Saturday 20th July witnessed the welcome return to use of Blackpool Centenary car 648. The tram operated a special tour for the Fylde Tramway Society along with open top Balloon ‘Princess Alice’ 706, this being its first outing since its recent heritage makeover, which has included a superb repaint back into the original green and cream livery worn by this class of car.
648 was originally due to make its debut over the late May Bank Holiday weekend, but the need for more extensive body work meant that this deadline could not be met. However, the extra time taken to complete the project was definitely well worthwhile as an excellent job has been carried out. Externally, the tram now looks very much as it did when new, the only noticeable difference being the modern side glazing. The original style of lifeguards have been restored in place of the rubber bumpers and extended skirting panels fitted during its last major overhaul, as befits 648‘s new role as a member of the heritage fleet. As well as being repainted in the stylish 1980s livery complete with green zig-zags along the body sides, vinyls have been used to recreate the light green lining out beneath the main green stripes, whilst Blackpool Corporation crests and fleet numbers in the correct positions complete an outstanding paint job.
Having not carried passengers since its single appearance on heritage tour duty last June, 648‘s maiden voyage was very popular with enthusiasts in town, just as sister car 642‘s comeback was earlier this year. Both 648 and 706 performed several journey over the course of the day, including trips to Fleetwood – 648‘s first trip to the northern terminus with passengers on board since 2009. The choice of ‘Princess Alice’ to accompany 648 was an inspired one, as both trams first entered service in their current guises in 1985, the year of the Blackpool tramway’s centenary celebrations. Despite some minor issues experienced during a test run on Friday 19th July, the Centenary car performed extremely well and should now see occasional use for the rest of the 2013 season, and hopefully for many years to come, justifying the recent work carried out upon it.
Once again Blackpool Transport have proved their commitment to the traditional trams, and it is particularly pleasing to see such considerable effort made to create an authentic appearance for a type of tram that was once expected to disappear completely form the tramway in the light rail era. Indeed, car 648 had at one time been earmarked for preservation at Crich, and arguably being rejected has turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to the tram! The welcome sight of a green and cream Centenary car has now returned to the promenade for the first time since 1996, and should provide a useful extra car for use in poor weather.
For those who missed 648‘s relaunch, the car is expected to be used again over the August Bank Holiday weekend, and could also see further use on illumination tours if required.