Following the closure of the North Station route and the end of the summer timetable on 27th October 1963, the Winter 1963 / 64 timetable started and the picture looked bleak. There was no longer any inland routes and even worse, there was to be tram replacement buses running between Starr Gate and Cleveleys.
For the first time in the history of the tramway where there was no tram service over the winter period except for the stretch of line between Cleveleys and Fleetwood, where a shuttle service was in operation. There was also a daily special to / from Rigby Road in the morning / late afternoon.
The final link to the North Station route was finally cut during December 1963, when the overhead line was removed from the North Station route, the junction at Gynn Square was removed and the North Station tracks covered over with Tarmac.
Bispham depot had closed as a running shed, with all trams that were intended for further use transferring to Rigby Road or Blundell Street, which had reopened as a running shed to replace Bispham and received a new entrance at the southern end. Bispham would linger on as a store for redundant trams for a few years.
Despite the lack of trams on the tracks, Winter 63/64 proved to be a busy one for the workshops at Rigby Road with the 19 remaining Brush railcoaches being the main recipients of attention. Those that still retained sliding sunshine roofs, had them panelled over, the side destination blinds above the centre entrances were also removed and they also had their Crompton and Parkinson controllers replaced with with English Electric Z4 controllers and their original opening windows replaced with half drop windows from scrapped series 1 railcoaches. The sweeping V’s and lines were replaced with a much simpler half green / half cream livery complete with an orange trolley tower.
At Easter 1964 the scaled down tramway, now with only the Starr Gate – Fleetwood promenade route surviving, reopened to what would become a new normal with some changes from previous years. Changes included:
- The Coronations being relegated to seasonal journeys, with the remaining series 1 and series 2 railcoaches, ex towing railcoaches and brush cars taking over the winter timetable.
- The North Station Service was replaced with a new service operating between Fleetwood and Tower, giving Fleetwood the same headway as had operated the previous year.
Further Fleet Reduction
In 1963, at just over 10 years old, the first of the Coronation trams was withdrawn. 313 was taken out of service to provide a float set of trucks to keep the remainder of the Coronations in service. 313 was gradually stripped for spares at Rigby Road before having it’s body transferred onto a set of Railcoach trucks and hauled to Bispham depot for further storage on trestles. Bispham Depot was gradually emptied of
redundant trams and in 1965, 313 became the last tram to leave Bispham depot. It’s body was mounted once more on Railcoach trucks and transferred to Blundell Street, where it became the first Coronation tram to be scrapped. The scrapping of Coronation 313 began a process which would be repeated many times as the Coronation fleet was reduced from 25 to 3 in a matter of 10 years. However a number of the Coronations would have a temporary reprieve after they had their troublesome Vambac control units removed and had conventional English Electric Z4controllers from scrapped railcoaches installed in their place.
Following a final tour of the system, Blackpool’s last remaining Standard Tram, 147, bode farewell in 1966. The tram was sent by Cargo ship to America for preservation. It would not be the last that we would see of 147, however as it would make a return to Blackpool in later years.
The fleet of the popular boat trams wasnt safe either as 1968 saw the scrapping of 4 redundant boats (229, 231, 232 and 234). The 4 boats had became surplus to requirements with the end of the Circular Tour and less patronage. They had been held in storage since 1963, when the North Station Route closed.
Brush Car 301 was also scrapped after a collison caused serious damage in 1966.
Following the installation of a computer system by Blackpool Corporation Transport in 1968, a renumbering of vehicles took place as the system could not distinguish between tram, bus and maintenance vehicles. Most of the trams from this era (both in the B and Heritage fleet and in museums) retain their 1968 fleet number.
The fleet was numbered with single deckers being in the 600 number range with double deck and illuminated trams in the 700 range.
Not long after the renumbering of the fleet took place in 1968, Brush Car 628 became the first tram post renumbering to be scrapped following a serious collision with Balloon 726 in Fleetwood. The underframe of 628 would in 1973, become the basis of railcrane 260.
One Person Operated Trams come into use
Due to the rising costs of running the tramway and buses and the increasing wages bill, the Transport department decided that they had to find a way of reducing costs. A number of ideas were thought up and tried out on various fleet members. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s various ideas were tried out on members of the Railcoach family.
Firstly Series 2 Railcoach 611’s appearance was altered with its cab ends changed from the distictive pointed end shape to look more like a twin car towing coach. The tram was fitted with plastic panelling to reduce the overall weight of the tram and became known as the Darvic Tram.
Series 2 Railcoach 618 had it’s body extended and became known as the coffin tram due to it’s tapered ends. The seating capacity was increased to 56 passengers instead of the usual 48. Despite these changes, however both trams still needed a conductor to collect the fares.
It was then decided to convert Brush Car 638 for One Person Operation. This was done by the addition of a narrow entrance door to replace the first window on the left hand side in the passenger saloon just behind the driving cab position. The drivers cab was fitted with a swivel seat to allow the driver to spin round to take the money. 638 was painted all over cream to distinguish it from the rest of the fleet. The experiment was not successful for many reasons and the car later had the additional doors panelled over and replaced with windows, converting it back to a crew operated Brush car.
Following the experiments, it was found that One person Operation was the only viable way of cutting the cost of running the tramway from the end of the Illuminations through to Easter and the early season. Blackpool, being the only remaining tramway in Britain at this time, would have struggled to find anyone willing to build new trams for a reasonable price, this left them with one option open to them: to experiment with and adapt the existing fleet.
From 1972 until 1975 a fleet of 13 One Man Operated cars were built from the remaining EE railcoaches. The exception was the Ex towing railcoaches and twin cars, which remained as they were.
To convert the railcoaches, they were stripped to a shell and their cabs removed. The underframe was lengthened and the new tapered ends, complete with new entrances were buiit. The centre entrances were retained but used as exits, also the original railcoach EE Z6 controllers were retained however were relocated to the right hand side of the cab. The driver used their right hand to work the controller and left to work the brake instead of the opposite way around that was the norm on the rest of the fleet. This was to allow the driver to be able to handle money.
The OMO trams would go on to operate the majority of the milage operated on the tramway until 1985 when the Centenary cars arrived and would not be totally withdrawn until 1993. The Brush Cars were also considered for conversion, however their lightweight framework meant that they were deemed unsuitable for conversion.
The first few conversions took place using withdrawn, accident damaged or works trams. The reason for this was to allow as many railcoaches as possible to remain in service until there were enough OMO cars available for service. At the same time, Brush Car 624 became a permanent way car as it was in need of an overhaul to remain in passenger service, replacing Works Car 5, which was converted to become OMO 5.
The final railcoaches to be withdrawn were 615, the last railcoach to remain in its original form, which became OMO 11, plastic tram 611 became 12 and 618 became 13 in 1976.
Most of the OMO’s were withdrawn with structural faults or when they reached a certain milage, with many of them had developed severe droops in the bodywork, possibly caused by the bogies not being far enough out from the centre of the tram and remedial work had to be carried out on a regular basis. Withdrawals began with OMO 13, which ironically was the youngest OMO after only 8 years in 1984. OMO 13 had previously had its body extended when it was still railcoach 618 and it is thought that not many changes were carried out to this tram with the exception of a new entrance door at the cab ends and new cab layouts. OMO’s 2,3 and 4 followed soon after with the underframes of 3 and 4 being stored at Thornton Gate yard for a number of years for possible reuse, however they have now been scrapped. OMO’s 6 and 9 soon followed 2,3 and 4 in being scrapped. OMO 7 was rebuilt into a replica Vanguard tram, regaining its old railcoach number of 619 and saw use until 2004 before being stored then reactivated in 2007 before final withdrawal in 2009. 619 has since moved to Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester.
1 and 12 were next to be withdrawn and scrapped, with 8 being stored and 10 becoming a static Coffee shop in a conference centre in Reading. OMO 5 and 11 remained in use until 1993, when they were withdrawn from service and stored.
In 1979 2 derelict balloon cars 714 and 725 which were withdrawn in 1971 in need of a total rebuild, were rebuilt and converted to one man operation receiving longer bodies, chopper controls instead of the standard ee controller, flat fronts and pantographs, 725 re-entered service in 1979 as 761. This car has a front entrance and exit door, and no centre exit doors which unfortunately made the car slow in loading / unloading. 714 returned to service as 762 in 1982, it was built with centre doors as well as the front entrance doors to aid passenger flow. Both cars were later christened the Jubilee Cars.
During the 1960’s a number of the fleet began to carry between deck adverts and advert boxes fitted to the roofs of the single deckers, however this was to move a stage further in the 1970’s with the development of all over advertisements. the First balloon to receive an overall advert was 707 with an advert for the Empire pools, whilst 622 became the first Brush Car to receive an all over advert, receiving the famous Tigeriffic advert for Blackpool Zoo (a CORGI model of this tram was released during 2007). 634 would later receive an all over advert in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
When they first started to appear, all over advert cars were seen as a novelty and people would go out of their way to see them and travel on them. As late as 1998 most of the Balloons were still in fleet livery, however by the end of the traditional tramway in 2011 most of the servicable fleet carried all over adverts with the exception of a few members of the fleet carrying green and cream heritage liveries.
In 1980 a serious collision caused by a set of incorrectly set points took place between Balloons 705 and 706 at Pleasure Beach. The result of this was 705 being scrapped after being stored in Blundell Street Depot for 2 years. Due to the demolition of Blundell Street depot, which had became unsafe following damage caused by gale forced winds, there was less space and all surplus and derelict vehicles had to go. 706 almost suffered the same fate as 705 but received a last minute reprieve, and was restored back to an open topper in time for the centenary in 1985, 706 became the first tram to be named, it was named Princess Alice after a relation of the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II, who officially unveiled the new tram at the Centenary parade back in 1985.
At the start of the 1980’s, plans were already well underway for the celebration of the Tramway’s centenary. Councillor Parkinson, the Chairman of the Transport Committee, suggested that trams from other towns and cities across the country should be used to attact visitors to the event. The first tram to arrive was Bolton 66 in 1981. Bolton 66 had recently been restored and remains in Blackpool to this day. The tram is an 8 wheeled standard double-decker built by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Company in 1901. The tram was originally an open-topper but was enclosed in 1932 retaining open drivers platforms. 66 was renumbered 366 in 1940, surviving the Blitz and was withdrawn from service a year after the end of the War in 1946. The lower saloon was sold as a caravan and the upper deck was scrapped. 66 was rescued by local enthusiasts in 1964 and after the restoration which included the building of a completely new top deck built from wood salvaged from a Methodist Chapel that was being demolished. Following testing at Kearsley Power Station the tram arrived in Blackpool on 23 June 1981.
In 1980, the unique Brush Car no 638, which was the recipient of the failed upgrade to One Person Operation and subsequently restored as a crew car, was withdrawn in need of an overhaul, unfortunately 638 was deemed surplus to requirements and scrapped in 1984 in the bus yard.
Another Brush car in need of an overhaul was Brush car 637, however it would spend 2 years as a dedicated driver training car before finally getting an overhaul and returning to service as an ordinary member of the fleet in 1990.
In 1985, the first of the replacements for the OMO trams, the Centenary trams began to appear in service, also the GEC test tram (651) which was similar to the Centenary trams but with different electrical equipment also made regular appearances. 651 was later renumbered 648 and converted to a standard centenary car with the same electrical and control equipment. The centenary trams would go on to operate the bulk of the journeys carried out on the tramway until the end of the traditional tramway in 2011. 642 and 648 still run in Blackpool as part of the heritage fleet.
The undoubted high point of the 1980’s was in 1985 which was the Centenary of the Tramway and a year of events took place. The celebrations started with a mini Cavalcade of trams, flagged off by comedian Les Dawson on May 16th. Princess Alice was in town on 6th June to name newly refurbished open top balloon 706, bearing her name. 14th July saw the first Tram Sunday when the whole of the Main Street of Fleetwood was turned over to a display of vintage vehicles, something which has become an annual event that still takes place to this day.
As well as the relaunch into service of Balloon 706, there were many visiting trams that either stayed for the centenary year and beyond or were just short term visitors. Visiting trams were: Conduit 4, one of the original trams from 1885, which was converted to work from battery power to make it look like it was powered by the Conduit slot. Dreadnought 59, Standard 40 which was then the last open balconied tram to run in Blackpool, Pantograph 167, Edinburgh 35 which was running for the first time since the closure of the original Edinburgh tramway in 1956, Manchester 765, Glasgow Curnarder 1297, Sheffield 513 and the John Bull Steam tram. Boat 600 was sent on loan to Heaton Park in exchange for Manchester 765, whilst Balloon 710 spent the year at Crich.
The main event took place on 29th September with a Cavelcade of historic trams. Once a plaque was unveiled at North Pier, the trams headed north to Little Bispham before heading south to Pleasure Beach. The line up was made up of
- Conduit 4 (1885)
- Dreadnought 59 (1902)
- Standard 40
- Balloon 706
- Pantograph 167
- Centenary 641
- Edinburgh 35
- Twincar 674+684
- Hill of Howth 10
- Manchester 765
- Railcoach 679
- Jubilee 762
- Boat 606
- Glasgow Curnarder 1297
- OMO 8
- Sheffield 513
- Balloon 726
- Bolton 66
- Coronation 660
- John Bull Steam Tram
The Centenary year was also the swan song for Blackpool Corporation Transport as the tramway was operated by a new Company, Blackpool Transport from 1986.