Being the only remaining first generation tramway in the UK, means that there are still many historic vehicles in existence and in working order from both the Blackpool system and the original Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad. Having celebrated the centenary of the Blackpool tramway in 1985, 13 years later in 1998, it was the turn of the Fleetwood Tramroad as it turned 100. Most of the original Tramroad is still existance with the only part that was lost was the section from Gynn Square to North Station, Bispham depot and the access track, Bold Street depot and Copse Road Permanent Way depot.
In recognition of the centenary, Marton 31, Toastrack 2 and Pantograph 167 all came to Blackpool for a spell on loan, 31 came from Beamish and Toastrack 2 and Pantograph 167 from Crich. Whilst 31 wasn’t a genuine Blackpool and Fleetwood tram, it would most likely have seen use with the track gangs on the line in later days as works car 4 (or 754) . Toastrack 2 and Pantograph 167, were genuine Tramroad tramcars however with over 75 years of service on the Fleetwood – North Station line between them. They were joined by another genuine Tramroad car in Blackpool and Fleetwood box 40.
Numerous events took place to celebrate the centenary including the first depot open day in 13 years, a line up of trams on the depot fan, including Toastrack 2, Pantograph 167, Coronation 660, Bolton 66 and Stockport 5. There was also a display of works trams and to take passengers to the open day, there was a shuttle service involving number of different trams, which used the long disused Foxhall track at the open day. The reason why the track was disused became clear pretty quickly as almost every tram on the shuttle managed to derail or dewire at some point of the journey along this historic track including a twin car which managed to derail several times in several different places!
On the day of the Tramroad Centenary, a procession of trams made their way to Fleetwood, including Rack 2, Box 40, Pantograph 167, Vanguard 619, Coronation 660, Balloon 700, Brush 631, Twincar 674+684 and Millenium Balloon 707.
The Millennium Balloon
Perhaps the most surprising development within the the tram fleet during the 1990’s was in introduction in 1998 of the first “Millennium Balloon” (707) at Tram Sunday 1998. The design of the tram was controversial with some enthusiasts due to the tram losing its distinctive Balloon shape yet was in essence it was still a Balloon but the refurbishment was a step further than the early 1990’s Balloon refurbishments.
The tram still required a crew of 3 to operate it, the tram retained the same interior layout as a balloon, the same controllers, braking systems, motors, truck, lighting and low voltage equipment that the then recently modified balloons had received and carried the same number of passengers.
There initially was some adverse comments about the rebuild to 707, especially when it was discovered that it has many unnecessary features such as air conditioning units in the driving cabs and no opening window in the drivers cabs. Worse was to follow when 709 came into service, it had to get its air conditioning unit topped up with water by a fitter with a watering can at Manchester Square twice a day! Needless to say, opening cab windows were installed soon afterwards. Initially 707 did not have the corner curved windows on the upper deck (like 709 has in the photograph above), however these were retrofitted and featured in subsequent rebuilds. The main advantage of the Millennium Balloon over the refurbished and unrefurbished balloons is the excellent view out the end windows on the top deck, which are excellent for viewing the Illuminations. Following the introduction of 709, a further two Millennium Balloons were rebuilt from unrefurbished Balloons 718 and 724. Subsequent refurbishments of unrefurbished Balloons reverted to the early 1990’s style of refurbishment.
The 1990’s in general were a busy time for the works at Rigby Road depot with a number of fleet refurbishments taking place over this time.
Another refurbishment that took place in 1998 and less drastic of that of Millennium Balloon 707 was that of Balloon 721. Balloon 721’s refurbishment saw work done to strengthen the underframe. As well as this, the tram received the new style of scoop lifeguards which had been fitted to Brush Cars 626,630 and 631 during their refurbishment, hopper windows were installed to replace the half drop windows on both decks and the swing-over seats on the bottom deck were replaced with bus seats.
Despite these changes being made, 721 kept many of the unrefurbished balloon features including: halogen headlamps, it’s distinctive balloon shape, curved roof windows (one of only three Balloons to retain these at this time), bare bulb lighting on both decks and swing over seats on the top deck.
Rather disappointingly, despite the refurbishment, the all over advert carried by 721 for Mitchellin Tyres, whilst eye-catching, made use of contravision (which involves adverts covering the windows using material which apparently allows passengers to see out) and some top deck windows were also filled in meaning many passengers could not see out on large areas of the top deck.
Unfortunately, the tram was used in service and specials during the illuminations and also on illuminations tours, which meant that passengers sitting in the seats next to the filled in windows could not see the lights. After numerous complaints the filled in windows were restored in 2001 and the advert was finally removed in winter 2004.
Centenary Car Refurbishment
Having travelled many thousands of miles in the space of the 13 years since introduction to service, Centenary 642 was withdrawn for a major refurbishment in 1998. 642 made a return to service with newly shaped front ends in 1999. Over the following 8 years the remaining centenary cars would follow 642 one by one into the works for refurbishment. This did improve the performance of the trams however some of the faults remained. Oddly for such a small class of trams, by the time the refurbishments were complete, there was 4 different shapes between the 8 trams. After 642 was complete, 641 was next to enter the works, coming out with roughly the same shape as 642, next were 646, 643, 644 these three had a different shape to 642 and 641. 647 and 645 were next with differences to their shape and finally 648 kept it’s original centenary car shape!
In August 1999 there was a serious derailment involving balloon 710. Whilst traveling between Cabin and St Stephen’s Avenue, the track gave way beneath 710 causing the tram to derail. The tram remained marooned there for 5 days before it was re-railed and towed back to depot to allow the track to be repaired. Around the same time, Jubilee 762 had to be left at Thornton Gate overnight with issues with it’s wheel axles.
As a result of the incident with 762, routine inspections were carried out in summer 1999 on the fleet of Jubilee and Centenary cars and cracks were discovered in some of their bogies. As a result of this, all 10 Centenary / Jubilee trams were withdrawn from service for a week at the start of the winter timetable to allow for repairs to take place. This resulted in heater fitted Brush Cars 625, 626, 627, 630 and 631 and Ex towing Railcoaches 679 and 680 operating on the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service (they managed this without a single breakdown) Other than a balloon car / Millennium car being used for the busy early morning school journeys on route 2 (with Balloon 723 remaining on Route 2 all day on the Friday), the Brush Cars/ Railcoaches managed a full turn out on all 7 service routes each day with the double decker on route 2 being swapped over for a single decker around 9.30am each day.
The final day of 20th century, 31st December 1999, saw trams in service, 7 on the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service and 4 on the intermediate Pleasure Beach to Cleveleys service. Trams used on this day were: 646, 647, 645, 762, 648, 643, 644 on the Fleetwood service and 700, 719, 707 and 723 on the Cleveleys service. The final tram to run in the 20th Century was Centenary 645, arriving at depot at 19.30.
The new Millennium
The first running day of the new Millennium was 2nd January 2000 and the first tram to run in Blackpool in the 21st Century was Centenary 644, which left depot at around 6am! As per the last day of the old millennium, the service saw 7 trams on the Starr Gate to Fleetwood service: 646, 762, 644, 761, 645, 648 and 643 and the 4 trams on the Pleasure Beach – Cleveleys service were: 630, 680, 625 and 679.
The fleet of vintage trams was bolstered in 2000 by the arrival of Sheffield 513 on long term loan from Beamish. Another welcome arrival was Standard 147, which had moved to America in 1966. 147 came home for restoration in exchange for Boat 606 which made the long journey in the opposite direction. 147 tram was fully restored to near original condition with many parts being salvaged from Engineering car 753 and returned to service in 2002.
In Summer 2000, the Fleetwood Tram Sunday became ‘Tramless Sunday’ as the staff of Blackpool Transport were all on strike on that day and no tram service ran at all.
An exciting yet unexpected development happened in Summer 2001, as Coronation 304 was returned to Blackpool from a bus museum in St Helen’s for restoration, with the restoration of the tram featuring on the Channel 4 program ‘Salvage Squad’. Following 6 months of extensive work on the tram with included the complex rebuilding and restoration of 304’s VAMBAC control gear, 304 made its first appearance on the prom since 1970 in January 2002. However further work was required on the tram as the VAMBAC equipment was still proving to be troublesome and it was many months later before the tram entered service.
A serious incident occured In July 2001 as Balloon 722 was returning to Rigby Road depot late in the evening and hit a sand drift between Central Pier and Manchester Square. The sand drift was the result of unseasonably strong gale force winds and on colliding with the drift, 722’s front bogie derailed and the front half of the tram collided with an overhead mast before finding it’s self on the promenade road. The damage caused was a smashed window and panel damage. The following morning, single line working was put into place as work started on the recovery mission. A traction pole and some of the illuminations had to be removed to free 722. The derailed truck was returned to Rigby Road by low loader and 722 was hauled back to depot by tow truck. 722 was back in depot by noon and normal working had resumed by mid afternoon. Luckily the damage to 722 wasn’t too severe and it was back in service in time for the illuminations a few weeks later.
The end for the Illuminations Fleet?
Age had finally caught up with the Illuminations fleet in the early 2000’s. The trams, which had been rebuilt from older tram cars in the early 1960’s were worn out, badly needed rewiring to bring their electrics up to modern standards and in the case of the Western Train locomotive, it was drooping badly and in dire need of a replacement underframe.
Between 2000 and 2001, the ‘Rocket’, the ‘Western Train’, the ‘Hovertram’ and the ‘Frigate’ were all withdrawn meaning there was no illuminated trams available for service.
Brush Railcoach 633 had been withdrawn from traffic in 1998 as it was in poor condition and in need on an overhaul. After being stripped and stored in the depot for two years, 633 was selected to become an illuminated tram. The tram received a brand new underframe and was rebuilt into the shape of an illuminated trawler, entering service in 2002. 633 retained its original motors, controllers, bogies and the centre entrance doors from it’s previous guise and in it’s rebuilt state, was designed to be multi-purpose. As well as being used for tours of the Illuminations, 633 could also be used as
anordinary service car, not just in the summer but all through the year as it had been fitted with heaters and high visibility headlights. 633 was fitted with fixed bus seats however, which meant that if working in reverse, that all passengers were facing the wrong way.
Double Decker Ban and Twin Cars save the day
The track between Thornton Gate and Ash Street had been in a poor condition for many years, however by mid October following a safety check and the marked deterioration of the track, it was feared that a similar incident to that of the track giving way under Balloon 710 at St Stephen’s Avenue in 1999 could occur.
It was decided that from the following day, double deck trams would be banned from travelling north of Thornton Gate and that speed restrictions would be enforced in the worst affected areas, this included 4 miles per hour limits (one notch on the controller) in some areas. It was not uncommon for severe late running to occur on the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service as a result.
It was down to the Brush Cars, Ex-Towing Railcoaches, Centenary Cars and the high capacity Twin Cars to operate the Starr Gate to Fleetwood service and any specials travelling to Fleetwood. Before this event, the Twin cars could be the last choice and often neglected trams of the fleet, now it was their turn to take centre stage.
The first day of the double decker ban saw all 7 twin cars and 2 Brush cars operated the Fleetwood service. It was the first time (apart from covering for breakdowns) that Twin Cars had been allocated to the timetabled service as their
use was usually confined to specials. The first market day of the double decker ban was the first and last time that all 7 twin sets ran on the Fleetwood Service at the one time.
With the impending increase in use for the Twin Car fleet in the 2003 season, the Winter timetable period of 2002/2003 and early season in 2003 was used by Rigby Road to do some work to tidy up and repaint three of the twin sets. The first two recipients were 671+681 and 672+682, which were also fitted with heaters in case winter use was required. Both trams became the first to be painted into Metro Coastline livery and made their debuts in their new liveries at Easter 2003. 674+684, the third recipient had been prepared for a repaint with rubbed down and some replacement panels, but was required for service and saw use over Easter in this condition before being admitted to the paint shop soon afterwards. 673+683 was repainted in Summer 2003 with 675+685 being painted in 2004. 676+686 and 677+687 remained in Green and Cream livery.
As well as the work being carried out to the Twin Cars over the winter period, a start was made on major track renewals between Thornton Gate and Ash Street, with some of the worst sections of track being replaced. Unfortunately due to the enormity of the task, the line was closed from Thornton Gate northwards from January to March 2003 and it would require a further winter period of work to completely relay the full stretch of track to allow the double deckers back to Fleetwood, this meant only single deckers could be used for the whole of the 2003 season.
The 2003 early season saw the Brush Cars and Ex Towing Railcoaches take over the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service from the Centenary Cars. When the summer service was introduced, it was increased to 8 trams from the usual 7 running to a 20 minute headway and was usually made up of 4 Twin Cars, 2 Centenary Cars and 2 Brush Cars / Railcoaches. Usually on a market Tuesday, any available single deckers that were available and not working on the Fleetwood service, were employed as specials to Fleetwood.
Engineering Car 753 Departs
During Spring 2003, ex works car 753 was donated to the Lancastrian Transport Trust to allow the tram to be restored. The fire damaged ex works car, which had been stored out of service since it’s diesel engine caught fire in 1990, was moved from Rigby Road to the premises of the LTT in Brinwell Road by low loader for restoration back to its original form as Standard 143. After a long and protracted restoration, 143 finally returned to the rails in 2019 and features open end balconies and open driving positions, which is a variation of the Standard Car that wasn’t represented in preservation until this point.
Staff Shortages, repaints and some withdrawals
The ban on the use of Double Decker trams north of Thornton Gate had a serious effect on the number of Double Deckers used. The use of double deckers was usually limited to use on specials as far as Cleveleys or on the rare occasions that the intermediate Cleveleys service was run, they found use on those workings as well.
Allocation of the double deckers was usually by whether it carried an all over advert that hadn’t expired if they were all out and a double decker was still required, a refurbished decker was used next followed by the remaining unrefurbished Balloons. During this period, 704, 718, 719, 720, 721, 723, 726, 761 and 762 carried adverts and 707, 709 and 711 were refurbished but wearing fleet livery.
Added to the misery of the double deck ban was a severe shortage of staff, which resulted in not enough specials running during peak times. Indeed by 8pm most nights, there were few to no specials out at all, whilst the intermediate Cleveleys service rarely operated. Most nights, only the basic Starr Gate –
Fleetwood service was running (8 trams on a 20 minute headway), meaning there were many irate passengers were left behind by oftenpacked to capacity trams (some times a Brush Car with a capacity of 48 seated and 6 standing) running at 20 minute intervals resulting in many complaints from unhappy passengers and holidaymakers.
The Double Deck ban of 2003, allowed Rigby Road the chance to carry out some much needed underframe repairs and other essential tasks to some of the fleet of unrefurbished Balloons as well as carrying out some repaints in preparation for the 70th Anniversary of the majority of the English Electric fleet in 2004. Repaints of note included:
- Balloon 700 receiving a repaint of it’s wartime Green and Cream livery and open top Balloon 706 receiving 1930’s livery. Both trams also had replicas of some original, long gone features originally carried added at this time.
- Balloon 702 was repainted in 70’s green and cream livery and Balloon 710 was repainted in Line seven Purple and yellow Metro Livery. Both trams also had work being carried out to strengthen their underframes
- Balloon 703 received a repaint of it’s 80’s green and cream livery
- Balloon 712 wasrepainted in 60’s green and cream
Oddly Twin Car 673+683 was admitted to the works for panel repairs, work to fix a leaky roof and a repaint in mid July, when Twin Car output was an almost daily occurrence. 673+683 re-emerged during the Illuminations period wearing Line 11 Light Blue and Yellow Metro livery.
673+683 was also admitted to the paint shop during July to be repainted into Line 11 Light blue and yellow Metro Livery. The tram also received panel repairs and had it’s leaky roof sorted.
Brush Car 636 had spent most of the Summer on Driver Training duties and once these were finished, the tram was admitted to the works to have it’s curved roof windows removed. 636 was the final Brush Car to retain these. 636 re-emerged from the works in Line 14 Green and Yellow Metro livery and looked quite smart. For completeness, the other repaints in Winter 2003 were Ex-Towing Railcoach 678 receiving Radio Wave Advert Livery and Ex Towing Railcoach 679 receiving 80’s Green and Cream livery.
The end of the 2003 season sadly saw the demise of three unrefurbished Balloon Cars. Balloon 704, which had been a regular performer in 2003 was water ingress and the need of a full overhaul to eliminate the issue, whilst Balloons 716 and 717 suffered from underframe defects. This meant that without new underframes and major overhauls, they could not safely run again.
Before long all 3 trams lost their pantographs, and started to lose parts to keep their sister cars on the road. Within a year 704 has had most of its interior stripped out for parts for other trams, whilst 716 was being used as a store for spare parts including seats, roof panels and windows.
On 13th March 2004, Centenary Car 644 was traveling north towards Gynn Square, when it hit a scaffolding pole that had been deliberately placed in the grooved track. The caused the tram to derail, leaving the track and hitting the promenade wall and an electrical box. Luckily 644 didn’t go through the wall onto the Middle Walk, however some of the large concrete blocks and debris were knocked over onto Middle Walk. Luckily there were no serious injuries and no serious damage to the tram. The marks where the tram’s wheels dug into the tarmac remained until the track was replaced during Winter 2010.
Track replacement took place of over Winter 2003 / 04 again resulting in the closure of the line North of Thornton Gate between January and March 2004. On completion of the work, Double deckers were once more allowed to run to Fleetwood. Balloon 726 was the first Balloon to work through to Fleetwood on Specials and Balloon 701 had been the last double decker to travel to Fleetwood prior to the ban. Ex Towing Railcoach 679 became the first service tram over the fully relaid track.
Illuminated Frigate Returns to service
Following the withdrawal of the entire 1960’s built Illuminated fleet, Brush Car 633 was rebuilt into the Illuminated trawler, entering service in 2002, however there was a need for more illuminated trams. The illuminated Frigate (736) from the 1960’s fleet was chosen for a major overhaul/ rebuild. 736’s overhaul had begun in 2002 and was so severe that it was an almost complete rebuild, in fact the only remaining parts of the original Frigate was the bow and the motors and trucks which originated from 736’s previous life as pantograph 170. 736 was fitted with features such as High Intensity Headlights, a fog horn and seating. It was relaunched into service on 11th September 2004. Interestingly the tram only had an entrance on the tram, limiting it to journeys in service that used the Starr Gate or Pleasure Beach – Little Bispham or Fleetwood loops. In the final years before upgrade, 736 was occasionally used on the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service if short of available double deckers.
English Electric Fleet 70th Anniversary
On 11th September 2004, the 70th Anniversary of the beginning of the introduction to service of the English Electric Fleet took place. To celebrate the occasion, a depot open day was held along with a procession of English Electric built trams from Pleasure Beach to Little Bispham. The procession featured 10 trams, these were
Mothballing of Trams
The early part of the 2000’s had been poor for the tramway, with falling passenger numbers and a drop in visitors to Blackpool in general meaning that less and less trams were actually required in service, even at the busiest times.
At the end of the 2004 season, the decision was taken to withdraw or mothball 25 trams. From the 25 trams chosen, all were unrefurbished trams and the majority were unrefurbished Brush Railcoaches, which despite their excellent reliability, were costly in terms of requiring a crew of two for a capacity of 48 passengers.
19 of the trams mothballed have ran again in Blackpool since them, whether in service, as a one off tour or other purposes 6 of them have went to other tramways and another 3 are expected to return to service in Blackpool in the coming years following overhaul.
The 25 trams which were announced as having been mothballed or withdrawn were:
- 5 Balloons: 703, 704, 716, 717 and 722.
- 9 Brush Cars: 621, 622, 623, 625, 627, 632, 634, 636 and 637.
- 1 Railcoach: 679.
- 2 Twin Cars: 676 + 686 and 677 + 687
- 5 Boats: 600, 602, 604, 605 and 607.
- 3 Vintage Trams: Stockport 5, Sheffield 513 and Replica Vanguard 619
Some of the trams chosen for withdrawal were seen as being strange and even controversial particularly the mass withdrawal of the Boat trams, which are some of the most popular trams in the fleet.
It was also seen as a strange decision to withdraw heater fitted Brush Car 627 and Ex-Towing Railcoach 679 from service as both trams had heating fitted and were useful on the weekend Cleveleys service in the Winter or as cover on the Starr Gate – Fleetwood service.
Of the 5 Balloon Cars withdrawn, three of them (704, 716 and 717) had already been withdrawn in 2003.
The list of trams withdrawn or mothballed changed not long afterwards with some of the trams being re-instated during 2005.
- Balloon 703 was re-instated almost immediately after Balloon 708 was found to be in a far worse condition, when it was receiving it’s annual Winter docking.
- After withdrawal from passenger service, Balloon 708 saw use as a dedicated snowplough over the following winters but was rarely ever needed.
- Balloon 722 was re-instated in July 2005 due to the lack of suitable trams to carry an all over advert
- Brush Car 622 returned to service in April 2005 after Glyngarry, the company who had an all over advert on that particular tram prior to mothballing, deciding to renew their advertising contract. With there being a shortage of available double decker trams for a new advert, and a shortage of serviceable single deckers 622 was reactivated.
- Brush Car 623 also returned to use during 2005 originally just for driver training, but also saw some use in on specials.
- Twin Cars 676+686 and 677+687 remained mothballed, and 677 was scrapped during 2007 to provide parts for the restoration of the Western Train Locomotive, 733.
- Following a public outcry, Blackpool Transport saw sense and decided to reinstate boats 600, 602, 604 and 605 in 2005. However 607 remained in store
- Stockport 5 made appearances at special events as did 513 but both cars were still technically mothballed,
- 619 remained stored before being returned to service in 2008.
From January – May 2005, it was not possible for the trams to enter and leave depot by the usual route from Hopton Road onto Lytham Road then onto the prom as the point work at Manchester Square and the track on Lytham Road was being relaid. This meant that all trams could only access and leave the promenade via the rarely used track and junction at Foxhall. The track, which was last used at for a depot shuttle service on the 1998 open day, with many derailments and dewirements occuring. The track had rarely been used since the 1960’s, was in poor condition. Remedial work to try and fix some of the worst parts of the track was carried out, however, the trams still had to travel along the track at walking pace and have their pantographs or trolleys tensioned by a shunter walking along side with a pole, making it a labourious and time consuming task just to get the trams out onto the prom.
During Summer 2005, Balloon 713 returned to service following a major overhaul. In a welcome change to policy, Balloon 713 would retained the basic balloon shape was treated to a similar overhaul to that received by Balloons 723, 711 and 719 in the early – mid 1990’s, the Millennium Balloon refurbishment was now a thing of the past and future overhauls would now be of the early 1990’s design.
Blackpool Transport received a very generous donation of £110,000 in the will of an enthusiast, with the stipulation being that the money was to restore a Balloon to near original condition with a 1930’s style overhaul. Balloon 717 was chosen for this overhaul and it commenced in 2006. Many original parts for the restoration came from Balloons 704, 716 and from Balloon 720, which was withdrawn in October 2006 as well as parts salvaged from Balloon 717.
As well as Balloon 720 being withdrawn for a major refurbishment in October 2006, Ex Towing Railcoach 678, which had survived the mothballing of many unrfurbished trams two years earlier by the luck of having a non-expired advert, was withdrawn in need of a major overhaul and stored.
2006 was also the final time that Balloon 719 was seen in its unique Walls Ice Cream all over advert, the ice cream counter was long gone having been removed in 1998. Despite this, 719 had a lower seating capacity than the rest of the Balloons, this issue was resolved when 719 was restored back to a normal refurbished balloon, regaining its front upper deck windows and normal seating. 719 would return to service in 2007 wearing an advert for the Infusion ride at the Pleasure Beach. Some traces of 719’s past role remain to this day with some of the bright yellow internal paneling remaining.
Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was received in late 2006 allowing the restoration of the Western Train to take place, this work commenced in 2007 with both engine and trailer stripped to a shell. The carriage (734) was found to be in excellent condition and it’s interior was restored to back to Pantograph Car style as 734 was originally Pantograph car 174. The work on the locomotive was more severe though, with a new underframe required and the ‘tender’ section needed replaced. The new tender section came from a section of framework from Twin Car Motor 677, which was scrapped to allow part of it’s body frame to be used. When the Western Train was relaunched, the end result was astonishing. The Western Train returned to service during Summer 2009 and is still turning heads on the promenade today.
Over the course of Winter 2006, right through to Easter 2007, the tramway was closed between Manchester Square and Starr Gate. This was to allow the renewal of a large area of worn and life expired track between Manchester Square and South Pier.
2007 was the 70th Anniversary of the Brush Cars entering service and to commemorate this, Brush Car 623 was repainted into the Wartime livery carried in by the fleet during the 1940’s. This was done in early 2007 and 623 was relaunched into service in this livery at Easter. Balloon 710 operated for the last time in November 2007 when the tram was withdrawn in need of a major overhaul. It was also the end of the road for Balloon 722, which was withdrawn following a collision with Balloon 711 at Miner’s Home when Balloon 711 ran into the rear of the tram causing underframe damage.
A major track renewal exercise was planned for Winter 2007/08 that would require the closure of the full tramway for the first time in it’s history. This closure would last from the end of the Illuminations right through to Easter 2008. The renewal of the track in some places would see the layout of some of the most iconic areas of the tramway change.
The main area of work was focused on replacing the track between Manchester Square and Central Pier, with the removal of the Manchester Square crossover and installation of new crossovers and a new north / south link to Blundell Street that would have been required had the new depot for the Flexity Fleet been built there.
At Pleasure Beach, the rarely used spur from the North Bound track to the outer loop was removed as was the crossover between the entrances to the loop. The loops themselves were altered with both loops running anti-clockwise with a single set of points at the north end from the southbound crossing the north track then a set of points accessing both loops. The exit of the loops merge on the northbound track. The crossover at Gynn Square was also removed as was the bypass loop at Cabin, which was replaced by a single crossover slightly further north on the reserved track. At Little Bispham, the rarely used spur from the loop onto the northbound line was removed.
On 1st February 2008, an important announcement was made that would have an impact on the future of the tramway. Funding was to be given to allow the replacement of the remaining track that had still to be replaced, the renewal of the overhead wires, support poles and substations north of Thornton Gate, 16 low floor trams to be built, a new depot to house the new trams and the building of platforms at each of the stops throughout the system.
The tramway reopened for the 2008 season on 21st March although initially only between Cabin and Starr Gate as work was still ongoing to track in the Bispham area. The remainder of the line reopened on 26th April.
The 2008 Fleetwood Tram Sunday, saw, Balloon 717 make its return to service following its restoration back to 1930’s condition. Another welcome and totally unexpected return to service was that of Replica Vanguard 619. 619, which hadn’t run since 2004, returned to service in time for the start of the Illuminations and the tram proved popular both on specials and on Illuminations tours.
One of the works fleet, Railgrinder 752, which hadn’t been used for a few years was donated to the Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester for preservation during 2008, departing the tramway in November. Another departure from the tramway was that of Ex Towing Railcoach 679, which was donated to the LTT, however not before running a farewell tour of the line. The LTT had plans to restore the tram as Series 2 railcoach 279 complete with pointed ends, swingover seats and half drop windows. The tram is
nearing completion of it’s overhaul and will hopefully run again in Blackpool in the near future.
Withdrawn Balloon 722 was trial fitted with framework around it’s centre doors for widened door pods. These pods would be required to make any of the future ‘B’ fleet Balloons compatible with the platforms being built for the new Flexity Trams.
2008 was historic for two reasons, the first of which was that it would be the last season that an Ex Towing Railcoach would run in service, following the withdrawal of 680 as surplus to requirements. The Ex-Towing railcoaches had operated firstly as a regular Series 2 English Electric Railcoach, then were converted for trailer operation, although they were never permanently coupled and had operated singly since the 1970’s. The small 3 strong fleet of Railcoaches were up there with the Brush Cars in terms of reliability. Winter 2008/09 was also the final winter pre-upgrade that the tramway was open as Winters 2009-10, 10-11 and 11-12 saw the tramway closed during the winter for upgrade works.
Having departed the tramway a couple of years earlier, Brush Car 636 was to return to the tramway early in 2009, however not for passenger work. 636 was returned from SET Derby where it had been on loan and was fitted with a prototype of a new style of motor and truck at one end of the tram. The section of Tramway between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate was closed of especially to allow 636 to shuttle up and down between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate daily during the early season. 636 departed in Summer 2009 back to Derby where it remains having been sold to SET.
Surprises on the Fleetwood and Cleveleys services
The withdrawal of Ex Towing Railcoach 680, mothballing of Brush Car 623 and 626 and some Centenary Cars out of traffic led to a shortage of servicable single decker trams over the early May Bank holiday in 2009. This shortage saw some unusual trams on both the Fleetwood and Cleveleys service with Trawler 737 seeing use on Fleetwood service over the weekend. Balloon 721 found it’s self operating top deck closed on the Cleveleys service vice a Brush Car on the Friday. However the most unusal of all happened on Bank Holiday Monday, when Standard 147 appeared on Cleveleys service! Illuminated Trawler 736 had also seen use on the Fleetwood service in the week before the Bank Holiday! Following the Bank Holiday Weekend, 623 and 626 were unmothballed and returned to service.
The undoubted high point of 2009 was the return to service of the Western train after an absence of 10 years following a major restoration job funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The tram had been brought out onto the depot fan for display during the annual Fylde Tramway Society depot tour during the Early May Bank Holiday Weekend and was the star attraction at the Fleetwood Tram Sunday inJuly before making a return to service on Tours of the Illuminations that Autumn.
The end of an era draws even closer
Having escaped withdrawal in 2004, Balloon 703 wasn’t to be so lucky a second time as the tram was withdrawn from service in need of a major overhaul in June 2009. However, due to 703 retaining most of the features of the 1960’s refurbishment of the Balloon Cars, the tram entered preservation with the LTT group. Another tram chosen for preservation was Brush Car 632, which would also be restored to passenger service in 2010.
The mass exodus of passenger trams for preservation or other uses began late in 2009 when Brush Car 634 was sold for preservation, whilst Ex Towing Railcoach 679 departed for its rebuild back into a Series 2 English Electric Railcoach.
After 6th September 2009, Pleasure Beach became the temporary southern terminus of the tramway as the section between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate was closed to allow both to allow the relaying of the track and to allow the building of the new depot for the Flexity Fleet. The relay of the track would see the removal of the cross over at Harrowside of which Illuminated Frigate 736 would be the final tram to use on 6th September, whilst Millenium Balloon 718 was the final service tram to travel to Starr Gate and Standard 147, the final tram following 718 as a special. It would be 2012 before service trams would use this stretch of track again.
The low point for the tramway fleet in 2009 was the scrapping of Balloon 722 during October. 722 had been stored following the collision with Balloon 711 at Miner’s Home in 2007 and had been stripped of a number of components to keep it’s sister cars going. Had the 1930’s fleet not been preparing for disbanding, it would most likely have been repaired and returned to service.
Fisherman’s Walk on the outskirts of Fleetwood Town Centre would become the temporary Northern terminus after 8th November 2009 as the section from Fisherman’s Walk to Fleetwood Ferry closed for track renewal and realignment as well as the building of platforms. Like the southern section, this northern section of the line would remain closed until 2012.
Whilst the southern end of the tramway saw quite a subdued final weekend, it wasn’t like that for the northern end with numerous tours over the weekend, with trams including: Blackpool and Fleetwood 40, Coronations 304 and 660, Sheffield 513, Brush Car 623, Balloons 702, 712 and 717 all reaching Fleetwood Ferry.
The undoubted star of the weekend, however was Brush Car 627, which made a one off return to service after 5 years in store to operate the final journey to Fleetwood Ferry prior to the tramway upgrade. Brush Car 627 was chosen to operate the historical final journey to Fleetwood as back in October 1963, the tram, then numbered 290, operated the final journey on the North Station route. In true Brush Car fashion, the tram performed faultlessly and you would never have known this tram hadn’t operated in 5 years.
Although not known at the time, the end of the 2009 season also signaled the end of the line for a large portion of the fleet, with most of the fleet having been put up for sale / donation and 31 of them either being sold or having a new home.
This resulted in the withdrawal of Balloons 701 (kept by BTS but withdrawn from service), 702, 712, 721 and 726, Brush Cars 622 and 623 and Twin Cars 671+681, 673+683 and 674+684. Agreements were reached for some of the other sold trams to remain in service at Blackpool until 2011. Departures from the tramway of some of the sold trams began during Winter 2009/10 with Brush Car 623 and Balloon 702 initially heading to the Museum of Museums in Manchester whilst awaiting completion of the new depot at Heaton Park in Manchester. On closure of the museum, 623 was moved to Heaton Park in 2012, whilst 702 spent 3 years in open storage at the East Lancashire Railway in Bury before finally moving to Heaton Park in 2015. Balloon 712 was repainted into 1930’s livery and then transported to Crich, where as 249, she is currently displayed as a static exhibit.
During Winter 09/10, work had begun on preparing some of the Balloons and Millennium Balloons that were expected to be used as part of the ‘B’ fleet on the upgraded system. 700, 713 and 718 were the first recipients of the fitting of door pods, tactile flooring, and interior destination display screens and CCTV. The passenger doors could be operated by the driver and the eventual intention was for there only to be one conductor per tram as the need to have a conductor on the lower deck to operate the doors would not be needed. Balloon 720, which was in the middle of a major overhaul at the time would also receive these features albeit with a different style of centre doors from the rest.
During the Winter of 2009/10 the tramway was closed again to allow upgrading works to continue. These works would see another iconic tramway location changed forever when during the relay of the Central Prom between Central Pier and Victoria Street, the Tower bypass loop was removed and replaced with a crossover. During the closure, the overhead wire was stolen between Thornton Gate and Ash Street and as a result the service was curtailed and only operated between Pleasure Beach and Cleveleys from Easter to mid July.
During Summer 2010, there was three departures. First was Balloon 703, which was repainted into Sunderland Red and Cream livery and renumbered Sunderland 101, making a farewell photo charter journey in this livery. 703 went to Beamish, initially on loan, before being bought. Balloon 716 was bought by Ptarmigan Transport Solutions and was moved to their headquarters in Perth in July 2010. The company went into administration in 2015 and 716’s last known location was a scrapyard in Kirkcaldy. 716’s fate is currently unknown.
Brush Car 626 was also sold and moved to the Birkenhead tramway. Despite all the departures, Brush Car 632, which had been bought by the LTT was returned to service for the first time since 2004. The tram was painted into 70’s Green and Cream livery and was fitted with roof mounted illuminated advert boxes advertising ‘TRAMS’ Magazine, who sponsored the repaint, with the tram returning to service during Summer 2010 and instantly becoming a regular both on the Pleasure Beach – Thornton Gate service and on specials. 632 received the trucks from the LTT’s other Brush Car 622. The trucks that had been under 622 had been overhauled not long before the tram was withdrawn and were swapped with the worn trucks that were under 632 at that point.
With there being a shortfall in trams available, a deal was reached with the new owners of 3 sold trams to allow them to return to service for the September 2010 illuminations period. This saw Twin Cars 671+681 and 673+683 and Balloon 726 returning to service from the sold trams with Blackpool Transport retained Balloon 701 also returning to service. By 2010, a transponder had been fitted to operate the traffic lights protecting a road crossing just south of Little Bispham, meaning only trams fitted with a transponder (a device that sends a signal to the traffic lights to allow them to change at the touch of a button) could be used north of Bispham. This limited the 4 trams newly returned to service to operating on specials as far as Bispham.
September 2010 was the 125th Anniversary of the opening of the Blackpool Tramway and a number of visiting trams were expected. These were: Blackpool and Fleetwood 2 , Pantograph 167, Marton 31, Birkenhead 762, Manchester 765 and Oporto 273. Unfortunately both Pantograph 167 and Oporto 273 couldn’t operate as 167 developed an issue with an axle and 273 was dewired and derailed during a test run at Pleasure Beach. The anniversary weekend was due to see the launch into service of Standard 143 and Series 2 railcoach 279, however they were still in various stages of overhaul. 143 didn’t return to service until 2019 and 279 isn’t expected to run again until 2021/22. There were 2 other visiting trams expected, these were Johannesburgh 60 and Standard 40, 60 was on route but was turned back as low hanging tree branches near Crich were causing damage to the tram when travelling by low loader so it was decided not to send either tram.
Once again the tramway closed from November – Easter during 2010 / 2011 with more track relaying taking place. The layout of the track at North Pier would change with the loop being moved further south closer to the former Victoria Street stop. The change in layout also meant the loop being used more as a siding. To head back south, the tram had to travel northwards out of the loop to a crossover just south of the North Pier then cross over. At the site of the original three track arrangement at North Pier, point work for a junction to the future North Station extension was installed.
Another change was the relaying of the street track that ran around the back of the Metropole closer to the pavement and separating the track from the road, eradicating a pinch point between the tramway and road. Work also continued north of the Metropole all the way to Gynn Square with the replacement of the last section of paved track. Further north, track work was also in full swing between the Anchorsholme road crossing at the edge of Cleveleys to just north of Thornton Gate. Added to this. work progressed on the building of platforms at stops all over the system.
The official launch of the Flexity was held on 8th September 2011, when Flexity 001 was officially unveiled to the press and dignatories at Starr Gate. Brush Car 632 and Balloons 700 and 717 were used to transport the dignatiories to Starr Gate.
Brush Car 630 was withdrawn after service on the 30th October. This was to allow the tram to be repainted back into 90’s green and cream livery prior to it’s move to it’s new home at Crich on 21st December 2011. Another tram heading to pastures new was Jubilee car 762, which saw its last use on 5th November. The tram was then hastily prepared for its move to Crich and departed by low loader just two days later on Monday 7th November. Balloon 723, which hadn’t been chosen for upgrade to ‘B’ fleet standards was also used for the last time on 5th November.
The final day of the Traditional Tramway
Beginning at 9.10am on Sunday 6th November 2011, the traditional fleet entered service for the final time.
The trams which began service on the Pleasure Beach – Little Bispham service on the final day were route 1: 642, route 2: 648, route 3: 645, route 4: 647 and route 5: 644. On the Pleasure Beach – North Pier service were: Route 6: 632, Route 7: 646 and Route 8: 631. 645 on Route 3 became the final tram to serve the Lytham Road tram stop when leaving depot.
Following the service trams out was Twin Car 672+682 on enthusiast tours, travelling numerous times between Pleasure Beach and Little Bispham. Not content with going down in history as the final tram to serve the Lytham Road tram stop, Centenary Car 645 also became the final Centenary Car to fail and have to be replaced on the traditional tramway! Oddly Centenary 643, which hadn’t been used in service since October was reactivated and sent out into service using parts taken from 645.
Twin Car 672+682 was joined on enthusiast tours by Twin Car 675+685 and Balloon 715 from 2.30pm onwards. It was then all change on the Pleasure Beach – Little Bispham service from 3.20pm onwards as the double deckers came out to replace the Centenary Cars. The allocation was: Route 11: 718, Route 12: 709, Route 13: 713, Route 14: 707 and Route 15: 711. 719, 761, 720 and 724 also came out into service on specials. They were also joined in service by the illuminated trams: 733+734, 736 and 737 on illuminations tours.
Brush Car 632 managed a run to Little Bispham and back after it’s duties on the North Pier service was over, then as the service was beginning to wind down for the night, Balloon 711 developed a fault and was replaced by Twin Car 672+682 for it’s final duties. 707 brought the service on the traditional tramway’s life to an end when it operated the last service.
After returning to depot, 642, 643, 644, 645, 646, 647, 648, 631, 632, 715, 672+682, 675+685 and 761 were all withdrawn. Some of these trams would go on to see more use with Blackpool and some would have entirely different uses all together. Read the next section to find out what happened next!