In 1986, the tramway passed from the ownership of Blackpool Corporation to Blackpool Transport, as a result the Corporation coat of arms were replaced by a new logo.
Following the withdrawal of OMO 7 in 1987, the tram was sent to Mode Wheel Works to be converted into a replica of a Vanguard tram which used to operated in Blackpool until 1933. A number of modern concessions were made such as the fitting of perspex sides and a railcoach tower and pantograph meaning that the tram didnt really look authentic. It was originally expected that the underframe of OMO 3 would be used for the project, however OMO7’s underframe was found to be in a better condition. The underframes from OMO3 and OMO4 were stored at Thornton Gate PW yard for potential future use but were never required.
Part of the reason for the withdrawal of OMO 7 at this time was the delivery and introduction of Centenaries 645 – 647. 647 was the last first generation tramcar to be built for a British tramway and it’s body was built by East Lancashire Coachbuilders, hence its similar look to a number of buses in service across the UK .
Balloon 710 stars in Coronation Street
In 1989, Coronation Street were in town and the tramway was to feature in an episode which saw Balloon 710 enter legendary status when it ‘knocked down and killed’ the baddie, Alan Bradley as he tried to chase Rita Fairclough across North promenade opposite the Strand Hotel. There is a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate the event!
Also in 1989, Balloon 701 was withdrawn for an overhaul and refurbishment. This overhaul would see a change to the shape of the upper deck ends with the distinctive curved corner windows on the ends being removed and would form the basis of many future overhauls of the Balloon fleet. As well as the removal of the curved corner windows, hopper windows were also installed in place of the half drop opening windows. Encased lighting was installed on both decks to replace the bare bulb lighting found on all of 701’s sister cars. Ex routemaster bus seats were installed on both decks and the tram was finished off in an attractive red and white livery similar to that carried by the Routemaster Buses used of the prom at that time. This change to the shape of 701 would be repeated on a number of other Balloons over the following years, with 723, 711, 719 being outshopped in a similar style between 1992 and 1996, however, these overhauls would go a step further with
heating, flourescent lighting, high intensity headlights and indicators being installed. Balloons 713 and 720 would also receive this style of refurbishment in the 2000’s.
Early in the new year of 1990, Centenary 648 made its debut in service, following the removal of the GEC test equipment and fitting of the standard equipment for Centenary Cars and renumbering from its previous identity of 651.
1990 also saw the demise of overhead line car 753, when its diesel engine, used for travelling on the tramway when the power was switched off, caught fire whilst carrying out a job on the northern end of the line. 753 would lie derelict in the depot for 13 years before being donated to the LTT.
It was taken to the LTT Workshops in Brinwell Road for a restoration back to its previous life as Standard 143. It has been restored with open platforms and open ends on the top deck and represents a variation of a condition of a Blackpool Standard which had not been seen in preservation
to this point. Standard 143 was originally converted into an overhead car in 1958 and was fitted with an inspection platform. The tram was originally based at Bispham Depot before moving to Rigby Road in 1963, from here it operated until its fire in 1990.
1990 saw major work done to two out of the three ex-towing railcoaches in the fleet, 679 was treated to a partial overhaul, which included the fitting of bus seats, hopper windows to replace the half drop windows and refurbished heaters.
680 had been withdrawn from service in 1989 in poor condition and required alot of work done to it’s underframe and the tram needed to be stripped to a shell for this work to be done. In fact so much work was required that the tram could easily have been scrapped. Luckily the work was sanctioned and 680 survived and is still in excellent condition to this day. 680 received the modifications described above for 679 with the addition of the removal of it’s curved roof windows and installation of encased lighting.
1992 saw the end of trolley poles as the main overhead current collection method for the majority of the fleet as they were replaced with pantographs. The trams which would retain trolleys from were the illuminated fleet, vintage trams and boat cars.
Interestingly, in 1992, pantograph operation was trialed on Boat Trams 602 and 604, however this did not last long after the trams were caught out in the rain and their passengers were showered with pantograph grease and dirt from the overhead line, resulting in complaints and compensation claims! Needless to say that the trolleys were restored to both trams for the 1993 season!
Hong Kong Trams
An interesting arrival to the tramway in 1992 was two Hong Kong built Double Deckers numbered 69 and 70. 69 and 70 were both destined for the Birkenhead Tramway that was under construction at the time. Both trams saw use on specials and illuminations tours from 1992 onwards, however their main function was for driver training. The driver training was for the tram drivers that would operate them at Birkenhead. The reason for the training taking place in Blackpool was that Blackpool Transport were the operators of the trams at Birkenhead for the first few years of its existance. Number 70 left first in 1994 for Birkenhead, with 69 following in 1995.
Another arrival in 1992 was be a newly buiIt engineering car, which was numbered 754 and built by East Lanacashire Coachbuilders to take over the duties of fire damaged engineering car 753. 754 also had a bus engine and an inspection gantry like 753 did.
This was the second over head line car 754, the original was rebuilt from Marton 31 in the 1930’s and saw use on the tramway for over 40 years until withdrawal, transfer to Beamish Museum on a long term loan and subsequent restoration back to 1901 condition as Marton 31 in the early 80’s.
Over the period from 1992-1996, three Brush Cars were withdrawn in need of major overhaul. 626 was first in 1992, 626 was stripped to a shell and had strengthening work done to it’s underframe, being rebuilt with a new style of lifeguard, high intensity headlights, and indicators. The interior was fitted out with new flooring, bus seats, encased flourescent lights and new heaters. 626’s capacity was reduced to 46 to allow a control box for the new low voltage lighting to be fitted. 626 returned to service in 1994. Subsequent overhauls for 631 in 1993 (returning to service in 1995) and 630 in 1994 (returning to service in 1996) saw the 48 seating capacity remain, with the control box situated in the pantograph tower. The trio of refurbished Brush Cars would become the first choice as back up trams to cover the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service in the winter months from this point onwards.
By the mid 1990’s the Overhead line, substations, support spans and poles were in need of replacement as they were life expired. Over the Winters of 1994 and 1995, replacement of the overhead, support spans and poles took place in stages between Starr Gate and just north of Thornton Gate, whilst some of the aging Substations were also upgraded.
1995 was the 50th anniversary of both VE and VJ days, marking the end of the 2nd World War and in commemoration of this, Balloon 703 was repainted into Wartime livery and reverted to using a trolley pole. The trolley pole didnt last long however before being swapped back for a pantograph. The tram would retain this livery until 1998, before receiving another heritage livery, the 1980’s livery, which ironically the tram never actually carried in the 80’s!
1995 would also see the withdrawal of Balloon 700 for overhaul. Rather than receiving either a bog standard overhaul, Balloon 700 was chosen to be the recipient of a heritage overhaul. Re-emerging in 1997 in as close to as built condition as possible, 700 was fitted with a trolley pole had and twin indicators retrofitted to replace the single screens. In the interior of the
tram, swing over seats were retained on both decks and encased lighting was fitted. The original seating panels and interior side and stairwell panels were replaced with replica fittings.
In contrast to Balloon 700’s heritage overhaul, Balloon 719, which had returned to service following a major overhaul in 1996, received a brand new all over advert for Walls Ice Cream. The tram featured lit up between deck panelling and Walls logos in place of the front windows on the top deck. The interior was fitted out as an ice cream parlour, complete with ice cream counter on the lower deck!