It’s been a long wait – a very, very long wait in fact – but trams are finally up and running through the streets of Fleetwood for the first time since 2009. The Blackpool tramway upgrade has caused particularly noticeable disruption at the northern end of the line, which closed to trams after the 2009 illuminations, but test running along the entire length of the system has finally started just a week before the tramway is due to re-open to the public.
The first tram to make the trip to the northern terminus was not a Flexity2 tram, nor was it a heritage car, but it was in fact the humble Engineering car 754 which was reportedly towed to Fleetwood Ferry by Unimog 939 on March 24th, presumably for gauging trials. Also in attendance was the historic reel wagon 750. However, the real deal came on Monday 26th March, when two modified Balloon cars ran to the Ferry in order to properly test the new track and overhead wires. The chosen cars were 709 and 713, the latter making what was probably its first appearance on the main line this year. 709 was first to make the journey, following closely behind the Unimog just in case of an incident, and 713 brought up the rear of the convoy.
The initial tests highlighted some minor issues with the overhead wires, but generally went well. The use of double-deckers was particularly notable as these trams are unlikely to run in service to Fleetwood again on a regular basis, if at all. Although never really confirmed, it is widely believed that the rebuilt Balloons will be used to supplement the core service between either Starr Gate or Pleasure Beach and Cleveleys, so this could well prove to be the only time that these trams make it all the way to Fleetwood in 2012.
An even more exciting event occured the following day, when the first of the new low-floor supertrams travelled to Fleetwood Ferry. 003 did the honours and made a fine sight at the Ferry terminus on its arrival at 1:30pm on Tuesday 27th March, sporting its newly-applied livery vinyls. These tests are believed to have been succesful, giving the possibility that the heavily-delayed ‘ghost running’ may begin later this week. There have been some significant changes to the north end of the tramway since the last trams departed in the early hours of 9th November 2009, and the actual loading stop is now on Bold Street as it was impractical to build platforms at the former Ferry stop. This is being billed as a ‘transport interchange’ with a new bus shelter provided alongside the tram stop. Close by, the new substation is structurally almost complete, but there is still a lot to do before it can supply power to the trams. It is expected that, with a modest twenty-minute service running to Fleetwood, the available power should be adequate, with the new substation expected to be up and running by the peak season when the service frequency will increase.
With just a week until the first trams are due to carry passengers along the full length of the tramway, there is still a lot of preparing to do, not least training new drivers and re-familiarising returning crews with parts of the system which have been inaccessible to trams for the past two and a half years. Hopefully all will go smoothly and the proper return of Blackpool’s trams on 4th April will be a triumph for all involved!