In Pictures: Hilton Hotel hire seven Blackpool trams

One of the most ambitious private charters ever witnessed on the Blackpool tramway occurred on the evening of Tuesday 10th June, when the Hilton Hotel hired an incredible SEVEN trams from the heritage fleet! All of the high capacity cars which were selected for this duty were only out for a short term, but made for a remarkable sight in the fantastic lighting conditions provided by early evening sunshine reflecting off the puddles along the promenade left behind by earlier rainfall.

The trams used for this private hire were, in order of appearance: Western Train 733+734, Illuminated Frigate 736, Twin set T2+272, Standard 147, ‘Princess Alice’ 706, Balloon 717 and Bolton 66. Notably this was the Frigate’s first passenger working of 2014. All seven trams ran empty from Rigby Road depot to the Little Bispham turning circle, where all of them were stabled to await the call for duty – this made a particularly incredible sight as the loop was filled with trams! In order to minimise disruption to the core service, the trams were then dispatched south in smaller groups of two or three, with the two illuminated cars and the Twin set sent first. As the hotel is located between the heritage tram stops at Cabin and North Pier, a temporary stop was placed right opposite the Hilton itself to enable guests to cross the road and board a waiting tramcar. There, delegates at a conference being held at the hotel were treated to a nostalgic tram ride along the seafront with refreshments being served on board the trams.

The first three cars ran all the way to Pleasure Beach before returning north and disgorging their passengers at the Hilton Hotel’s temporary ‘heritage’ stop. The next two cars, 147 and 706, reversed at Tower instead, as did Balloon 717 which was called forward along with Bolton 66. As it turned out, 66 wasn’t needed after all and was therefore sent back to the depot empty. The other trams all unloaded outside the Hilton on the northbound leg of their return journey before continuing north to reverse, and all of them then headed back to Rigby Road at the end of a very memorable and successful evening.

Blackpool Transport’s ability to provide capacity for about 600 people at once using the heritage fleet was most impressive. Such a large hire of trams presented many operational challenges, not least manning so many vehicles whilst not disrupting the main passenger service, but the company rose to the occasion and showed just what they are capable of. Hopefully this amazing event will set the tone for further hires of trams, as any profits this generates will be put back into the heritage tram coffers and will help to secure the future of a fleet of traditional trams in Blackpool.

Open top Balloon car 706 is seen en route to Little Bispham at the beginning of the mammoth private hire for the Hilton Hotel on 10th June.

Its not every day in June that you see two illuminated trams running in Blackpool, but here we see just that, with both the Western Train and the Frigate collecting their passengers at the Hilton Hotel.

Another view of the illuminated cars loading up with Frigate 736 viewed from the rear.

The stunning Twin set 272+T2 running trailer first at the temporary heritage tram stop opposite the Hilton.

After the first three trams had set off and a southbound Flexity had passed, cars 147 and 706 arrived at the Hilton, where they are shown shortly before setting off for Tower.

The last tram to load up was Balloon 717. The recent cosmetic work undertaken on this tram is shown off nicely in the evening sun.

The final scene from this amazing event sees 717 reversing at Tower, as Bolton 66 waits to continue empty back to Rigby Road depot. (All photos by Chris Callan)


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22 Responses to In Pictures: Hilton Hotel hire seven Blackpool trams

  1. Christopher Callan says:

    The Blackpool fight back continues. Wonderful to see and witness. The Old and New really starting combine to create a really fabulous progressive Blackpool. Loved every second of it. Place really is ready for lift off. Something about the DNA of the tramway that lives on and convinced it will go from strength to strength.

    You can see it on the faces of the Staff. Look thrilled and privileged to be part of it. Willing to go that extra mile. Place is breath of fresh air. Just think if fraction of the money that has been ploughed in to other attractions gets distributed to Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours. Could have something really world class at Blackpool.

    Exciting times. And for once delighted to be young as will get to see and be part of this fabulous journey.

  2. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    Wonderful and well done. Let us hope there are many more of these occasions.

  3. Franklyn says:

    Well done to everyone at Blackpool Tramsport and the Hilton for pulling of such a great project! It also proves once and for all the absurdity of the limited heritage stops and the fact that crews for heritage cars can be found when they need to be. I still say (as I always have) that were a fleet of balloons and railcoaches allowed to compete fully with those nasty plastic German catterpillars, then the latter would be running totally empty!

    On the subject of serving refreshments on the trams, why not do a bit of work on the remaining out of service twin car and run an evening restaurant service as they do in Melbourne?

    • Paul D says:

      Yet again a good news story has been twisted into an anti-upgrade rant by one of the same very few names. Thankfully the other 99.9% of the world recognise that those ‘Fantastic Flexi Trams’ have been the saviours of the tramway. If the old fleet were really so popular with the general public how do you explain the passenger numbers last year being the highest for 20+ years?

      As you say in your opening line, this is a good news story about an operator showing impressive willingness to be flexible and accommodate nostalgic joy-riders intermixed with an efficient core service for the general traveling public. The Heritage stops are necessarily limited so as to provide a clear differentiation between the two services ensuring that the relatively slow loading and accelerating heritage cars don’t impede the core service and enabling the necessary premium fare to be charged.

    • Mark says:

      Would you be willing to fund that?

    • John West says:

      Franklyn: Do you even live in Blackpool? If not, how often do you visit? The reason I ask is because the vast majority of users who live in the town prefer the flexitys! Yes it’s a shame the Heritage Fleet don’t run quite so often, but I’d much rather have prescribed days of running with beautifully maintained vehicles, than flogged workhorses that are barely fit for scrap (as was a point a lot of the fleet had reached)!

  4. JP Pilibin says:

    I love the heritage trams ~ and the Flexies but the planners could have built in sidings for heritage trams and exploit their unique charm and factored it into the flexie schedule ~ but they had their brains in their bottoms or their pockets ~ Looks like greed is the seed in Blackpool not reality ~ Sadly ~ Very few places in the world have such an eccentric tramway that is being wrecked by, frankly , idiots .

    • Paul D says:

      If that was true .JP, there probably would have been only a single loop at
      Pleasure Beach, no Little Bispham loop and no third roads at North Pier, Bispham, or Thornton Gate…

      Thankfully the Blackpool Upgrade was anything but “done on the cheap” They could have simplified the track a lot more and got much cheaper rolling stock (T69s to Fleetwood anyone???)

    • Mary says:

      Not at all wrecked I’d say saved. It’s now even more unique mixing the old and new! The idiots are, frankly, the people like you who can’t see that!

      Pleasure Beach, North Pier, Bispham and Little Bispham all have sidings or loops for the heritage cars. I like the old trams but the timetable for the main service shouldn’t be compromised for us to have fun 6 weekends a year. Quite rightly the heritage cars fit in around the Flexity timetable.

      • Christopher Callan says:

        Well Said Mary. Where id disagree is the word “saved”. For me the OMO Cars saved. The Flexitys “revived” 🙂

  5. kevinashe says:

    has the heritage trust thought about contacting other big hotel chains for customer charter deals,even places like ribby hall may like to offer good deal trips to their customers

  6. Nathan says:

    Nice to see the heritage cars out but they really should run more often. A return to the 2012 system but retaining the present Bank Holiday events would be fantastic, and frankly, a lot more convenient for those like me who live far away and simply cannot visit Blackpool on a whim. It would also be a boon to summer tourists who would much rather have a ride on a Boat than one of those horrible plastic Flexitys. I’m sorry, but they’re just cheap and gimmicky, and certainly won’t last very long. Once they are life-expired they should not be replaced, the upgrade should be reversed and the Blackpool Tramway should be preserved as is was in the 50s/60s/70s/80s as the last remaining first-generation tramway in Britain, like it should have been the first time round.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I’m afraid I couldn’t agree with you less! It would be great to see the heritage trams out more but it would probably bankrupt Blackpool Transport based on the level of interest shown in 2012. As for the Flexities – I’m amazed that anyone is still dismissing them, as in my eyes, they’ve probably saved the Blackpool tramway from complete closure. Wishing for a 100% heritage operation doesn’t seem very fair on the many people who find it difficult or even impossible to get on the old trams either.

  7. Nathan says:

    In addition to the above, Start Gate should be turned in to a museum housing not only inoperable members of Blackpool’s heritage fleet, but trams from the FHLT’s collection and the trams at Clay Cross. A couple of B-Fleet balloons could be modified with wheelchair lifts, and perhaps a few Flexitys/T69s (?) could be retained to operate the service during winter. Imagine being able to visit Blackpool and being able to ride on heritage trams every day, from 40 and 59 to 648 and 8. I’m sure that’s what enthusiasts and tourists alike really want, and even residents who just use the tramway to get from A to B and do not care about the rolling stock would surely be convinced of the superiority of the heritage trams after a top-deck ride on Dreadnought 59…

    The one problem with all this is what would happen to extensions. Obviously this “heritage-ification” scheme would take place after the Flexity’s retirement in about 20 years time and the currently-planned North Station extension could simply be back-dated like the rest, but I think an extension to the airport would have to be on hold as it would not fit in with the newly preserved heritage tramway. I’m sure an extension to Marton could be done, perhaps with a fleet of replica Marton Vambacs but that is being overly wishful!

    • Christopher Callan says:

      And enthusiasts wonder why people Laugh at us 🙁 Hardly surprising when people keep coming out with this sort of drivel. Wonder why i bothered sending the pictures in. If every time ones pictures this pitiful debate emerges.

    • Mark says:

      What complete and utter clap-trap. So the only way forward is to go back in time…

    • Paul D says:


      PLEASE READ MY POST IN THIS THREAD OF 13 JUNE (because you clearly haven’t…)

      I’m not sure with some posters whether it is naivety, selfishness or a total lack of any common sense, but their postings show no understanding of the real world…

      Clearly you didn’t visit very often in 2012 did you? – I’m guessing you weren’t there on any of the several days when crew outnumbered passengers? It was simply not financially viable for that to continue. It was hardly ‘convenient’ not knowing what trams would be out and if I’m honest quite dull after a few trips with just two cars out all day and just shuttling between Beach and Little Bispham with no variation… Surely for someone “like you who lives far away” (as do I in fact!) it is far better now knowing what is planned to run in advance and being able to plan ahead around those scheduled running days?

      The Flexitys are anything but “cheap and gimmicky” Blackpool learnt the lessons of Manchester and West Midlands buying a quality product and not the cheapest offered. I expect they will last a whole lot longer than the Coronations or OMOs did in Blackpool!

      As for your claim that “tourists and even residents who just use the tramway to get from A to B do not care about the rolling stock and would surely be convinced of the superiority of the heritage trams after a top-deck ride on Dreadnought 59”: Please get real – are you seriously suggesting an open top tram is suitable for the regular (and growing since the introduction of the Flexities) commuter traffic? Would you seriously expect people to travel to work in the depth of winter on an open car?

      As Chris rightly says, this kind of ill informed, ill thought, rant does nothing but harm your own reputation and that of the enthusiast community as a whole. This should be a “good news story” celebrating a phenomenally successful event and much good publicity for the heritage operation. It is not the place for off-topic arguments about the pros and cons of the upgrade…

      I’m all for free speech, but I think it is probably time the moderators started getting a bit stricter and didn’t approve these off topic outbursts.

  8. Andrew says:

    If these comments about undoing the upgrade weren’t so laughable they could be so damaging, both to enthusiasts reputation and Blackpool in general. How anyone who thinks that people in 2014 would be happy to commute on the open top deck of a 1902 vintage tram can be taken is seriously is beyond me. A fleet of replica Vambacs! Oh dear! As for riding on a heritage tram every day – you could in 2012 and nobody did. What short memories some people have.

  9. Ken Walker says:

    I don’t know why you would have yo visit Blackpool ‘on a whim’ Nathan when the heritage operating dates for the year were announced before the start of the season. Plenty of time to plan visits I would have thought. As for returning to fully heritage tram operation, not a chance, although they should certainly be making more use of the modified balloons considering the amount of money that has been spent (wasted?) on them. But I trust that BTS have started putting pennies in the piggy bank to start saving up for the replacements for the Flexities, if they last as long as the T68/T68a fleet have done.

  10. Ken Walker says:

    By he way Christopher, don’t wonder why you sent the pictures in, there are plenty of people who appreciate them, irrespective of any ensuing ‘debate’!

  11. freel07 says:

    Don’t be put off Chris, the photos are great and the vast majority of us appreciate your efforts. Andrew put the true facts over very well on Thursday.

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