuminated cars in daylight hours, it means balloons, and boats, and Alice, and more than just two of them, which the public associate with Blackpool; and it is exactly the lack of these on the prom last year that kept me away – especially on illuminations nights, when – it has to be said – the illuminated cars coped oh so easily with the riders who did turn out – a sign of hard times, or a sign that Blackpool needs to up its act?

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I believe that there will be a single ride ticket option on the heritage tours (as there was last year). In addition I understand that a lower fare will be charged when the heritage cars work on short promenade runs over Easter which should cater for the audience you talk about. As for the historic trams not being allowed to use the platforms; that is a ruling that Blackpool Transport have been forced to work with, there’s really not much point in debating whether it is right or wrong, they simply have to work with the rules they have been given. Finally, the illuminated trams often did struggle to cope with demand last year during the illuminations, and when sufficient crews were available the likes of 147 & 717 were often called upon to work extra tours and proved very popular. I expect this will also be repeated in 2013.

  5. Dave B says:

    Will the £5 one round trip ticket not be available this year?

    I only bought an all day ticket once last year but bought the £5 ticket on 6 or 7 other days when I could’t afford the time to ride all day.

  6. nigel says:

    Have to agree with you on this one Andrew, although we will always disagree about those awfull centeneray cars, in my opinion of course.

  7. David says:

    I hope then that people will still be able to buy short distance fares. I got the impression that you could only buy the 10 pound fare if you wanted to ride on one.

  8. Neil A says:

    I had heard that the B fleet of Balloons would be running on specials over Easter – is this not now the case? After such a meagre and unvaried service offering last Easter, surely BTS do not intend to turn away all the potential extra revenue again in 2013 by running no Balloons? I also hope that the £5 single ride option on the heritage tours will be available once more. It appears to me that nobody considers those of us who stay in Blackpool for a few days, buy a Saver ticket, and therefore baulk at spending another £10 on top! Is there no scope to offer a Saver ticket at a slightly higher price to include the heritage service? That way, enthusiasts and holidaymakers alike could choose what to pay and when to ride on the heritage trams, no doubt increasing ridership in the process. I also hope there may be scope to run the heritage cars on Summer weekends, otherwise they will just languish unwashed in the depot, reminding us of dear Mr Burd’s “mothballed fleet.”

    • WatcherZero says:

      Do the local B&B’s not run price promotions? They tend to do in other tourist towns.

    • Mr C says:

      Patronage on the heritage tours were embarrassing last year. Its lost a considerable amount of money. The revisions make sense.

      £10 For days Unlimited Travel Bus/LRT &Heritage Trams is a bargain.

      • Ken walker says:

        £10 buys very little these days, this compares very well with admission prices to the Pleasure Beach or the Tower.

  9. David Taylor says:

    I have to agree with david as even five pounds for 3 stops is too expensive. On the Wirral tramway it is 2 pounds for 3 stops and return children half price. For the price of the ticket you also get to go around the depot and museum unlike blackpool who do not even like you photographing into the depot let alone entering.

    Last year I went to the town twice and one week-end they had a single tram running over the two days. The other visit had a balloon and centenery car. What has happend to the decent stock?

    As like a lot of people I get free travel so if I have to pay a large amount then no thank you

    • Mr C says:

      Its a bargain. £10 UNLIMITED travel. David T if everyone takes your stance their wont be a heritage operation and that will be it. Finished… “no thank you” as you put it. Turning your back on our heritage and depriving future generations of the joys of riding heritage trams at Blackpool.

      • David Taylor says:

        Mr C,
        If you read the passage properly you would see I have not turned my back on our heritage as I went twice last year. It is not cheap travelling to Blackpool and when you find None or little interesting stock running it is disapointing.

        As to turning my back on our herritage I am part of a small team at the Wirral Transport Museum restoring tams. At present Liverpool 245 is being rebuilt hopefully for service before the Wirral Tram & Bus show. We will then be finishing off the Warrington car to a covered balcony which will complete the full range of cars from open topper to fully enclosed.

        Finally we charge 2 pounds for four intermediate stops (not the three I stated earlier.

  10. Ash Tomlinson says:

    At last heritage tours to Fleetwood! I will certainly try to get a ride on 642 and 701. I can understand BTS want enthusiasts to pay and ride on these trams rather than just photograph them all day but not every enthusiast has the money to ride on them all the time, myself included. Therefore I will be forced to just ride on the days of the best tram allocations and photograph and film the rest.

  11. David Butterworth says:

    In my opinion if the heritage service is eventually withdrawn, it will mark the end of any interest for many in the Blackpool Tramway. It will be merely another light rail line-like Sheffield, for example. How the ‘Powers that be’ could contemplate not using the Boat cars in spells of fine, sunny weather is beyond comprehension. Traditionally these cars cars were always out in number at such times, certainly up to about 2005. The same goes for ‘Alice’- 706. They always drew the visitors and were part of the ‘Blackpool experience’. So I agree that enthusiasts must do ‘their bit’and support the heritage tours.

    • Neil A says:

      Unfortunately, the rule that the heritage cars may no longer undertake stage carriage work is very strict. It saddens me greatly to see them relegated to tours only, but if there were a way of enabling passengers to ride on them for a purpose between the heritage stops, paying maybe £1 extra, that might increase patronage. I must say that Bryan L has been fantastic in his efforts to run the cars against the odds: we are lucky that he cares as much as we do!-

  12. andrew says:

    considering bts is owned by the council who also own some of the other blackpool attractions you thought they may have asked merlin to incorparate a historic tramride into the lesiure pass its not rocket science if you want to make money keep things affordable dont the council know there is a shortage of money

  13. Frank Gradwell says:

    On the railways all trains – including heritage use the platforms on stations.

    They don’t just dump passengers on the ballast which is what BTS are doing with the heritage fleet!

    No-one – but no-one will tell me that it is safer or more convenient to make the three inch step over from the new platforms than the one foot step up from the pavement.

    This restriction is simply a knee jerk reaction to DDA instead of a considered response separating heritage rides from stage carriage activity, and I am 100% sure that a sensible discussion with all parties would see this nonsense binned in minutes..

    BTS – please – look at MUNI, Melbourne, Seattle etc and see what is possible. Work with Merlin – but for goodness sake – don’t expect the “crank” market to cough up enough on its own to keep the heritage fleet going.

    Blackpool has always been about public appeal and that goes for the “real” Blackpool trams too!

    • Ken walker says:

      On the railways new and heritage stock are built to the same width, Frank, but the fact that the balloons have had to receive widened centre sections shows this isn’t the case with the trams. Although the step up from the platforms is easier than from ground level, perhaps the step across is too great. If it wasn’t a problem they wouldn’t have had to disfigure the balloons.

  14. David says:

    One wonders if it’s all in the “too hard” basket by BT To keep very old trams running alongside a modern public transport fleet. Even satisfying Health and Safety requirements must be night mare in itself. The fact that they’ve kept it up for so long must be applauded.

  15. Dave Jones says:

    While i applaud the fact that something is being done, i fear it is too little too late.
    The new trams are very nice but Blackpool is synonymous with heritage cars. Yes they are more costly to maintain, but that’s what the majority of enthusiasts and joe public want to see.
    I visited Blackpool last year on a Heritage Saturday, checking the website to double check that i would see and ride on something, and in the 4 hours i was there i saw nothing. I went to the depot and nothin was out or moving either.
    So i went away after making a 3 hour round trip totally dismayed at the lack of heritage on a published heritage day!
    Will i return again for 2-4 trams, when not so many years back i spent 5 hours there and rode 14? No, its gone, and i will now rely on my pictures and memories.
    Someone one wrote a message on a wreath for a narrow gauge line that closed in North Devon “Perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth”, very apt for the Blackpool tram system most want to see, but probably wont.
    Davejonesphotography/zenfolio for trampictures from around the world

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      If that’s how you feel then fair enough – but its totally unfair to compare Blackpool in 2013 to Blackpool in say 2007. The tramway has changed, we have to get over that – and in any case, is it really so much worse? The 14 ‘heritage’ trams that would have run some years ago in service would more often than not have been made up of Centenary cars and refurbished Balloons, which are aguably little or no more appealing from a heritage viewpoint than the Flexities, and a damn sight less user-friendly too! Now I love Heaton Park and Beamish, but people are quite happy to go there for a day out and ride on 3 vintage trams, so I don’t understand why so many people refuse to do the same at Blackpool? Where else in this country can you have a 10 mile ride on an 80+ year old British built tramcar?

  16. kevin ashe says:

    Personally i think the heritage tours as they are are all wrong,why not run them on three stops south central and north piers clearly explaining that this is the only places that they will stop at and charge 1.00/1.50 a journey pp.It must bring in more than they currently are,the current system is alienating familys who would like to take their kids on “trams of yesteryear” but cant due to the cost

  17. Frank Gradwell says:

    The game was given away on the launch date of the Flexities – Sept 11th 2011.

    632, 700 and 717 were all parked in the platform at Starr Gate. Yes there is a step over into the normal cars but, but the entrance is at floor level – so no step. The “gap” to be minded is less than any main line platform gap – so how can anyone say it is “unsafe”??

    Getting the best out of the heritage fleet demands a real understanding of their role in a leisure resort – a role which the responsible person no doubt understands all too well.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      We as enthusiasts may well think the gap at platforms is not that bad, but Blackpool Council say it is and what they say goes. At the end of the day, if a heritage tram loaded at a platform and someone slipped and got hurt, it is not enthusiasts on a website like this who would pay the consequences, but Blackpool Transport – and in today’s culture of blaming everyone else, a hefty lawsuit would surely follow. Is it worth it? In my opinion, absolutely not. I think people should be grateful that BTS want to run the old fleet at all, because frankly if the comments on here are anything to go by, 2013 will probably be their last year of running in Blackpool!

      • Ken walker says:

        As you say it’s time to get over the modernisation of the tramway and be grateful we have a heritage service. Let’s just hope that BTS have got the crewing problems sorted this time so that people don’t go to the expense of travelling to Blackpool just to find the heritage trams aren’t running.
        While the gap at some railway platforms may be wider than the gap between a heritage tram and platform I think Frank might find that it is only at older station platforms, and that current regulations will prevent new platforms being built on tight curves. When the East Lancashire Railway reinstated the station at Heywood they had to build it further towards Castleton than where the BR station had been located due to the curvature. Now is the time to stop grumbling about the arrangements, which for all we know may have been forced on rather than decided by BTS, get behind the service and use it in the hope that it may be expanded in 2014!

        • Mr C says:

          Spot On. Lets Get Behind IT

          To Be Clear. As Part of the Exemption Order under statute Law it was a requirement. Decisions were made Should Blackpool Transport ever want to change this. They would have to get the relevant heritage exemption order amended.

          The Order clearly set out detailed parameters. To prevent the heritage service ever been used to supplement the core service.

  18. Frank Gradwell says:

    “Now is the time to stop grumbling about the arrangements, which for all we know may have been forced on rather than decided by BTS, get behind the service and use it in the hope that it may be expanded in 2014!”

    But if the service is “broken” in concept then it makes far more sense to engage in an intelligent debate seeking to rework it than just bleat about it being all that we have – because that way it is a sure fire goner. As it is currently presented it is not a marketable proposition, and that is a fact.

    Again I say – look at MUNI – look at Melbourne – then look at Blackpool!

    There is an awful lot of game to be upped!

    • Mr C says:

      & Look at Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Edinburgh…
      No Heritage operations ran by Businesses their…

      The Concept is NOT broke. It just not been supported. The new price points should stop the grumbling. These 1 run prices that have just been announced. (not on this page go to the official Blackpool Transport Site for Details0.

      Dont think people realise how lucky we are.

  19. Frank Gradwell says:

    “& Look at Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Edinburgh…
    No Heritage operations ran by Businesses their…”

    Those well known seaside tourist resorts eh? and Edinburgh – No trams “their” at all since 1956!

    The above are all metropolitan areas and not in any way comparable to the market that presents itself along the Fylde coast. Blackpool is Crich or Beamish or Carlton Colville writ large, not Manchester writ small, and it’s facilities must recognise that in all the town does, or its remorseless decline will continue.

  20. David Taylor says:

    If there is a problem with the gap why not follow the example of Mersey Rail who fitted a metal plate as a step to the 507/508’s

  21. Edward Jacobs says:

    It’s true that if the heritage trams are not used by more people this year there is a huge possibility that they will be axed. BTS are trying hard to reach a solution by changing the way in which they are run, so we should grab the chance to support this operation before it’s too late!

    Could someone clarify something though? Forgive me for being confused but it would seem that the widened Balloons are being used to supplement the HERITAGE service ……………are there any plans to use them as specials on the main Flexity service again as they did last year during the final half term of the illuminations?? If I’m wrong about this forgive my questions …………………I thought the “B” fleet were intended for used alongside the Flexity trams at busy periods and modified to allow this …………………. ????? not as “heritage trams” If I am right, will this not confuse the travelling public??

  22. John Griffiths says:

    In my view Blackpool Transport has it all wrong. The tramway has always been one of Blackpool’s main attactions along with the tower and the pleasure beach. Letting the heritage trams die will be a big mistake. I believe that without the heritage trams less visitors will visit Blackpool. I was in Blackpool last week and I was disappointed not to see a single tram other tram the new Fleities, everyone looking exactly the same. How boring is that. It is still early days. It is not that long since we had a wealth of variety to enjoy on the tramway. It is not until something as gone that people start to miss it. Well in 2013 there does not appear to a lot left to enjoy. If you are on holiday with you wife and 2 kids £30-£40 to ride on a tram is a lot of money. Personally I don’t think that the £10 flat rate is too much to pay but if £10 is what you want to charge it needs to be marketed at people prepared to pay this price. The mistake is that the service should be aimed at the enthusiast market rather than the holiday maker. Holiday makers will expect to pay less because they won’t want to travel as far or for as long as enthusiasts and there are so many other things that they can spend their time and money on. If BT wants to target holiday makers then maybe £5 would have been a better starting point. I don’t see the point in restoring, modifying and retaining all these trams if they are not going to use them. BT should take a look at heritage railways to see how they manage to bring in the punters. They need to get to the point when they can run heritage trams every day from Easter until the end of the illuminations, say a minimum of 2 trams on weekdays and at least 4 at weekends. if we are paying the money we want something to ride on. They should also consider enthusiast days. That means turning out as many trams as possible to bring in the punters. It works with trains so why not with trams. My message to BT is need to do a lot better in 2014. My money is still in my wallet because, when I visited Blackpool last week there was no heritage service. Let it die and not only BT but also the town of Blackpool will have plenty of years to regret its passing and the lost revenue that it could have generated. Well I surpose we can all go to Crich instead.

    • Gareth Prior says:

      We have to stop comparing heritage trams with heritage railways. The number of tram enthusiasts is a tiny fraction of the number of railway enthusiasts and as such a comparison between the two sectors is rather pointless. Railways also have the added factor – particularly steam – that it has a romantic notion and you won’t get many people who won’t at least have heard of one steam locomotive. Can you say the same about trams? There is no iconic tram to the general public. If you go to a non traditional tram area you would probably be hard pushed to actually find someone who knew what a tram was let alone recognise one! I can almost guarantee that the majority of my non-tram friends would have no idea what a tram was if they didn’t have the misfortune to know me.

      You also state that £10 is far too much and that Blackpool Transport should look at heritage railways to see how they can operate daily services. Well how many of these heritage railways allow unlimited travel on a day for just £10? Good luck on finding any with a length of journey you can enjoy in Blackpool.

      Last year was mainly a disaster for the heritage service in Blackpool and the daily service blatantly didn’t work – there aren’t many enthusiasts who can’t recount a story of rather lonely journeys. That was partly down to the weather but also because there wasn’t enough interest out there to keep it going. We should be grateful for what we have and stop this constant moaning which seems to be the default position for a lot of enthusiasts. Practically everyone who has attended any of the heritage running days in Blackpool this year is in agreement that it is a massive improvement – less is more!

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