In Pictures: Normal services start on Blackpool’s North Station extension

Normal services are now underway on the newest section of open tramway in the UK with the first public service arriving at North Station on the morning of Sunday 16th June as planned. This follows several days of preview with special tours running including, on Saturday 15th June, the first heritage tram with passengers to make its way along Talbot Road.

It may have seemed like its been a long time coming and that we’ve been talking about the short extension (which is only approximately 600 metres long) for a long time, probably because we have. It was March 2018 when the government approved the plans for the line but things did rather become a little bit stop-start following that.

The plan was always that the new tram terminus would be located where a long time Wilkison’s store was and finding a new location for them to move to would stall things somewhat. In fact the number of times we have written about Wilko’s on these pages is unhealthy for a website which is not devoted to discount shops! Tracks were being laid along Talbot Road from the Promenade as early as July 2018 but the fact that Wilko’s was still there meant that there were significant delays.

Wilko’s did eventually close (although did not have a new building to go to after all, and then the firm subsequently went into administration) which allowed the building to be demolished and for work to then commence on laying the tracks.

The pandemic then came along which delays things even further but it did seem that good progress was being made, so much so that in 2022 the first trams ran along the extension and began to make us think that it wouldn’t be too long before we could all enjoy a ride on the line. But more delays would follow as the construction of the new Holiday Inn (located right by the terminus) was behind schedule and until that was done with there would be no trams.

And so we waited and waited and waited! But finally the hotel opened in spring 2024 and then we started to see the resumption of testing in April 2024 before the announcement came that the line would have a special first tram on Wednesday 12th June, further special trips on the next three days and then the start of public services on Sunday 16th June.

The extension starts with a junction to the Promenade line at North Pier with lines going both north and south to allow trams to run in either direction. It has one intermediate stop in Talbot Square, which is a single platform (with very little in the way of “platform furniture”) only to be served by trams heading to Blackpool North. The line is double track all the way and the terminus features an island platform with a scissors crossover just before this is reached (probably roughly where health and beauty was in Wilko’s!).

When the line was originally conceived Blackpool Council has said there would be a 10 minute frequency but since then things have obviously changed with a much lower frequency being operated, not only on the extension but also on the existing Promenade line. As we’ve already covered in a few articles trams will run every 30 minutes from both Starr Gate and Fleetwood whilst the Prom line will also see a tram every 30 minutes combining to give four trams an hour from either end, but not giving a great frequency for north to south journeys and the southbound timetable means they are not evenly spaced.

The launch week started off on Wednesday 12th June when Flexity2 018 took competition winners from Starr Gate to North Station, thus becoming the first tram with passengers to travel along Talbot Road since the Layton route closed in October 1936. It was also the first tram to North Station since the route via Dickson Road closed in 1963.

Thursday 13th and Friday 14th June then saw further special tours run. There were various packages available to interested people including the chance to see behind the scenes at Starr Gate Depot a go on the driver simulator. Again 018 was the tram used for these trips having been specially cleaned and received new adverts for the occasion.

The last day before the start of the full service, Saturday 15th June, then saw the first heritage tram tour run (although 700 had been on test beforehand) with “B fleet” Balloon 700 in charge of those special trips.

And onto day one of public services, Sunday 16th June which also saw the start of the new timetable as mentioned above. The very first first public service tram to run to North Station was 015 with a T2 Starr Gate-North Station and it was followed by 006 on the second (also a T2). Over the course of the day other trams to make it up Talbot Road included 008, 011, 014 and 017.

As can be expected from a new line things didn’t quite go fully according to plan and there were some teething problems as well with the points/signals in Talbot Square. This led to at least one tram due to run on the North Station-Fleetwood service (route T3) having to head south, reverse outside Festival House and then go north to Fleetwood from there. There were also some journeys cancelled owing to staff shortages. This isn’t the first tram route in the UK to have problems at the outset with signals and sadly it probably won’t be the last.

018 stands at the North Station terminus when operating one of the special preview trips.

New safety signs have also been added to warn people of trams. 008 passes along the Promenade line. (Photographs x2 by Steven Hughes, 13th June 2024)

Spare bogies seen inside Starr Gate Depot during one of the tours included as part of a ticket to ride on the extension. (Photograph by Steven Hughes, 14th June 2024)

Balloon 700 comes out of the plaza containing the tram terminus (still a works compound with fencing surrounding it) during its special preview tours the day before public services began. (Photograph by Tony Stevenson, 15th June 2024)

The first public tram heads up Talbot Road towards North Station. This is 015 at 0715. (Photograph by Steven Hughes, 16th June 2024)

017 stands at the North Station terminus. On the right are steps leading up to Talbot Road.

A view towards the subway which leads to Blackpool North Railway Station. In the foreground are the buffer stops at the end of the line, and lots of temporary orange fencing. (Photographs x2 by Peter Dockerty, 16th June 2024)

  • More from the extension opening to come with a Photo Gallery in a forthcoming update of British Trams Online.
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41 Responses to In Pictures: Normal services start on Blackpool’s North Station extension

  1. Harvey says:

    I’m still not a fan of the bare bones timetable that they’ve got, It’s Horrible. It won’t fair well between tourists and residents alike, especially when the 6 weeks Holidays are just around the corner, which is then followed swiftly by the Illuminations (Which takes us to Christmas).

    The Southbound timings between North Pier and Starr Gate a Dreadful too. I wonder how many people will be put off from waiting for a Tram when they are faced with a 5 minute wait, followed by no Trams for the next 25 minutes. Waiting 15 minutes for a Tram is long enough as it already is.

    Are they intending this timetable to be a temporary stop gap while they train a sufficient number of crew on the new routes?

    Will they the just plug the huge gaps by running Pleasure Beach to Little Bispham Specials on a daily basis?
    What is their solution to these problems?

    • Andrew says:

      Sadly, the solution seems to be to duplicate the tram service with buses, which rather prompts the question – why did they spend over £20 million on extending the tramway?

      For the record, I always thought the extension to North Station was a great move, but the execution of its operation is dreadful at the moment. We can only hope that things get better soon!

      • Nick says:

        Meanwhile, the ‘B’ Fleet trams are gathering dust at Rigby Road. We need that Pleasure Beach – Cleveleys service now more than ever!

        • Harvey says:

          700,707,711,713 and 718 are operational. I’m unsure about the condition of 719 as it hasn’t run at all since 2019

          709 and 724 haven’t been used since 2013 so they might need quite abit of work done to them before they can be reactivated. Does anyone know if it’s possible for both these trams to be “Reactivated” at some point in the future and how much work it would require?

          As for 720, I doubt it’ll ever run in service ever again and i think it’ll likely be a static exhibit for Tramtown

          • Andrew says:

            719 has been in the Paint Shop for over a year! It was rubbed down but work stopped abruptly when the workshops were temporarily closed and it never resumed. I have no idea if it is otherwise fit for service or not.

          • Kev says:

            Only 700 and 718 are operational. 709 and 724 are heavily cannibilised for parts. 724 had a massive air issue which was never corrected so both would need quite a bit of work.
            The 4 flat ones should be running B fleet extras and pointy ones available for heritage.

          • Harvey says:

            So what about 707. Is that not Classed as Operational as well? Or have they decommissioned it for the time being since they don’t need it?

        • Harvey says:

          Another 7 Flexities are also sitting spare at Starr Gate each day so you could even run the Pleasure Beach to Cleveleys service using a combined fleet of Flexities and B Fleet/Fat Door Balloons

          • Steve Hyde says:

            I hadn’t realised that there were so many spare Flexity cars each day. I had assumed that tram availability was a major contributor to the poor service levels being offered. Is it driver availability or conductor availability that is restricting the number of sets in service or is there a belief that higher frequencies aren’t justified?

      • Harvey says:

        So cut the Tram service in exchange for more buses that run on a route that basically follows the full legnth of the Tramway?

        How is THAT a sensible idea? This is just backwards thinking from Blackpool Transport.

        Next thing you know, they’ll want to completely kill off the Tramway altogether, I wouldn’t be surprised looking at ghe way things are going

        • Kev says:

          NO buses run the length of the Tramway – two routes run part way and at hourly intervals and not in an evening – hardly duplicating the route with buses.

  2. Geoff Currie says:

    This Timetable is quite appalling. I am lost words over this nonsense!

  3. Jack Gledhill says:


  4. Neil says:

    This brings back sour memories of Summer 2003, when there were only enough staff to run either the 20 min Fleetwood service and a couple of specials or both the Fleetwood and Cleveleys services with no specials. Thankfully there has not been another year as grim as that – until now, it seems. Does nobody want to drive trams any more or are BTS wages so dire that driving is not worth the effort?
    Whilst the pitiful timetable does nothing to encourage passengers, I do comment BTS for allowing heritage operation on the new line and for commissioning two more heritage trams recently.

  5. Andy says:

    Has anyone counted the number of passengers actually using the service now it’s started? I don’t mean enthusiasts and councillors out for a first day jolly, but REAL passengers on a wet Wednesday afternoon? I used to be a regular visitor to Blackpool and even worked on the trams and buses there in the late 1990s. I can tell you the staff were most certainly NOT poorly paid, even though they decided to go on strike for more cash while I was there. When you added up things like working overtime, working your day off, working a bank holiday or working 761 or 762 (which they paid conductors an enhanced rate for even though they were OMO capable!) it was quite easy to earn £100 in a day and that was nearly 30 years ago!
    Although the trams regularly ran with 3 bell loads, I don’t recall anyone ever asking how they might get to North Station. The percentage of the town’s visitors who arroved and departed by train was miescule and cetrainly not worth laying a new tramway for when they could walk from the present one in less than 5 minutes!
    So when the so-called “upgrade” took place and I made one of my final visits to the town (until a couple of weeks ago when I finally went back) I was amazed to see a set of points dissappearing into the tarmac across the road at Talbot Square. I thought it was pointless then and I still think it’s pointless now. The money would have been far better spent recognising their unique heritage assets, getting the tramway a special historic status (similar to the cable cars in San Francisco), telling the EU and the disabled action group to go jump off the pier (once you’d got them down off the top deck of Princess Alice) and there would still have been enough left over to employ a nice young lady to greet everyone arriving at North Station with a free cup of coffee and friendly “welcome to Blackpool.”
    Now that WOULD have been £20+ million plus well spent!

    And finally… I had to laugh when I heard 018 had been ‘specially cleaned’ for the recent events. That tells you something about the pride they have in the rest of the fleet!

    • Jack Gledhill says:

      I was in the town and decided to take a look at North Station.I stayed around for just over an hour and witnessed a T2 and a T3 tram both arriving and departing.A total of 43 passengers on both trams arriving and departing!About 11 passengers per tram!
      Admittedly I have no idea whether trains were in the vicinity at the time which was around 11am onwards.Another note although not exact figures I estimated that at least 50% of the passengers were OAP’S(A fair percentage possibly on free travel!
      Flexity 2 trams accommodate around 220 passengers per tram!I could carry on with this letter giving numerous facts and figures but what is the point when there are about half a dozen reasons why this is going to be a monumental mistake with not a single advantage by Blackpool Council/Transport
      I don’t suppose the Council will be mentioning any of the above!NO APOLOGIES FOR EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!

      • Kev says:

        Yes lets all judge a service on a few first days and with rail travel at its lowest due to people having no confidence in it at the moment. Hardly anyone used Sheffield Supertram in its first few months. When I was at north Station on opening day there were people coming from the station and asking about trams and if they went where they wanted to go. These things are not instant so stop slagging it off (because that’s all you’ve done Jack in all your comments) and give it chance.

      • Andy says:

        Thanks for the info Jack, that’s about what I thought would be the case.
        For those interested in modelling public transport viability it all revolves around two things. Number of seats available per hour at any given point on the system and number of people wishing to travel at any given point on the system. Time is not relevant because it should be averaged out over a day, week or even a month.
        Now lets say your tram extension costs £20m and your fare is £2. Let’s reasonably suggest half the fare goes to running costs (crew wages, vehicle maintenance etc). So your actual revenue is £1 per passenger. Now you have to ask yourself how long will it take to cover the costs to build the system. if in an average hour there are 40 people carried that’s £40 per hour. £20,000,000 divided by 40 is 500,000. That’s the number of hours needed to operate before break-even. At 16 hours operation per day that’s about 31250 days, which is over 85 years!!!!

        Andy you have to complete that 85 years without any fleet renewal or major infrastructure replacement.

        If every seat on every tram to North Station was full 220 seats per tram and four trams per hour that’s 880 passengers per hour = £880 profit per hour. Thats obviously better at 22,720 hours to break even, which is a little under 4 years. Sounds better until you realise to achieve that all your money has to be spent on the North Station section and nothing on the portion of the journeys undertaken on the prom.

        So if every tram runs absolutely full for 16 hours every day of the year, it won’t make a penny of profit for nearly half a decade!

        (If anyone would like to substitute the actual fares and loadings for my examples please be my guest. I’d be very interested in the results.)

        • Jack Gledhill says:

          My response is why were trams which hold around 220 people actually ordered for this expensive folly?

          • Mike H says:

            Trams (of any size) were not ordered specifically for this useful addition to the network. Trams of a single type suitable for use across the whole network were ordered.

          • Andy says:

            I can see why large capacity vehicles were ordered. The larger the vehicle the more potential passengers can be carried and the more financially viable the service becomes. The costs of operating a tram that carries 200 are very similar to the cost of one that carries 40. The problem is nobody WANTS to travel on nasty plastic modern vehicles when they can increasingly travel on very similar machines in their home towns.

            Blackpool had a unique survivor in the traditional tramway, which accidentally became a tourist attraction in itself. those in charge in the present day don’t have the brain power or business sense to grasp this fact. As has been said elsewhere, lets have a breakdown of costs for bothe the LRV an proper tram fleets. Then lets also have one for the buses. Better still lets have the heritage fleet running as a commercial operation agains the LRVs and see which one takes the most money if they are both allowed to run for the same hours and pick up at the same stops. Ok, so buggies and wheelchairs can’t get aboard the heritage fleet so easily, but that’s just tough. Wheelcrairs etc were not suddenly invented in 2014 and the tramway had coped perfectly adequately for over a century before that!

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I challenge BT to give me a traditional Balloon car with a driver and an old TIM ticket machine. Let’s run a full day on Fleetwood service tailing an LRV and see which one passengers want to get on and which one takes most money.

            Come on Blackpool Transport… I challenge you!

  6. David Jones says:

    as mentioned here all those years ago, its failed already, because…….. the ‘interchange’ isnt there and you will get wet when it rains because the walk isnt under cover.

    I suggested the line terminate either in front, or to the side of the station, as to the side would give an opportunity to potential further extensions.

    But some idiot signed off on it as it stands, and should be shot for it.
    £20m for 600 yards? really?
    20m should have bought the tram line up to the station, and put a proper shelter above transfering passengers heads.

    • Kev says:

      How many interchanges have you been to which are wholly undercover? Not many I’ll bet! Obviously its not a covered walkway straight to the station, how could it be!!??

  7. Harvey says:

    Either way. Supplementing Tram Services with Parallel bus routes is the poorest solution to these problems

    The solution should be to improve the tram service to give a 10 minute frequency at the very worst in the core section.

    Whether thats a 20 minute service to Fleetwood alternating with a 20 minute service to North Station, a 15 minute service via North Station that is supplemented by runs to Little Bispham, or a 10 Minute Starr Gate to Fleetwood service going via North Station

  8. Nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    If you look at all the transport timetables for services from the Tower area to Pleasure Beach, the overall picture is not that bad. True, the tram service is somewhat irregular, but add in the buses and together both modes of travel seem quite adequate. Take as an example a journey from Central Pier to Pleasure Beach. Passengers will find an option at the following minutes past every hour during the main part of the day – Hr + 13 (Bus 1a); 23 (T2); 28 (T1); 47 (Bus 26); 53 (T2); 58 (T1) with a maximum interval of 19 minutes but typically from 5 up to 15 minutes: not altogether unreasonable.

    Although passengers on the T3 tram or No1 bus from north of Talbot Square would need either to change to the T2 tram service or to any other promenade bus services towards the Pleasure Beach, they do also have the option of Lytham Road services to the rear area of the Pleasure Beach. These days, most people have internet access to allow them to plan, which would make the journey less of a challenge.

  9. Frank Gradwell says:

    Somewhere over a decade ago I was pleased to see someone with the commitment to make something of the tramway given a chance to try his hand – now I have difficulty in remembering my last visit to the coast for other than tram parade days.

    Blackpool is a depressing dump. The heritage fleet is scruffy and down at heel. There are more and better boats 5000 miles away on Fisherman’s Wharf than at Fleetwood Ferry. Blackpool North has a reputation as the most passenger unfriendly station in the North of England – all in all not a good prognosis and if that offends – sorry! But if you don’t recognise something is dreadfully wrong on the Fylde coast vacationers will carry on boarding 737s and flying elsewhere!

    • Steve Hyde says:

      The problem with the Blackpool system is their insistence on keeping the heritage fleet alongside the modern fleet. The heritage operation is a millstone round the neck of what could be an efficient modern system. I would be very interested to see the financial performance of the heritage operation as a standalone business. At the time of the modernisation it was recognised that the business case for enough modern cars to meet peak summer services was poor and that a small fleet of modified double deckers meeting accessibility regulations would be the best way of meeting service requirements. For some reason it seems they are reticent to use the 9 modified cars for their intended purpose even now with the new short extension. They would rather use them as fake heritage cars and reduce the core operation to a lamentable frequency.

      • Jonathan Jarvis says:

        You say the heritage operation is a millstone. Can you clarify that a bit please – how and why?

        As to the B fleet, it would be great to see these cars earning their keep at last. However I think that passengers are now used to the Flexities and the associated boarding arrangements. I fear the B fleet cars would struggle to cope with the number of wheelchairs, mobility scooters, buggies etc now using the service.

        • Steve Hyde says:

          What I meant by saying that the heritage operation is a millstone is that I suspect it never gets close to covering it’s cost and certainly diverts resources from the core operation. Of course only sight of the financial performance figures of the two operations would prove or disprove my theory.
          You highlight an obvious anomaly when you point out that the B fleet cars would struggle to cope with numbers of wheelchairs buggies and mobility scooters. I was always sceptical about the idea of using converted double deckers for that very reason. It’s all very well to say that they provide level access but as you imply where do those passengers go when they get on? A very ill thought out scheme.

          • Kev says:

            The B fleet were never intended to carry buggies etc (the only access proviso being extra handrails and butchering 700s lower deck). The doors were fitted only to make access safer (though you could use the platforms without – look at most trains!!!). In hindsight the twin sets should have been upgraded and converted. They weren’t because only 1 Guard was the original plan and the twins are slow.

      • Christopher Callan says:

        You make an interesting point about the retention of Heritage Trams. The “Roberts Rule” was that it could exist as part of the Tramway on the proviso it was never at the expense of the core service & business. Hence the obvious sense of urgency 2012-2014 to clear disruptions & avoid unnecessary disruption with sensible pragmatic operational decisions to mitigate risk. It’s been patently obvious that since he left that perfectly reasonable approach consigned to the scrapheap. The regular breakdowns & general “noise” the operation now generates in the Cole era undeniably an unwelcome distraction at times. That been said I’d argue most of it is avoidable and nearly all entirely self-inflicted. Am not convinced they really want to use the B-Fleet (its dangled at regular intervals to front line staff & “supporters” to appease folk and it seems to work). Take yesterday (Sunday) B Fleet Balloon 718 was seen plodding about in service between Starr Gate & Tower. A, B & H Fleets could/should have worked. You just needed a small core quality maintained Heritage Fleet and actually use every Flexity as a starting point. Instead you have a “Heritage” fleet on life support (basically reliant on B Fleet for parts & indeed trams). A B Fleet which would need major work to be useful regularly. And a A Fleet thats sat inside a Starr Gate depot that looks like it needs fair bit of working spending on it as well…

        • Harvey says:

          Are you saying that the number of Heritage running days should be reduced to School Holidays, Bank Holidays and Illumination tours?

          • heritagelover says:

            Harvey – Heritage overstretched itself and often ran empty. It should be weekends from easter to the end of the lights, daily in school holidays and illumination tours plus private hires. It needs to go back to the old blue service of hop on and off pleasure beach to north pier – they were very busy most days.

          • Christopher Callan says:

            If you deploy B Fleet in signifcant numbers (as intended) you fundamentally change the nature of the tramway back to what it needs to be and that is moving people from A>B.

            That allows Heritage to shift to be preimium but reduced offering. It needs a very small but high quality fleet (start slowly and work through 3-4 cars and do them properly). Standard, Balloon, Boat & Western Train). I’d have a complete pause on Heritage (perhaps Train for lights) whilst bringing B Fleet up to standard capable of been used on front line service regularly. That work should include sorting out all the minor faults & refreshing interiors etc.

  10. Kev says:

    Andy – the millions carried each year don’t care what they travel on, they just want something to turn up. A small percent would let the Flex go to ride a double decker or ‘an old one’ but the vast majority prefer the Flexities for ease of access etc.

  11. Steve Hyde says:

    I don’t know how many times it needs repeating but I’ll say it once again. Blackpool could not have retained the tramway in the form it existed in the early 2000s. The whole infrastructure needed refurbishment to bring it up to current standards. Electrically it was in poor condition, the track needed refurbishment and the trams then in service did not meet the standards in force for every day service. Blackpool had a choice to either upgrade the system or close it and replace it with buses. It’s no use saying that it’s tough if you can’t get your buggy or wheelchair on the tram, the tram on every day service has to comply with level access regulations. Anyone still believing that Centenary cars or Balloons could be used to provide the core service is living in a dreamland. They were lucky to get a dispensation in respect of the B fleet modified cars.

    • Jack Gledhill says:

      How many times does it need repeating!!!!!!The Extension was NEVER going to work for all the reasons in a succession of letters including some of mine!
      It doesn’t need a genius to work out that cutting services by 33% on the existing route was the FIRST nail in the coffin soon to be followed by the frankly ludicrous timetables for the whole network.
      The excuses-NOT ENOUGH TRAMS,STAFF&BRAINS.For heavens sake cut the losses NOW and re-instate the original existing tramway.
      Our tramway with it’s ideal location SHOULD be the most successful in the Country instead we may get to a situation where the WHOLE tramway is abandoned!
      Finally ask a tramdriver for their views!!!!!!

      • Kev says:

        Jack. The extension will work fine IF there’s a proper timetabled service.
        It will never be the most successful because BTS don’t have a clue. We had a good service top Fleetwood with Little Bispham intermediates. North Station should always have been pleasure Beach to Bispham as proposed yonks ago and leave the Prom as was.

  12. Kev 1 says:

    Maybe if all the commentators on the posts regarding Blackpool tramway would apply for jobs with BTS, then all the problems would be solved as the real experts would then be in the position to change things…!

    • Jack Gledhill says:

      Excellent observation Kev!Am I correct in thinking that this was an “off the cuff” answer and that you really think that Blackpool Council/Transport are making a sterling effort on behalf of the people of Blackpool?

      • Blackpool observer says:

        Jack – BTS are clueless and refuse to listen to any feedback. The MD treats it as a vanity project to get recognition and awards. This silly new timetable will crash and burn very soon. Current service is not fit for purpose and will kill the Tramway.

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