Blackpool Trams History 1933- 1963

 New Regime, new trams, more improvements

In 1933, Walter Luff replaced Charles Furness as Transport Manager and set out a five year plan in which there would be many far reaching improvements made to the tramway. He moved almost immediately to rejuvinate a system which had it been left, would have closed like many other similar systems.

The trackwork was improved by installing turning loops at Starr Gate, Pleasure Beach and Little Bispham allowing trams to be turned faster and without the need for the driver to change ends, the guard changing the direction of the swingover seats and the trolley pole being turned around.   Bypass lines were built at Tower, Talbot Square, Cabin and Bispham to avoid congestion when a tram was changing ends.

A new depot was built at Rigby Road to house the expanding tram and bus fleet.

The Central Drive and Layton lines were closed by 1936 and replaced with buses. The route along Central Drive it was too congested and was a mix of single track and passing places.   The route and was also very close to the Promenade and Marton routes.    The Layton route’s track layout  was also  mostly made up of single track with passing places and was uneconomical to operate as patronage was poor, the eastern terminus of the line was at the entrance to a cemetery.   The only way to make the line more profitable would have been to extend the line a further mile eastwards to a new housing development.

The Marton Route, however was profitable and busy thus the track was relaid to make the entire route double track, eliminating the single track with passing places and the many bottlenecks that existed on part of the route.

When Walter Luff took over the running of the tramway, the then fleet was made up of numerous different types of trams all with various types of controllers, electrical equipment and trucks.   Some of the trams were life expired with a few of them still in service from the original opening of both the Tram Road and the Corporation tram systems in 1898 and 1885 respectively.   Walter Luff took the decision to revolutionise the fleet with the arrival of 116 brand new streamlined trams of various types over 6 years from 1933 to 1939.

Soon after taking over as transport manager, Walter Luff approached English Electric with his vision for the renewal of the fleet and soon a prototype single deck railcoach (200) was delivered to Blackpool, arriving during the early hours of 19th June 1933 and making it’s first run that same day.

Railcoach 200 was a revelation, it was nothing like anything else that had ever ran on the tramway and was the height of luxury. 200 was so popular that passengers would let the old trams pass to ride on it and would even wipe their feet before boarding! A further 24 railcoaches were ordered, they were almost identical to the prototype but were 2ft longer to allow for slightly bigger cabs as 200’s cabs were deemed to be cramped.  The production batch were built, delivered and in service by 1934.    The order was increased with a further 20 railcoaches were ordered from English Electric and were delivered and ready for service in 1935.   The second series Railcoaches were identical to the first series with the exception being that they were fitted with EE Z6 controllers, rather than the Z4 controllers that the series 1 railcoaches had.    14 of the series 2 railcoaches are still in existence albeit in different guise, one of these will soon return to service in Blackpool returned to it’s original shape.    The railcoaches settled down to work on the Promenade Route, Lytham Road Route and North Station Route, later they would also work on the Marton Route beside the VAMBACS.

A prototype open topped double decker was ordered in 1934 along with a prototype open topped single decker.   Both prototypes proved very popular with crews and the general public, so a further 11 open top single deckers initially classed as luxury toastracks (now more fondly known as the boats) were ordered as were a further 12 open topped double deckers and 14 enclosed double deckers of the same type. These double deckers would later be known fondly as the balloon car.

The introduction of both the open and closed top Balloon trams replaced the Dreadnought Double deckers which were in service between 1899 and 1935.    Walter Luff saw the Dreadnoughts as being both antiquated and dangerous, particularly with their double staircases at either end,  however the Blackpool public and holiday makers liked them and set up a petition for one example to be saved from scrap. Dreadnought 59 was saved and saw use as a works car until restoration became a possibility for the 75th Anniversary celebrations in 1960.
In 1936, Lytham St Annes town council, voted to close their tramway in favour of buses, this caused problems for Walter Luff as he had hired tramcars from them for the busy illumination period. Had the Lytham tramway remained open,  Blackpool Corporation Transport had plans to take over the running rights and build a promenade style reserved track all the way into St Annes and out to Lytham. (If this had happened that section of tramway would probably still have been open today.) With their system having closed and the resulting shortage of trams for the Illumination period, Walter Luff decided to order a further 20 railcoaches to help move the passengers during this period, however as the designer of the previous order of railcoaches, had moved from English Electric in Preston to Brush in Loughburgh, the subsequent order of 20 railcoaches came from Brush and incidentally was one of Brush’s final orders for tramcars.

The Brush Railcoaches were similar but were also different to the EE railcoaches due to patents and copyrights.   The Brush Railcoaches went on to give more than 70 years of service and are thought of by many to be some of the most reliable and best trams that the tramway has had over its135 year history. Many of the Brush Cars still in existence today.  Two of them (623 and 630) are in service at museums whilst 621 and 631 are still in use with the heritage fleet and another three (624, 632 and 634) are stored for future use at Blackpool as part of the heritage fleet.

The Brush Cars entered service in 1937 and started work on the Lytham Road Route. They originally had air operated doors which were operated by the drivers.   Rumour has it that one day a driver opened the door on the wrong side of the tram and a number of items of luggage fell off the platform onto the road and were subsequently crushed by a bus!

They were transferred to Bispham Depot to operate the North Station Route in 1940. Following the closure of the North Station route in 1963, the Brush Cars were transferred to the main Starr Gate and Fleetwood service where they still operated on right up until the end of the traditional tramway in 2011.

In 1939, the delivery of new trams was complete following the arrival from English Electric of 12 Sun Saloon trams.   The sun saloons had canvas covered roofs, which could be folded open on sunny days, they had half windows on the body sides with the area between the top of the windows and the roof being open.   To save money, they were fitted out with controllers and equipment salvaged from withdrawn and scrapped trams.   Their main purpose was to work on promenade specials and on tours.


The delivery of the Sun Saloons had barely began when the Second World War was declared on 3rd September 1939.   The War was to have a dramatic effect both on the tramway and the trams themselves.

The remaining Fleetwood Racks and the toastracks were withdrawn from service and other than those used as works cars and the 6 BCT built toastracks, the remainder were scrapped.

Blackout restrictions meant that the closed deck trams had their roof windows painted out, and the exteriors of the trams repainted into ‘war time livery’ of mainly dark green with small areas of cream paint.   All light bulbs were painted, except for a small area giving off a small chink of light.

Section breakers on the overhead line were fitted with shields to reduce the effects of arcing as the tram’s trolley pole passed over dead sections.   Marton depot was closed to allow it to be converted to a factory to aid the war effort, whilst Bispham depot, which had been reduced to a store for summer trams and withdrawn trams only a few years earlier, was reopened as a running shed with the previous occupants either scrapped or moved to Thornton Gate sidings for outdoor storage.   It was felt that the fleet may need to be dispersed for storage to different locations throughout the system should the bombing be serious in and around Blackpool, so the opportunity was taken to rewire the former Lytham St Annes depot on Squires Gate Lane. There was also plans both for a running shed to be built at Rossall and for an extension of the tramway for a mile along Squires Gate Lane to one of the major factories, however both plans never came to fruition.

As the Sun Saloons had only just began to enter service in September 1939 as war was breaking out, their intended role of working promenade specials and tours did not materialise and they quickly found a new use transporting troops from their barracks at Squires Gate to the rifle ranges at Rossall.   The Sun Saloons were soon christened ‘cattle trucks’ by the soldiers as they found them to be drafty and uncomfortable. Improvements were carried out to allow the soldiers to travel in a bit more comfort, including the fitting of full length windows, partitions between the drivers cab and the saloon and the fitting of a better quality sliding roof.

It was common for the training at the rifle ranges to run late, leading to the trams waiting for the soldiers to return having to wait on the main line and causing delays for the service trams, which were stuck behind.   A siding was built at Rossall for the waiting sun saloons, which allowed the service trams to pass them without delay.

Balloon’s enclosed

During 1942 the open topped balloons (numbers 237 – 249) and both the open topped and a number of open balcony standard cars were enclosed making them suitable for all year round use.

This was done as there was no work for open topped vehicles during the war and there was a shortage of available enclosed double deckers.   The former open  topped balloons would retain their original slatted seats on the top deck, they received a very thin layer of upholstery, however they weren’t very comfortable.

These seats would gradually be replaced over the following decades, with 702, being the final Balloon to lose them in 1997.

The balloons spent the war years working on the Lytham Road route and on the Promenade.

As Blackpool was declared a relatively safe area and was expected to remain largely free from bombing, a large number of Government departments used some of the larger hotels such as the Imperial, Savoy and the Norbreck Hydro.   A large number of holiday makers would flood into the town, mainly from nearby cities and towns such as Preston and Blackburn.

As a result the tramway was busy especially heading north to Fleetwood on market days, a number of locals staged protests as they were unable to get onto trams as they were often full to capacity by the time they reached  Broadwater on the outskirts of Fleetwood.    The protestors won as they were eventually given a local service between Broadwater and Fleetwood using Pantograph cars, by then the oldest single deck trams in the fleet.

The local service lived on for a number of years and a special would still be sent to cover between Broadwater and Fleetwood into the 1990’s, by this time it was normally a Brush Car or Railcoach that was used.

The Pantograph Cars carried the standard 1930’s style Green and Cream livery throughout the war whilst all other cars carried the Wartime Livery, then following the war, they received Wartime Livery whilst the other cars were being repainted into a much brighter and colourful green and cream livery.

By late 1944, Marton depot had been de-requisitioned and the Marton route trams were eventually able to move back in.   By August 1945 the war was over and a number of restrictions that had been in force since 1939, could finally be lifted once more.

Luckily Blackpool escaped relatively unscathed from the bombing which affected large parts of the country during the war and the fleet emerged neglected but intact as most of the trams were reasonably new. The only trams which were scrapped during this era were surplus Toastracks which had been withdrawn in 1939 and the unfortunate Standard 50, which blew over in gale force winds at the Metropole in December 1940 and was so severely damaged that it was deemed to be too expensive to repair and after surrendering all reusable parts was scrapped.

Post War Years

Following the war, the system settled back down into a period of normality, with the reopening of Marton Depot and removal of so many of the restrictions which had been in force.

The first major task to be tackled post war was the replacement of the worn out track on the Marton route in 1948.   The track, which was starting to take on a dangerous condition was in urgent need of replacement.

Another major development post war was the conversion of the Sun Saloons to railcoach standard and by 1952 a further upgrade was complete as the entire fleet of Sun Saloons were fitted with VAMBAC equipment to allow for smoother, faster and quieter acceleration and braking, from then on they were called the Marton Vambacs.   Railcoach 208 and Brush 303 were also fitted with VAMBAC equipment with 208’s conversion being successful and allowed the tram to be used on the Marton Route with the VAMBACs.   However 303’s conversion wasn’t considered a success as it’s air operated doors were too slow to open and close, causing a delay to service.   303 was returned to Bispham depot and as it was non-standard compared to the remainder of the fleet, it was rarely used and even then it would only appear as a last resort.   303 survived until 1963 when it was scrapped in Marton Depot.

The introduction of the VAMBACS to the Marton route signaled  the end of timetabled service for the Standard cars, relegating them to specials on the prom and school specials on the Marton Route.

Having been missing since 1938, the world famous illuminations restarted in 1949 having been postponed during the war and to celebrate, all railcoaches and boats had strings of lights strung from their trolley towers.

By the 1950’s Walter Luff had came to the conclusion that the future direction of the tramway was for a more frequent service using single deck trams rather than double deckers.   With this in mind, he further increased the size of the fleet with the addition of 25 Coronation tram cars,  built by Roberts in Sheffield, which began to enter service in 1953, and became the most luxurious tramcars ever built for Blackpool.
Despite being some of the most popular trams in the history of the tramway for the traveling public,  it was a different story behind the scenes.

The Coronations were originally were fitted with steel paneling, making them too heavy, therefore they had to be re paneled using lighter aluminum panels.   The roof windows had to be paneled over as they leaked when it rained, indeed when 304 was originally delivered it is said that the roof windows were leaking before it left the lorry delivering it to Blackpool.

It was discovered early on that they were too powerful, often tripping the power in sub stations if they accelerated too quickly.  They also had their top speed reduced to stop the issues with the substations. The revolutionary VAMBAC equipment was causing many problems due to sand getting into the electrical contacts.  Withdrawals of the coronations began in 1963 and by the early 1970’s the Coronations that hadn’t been withdrawn were converted to use more conventional equipment from scrapped railcoaches.  All examples of this type of tram with the

exception of 324 (660) , which was kept for special occasions, were withdrawn with 22 of them scrapped by 1976, whilst a further 2 were sold (both later returning to Blackpool). The crippling loans and cost to run these trams almost bankrupted the Transport Department. The three examples of the Coronation Cars are currently stored in Blackpool with 2 of them, 304 and 660 awaiting repairs before returning to service and 663 undergoing restoration.

1958 saw the introduction of the Twin Car, The first set was a combination of two series two railcoaches (276+275)which were refurbished and their traditional pointed front ends were removed and they were given flat fronts instead, 275 became a trailer for a time. The twin Cars are a high capacity trailer set which can carry 120 people. These trams were built from 10 series 2 railcoaches (272 – 281) and 10 trailers (T1 – T10) built by Metro Cammell between 1960 and 1962, the motors and trailers on 7 sets (671+681 – 677+687)were permanently coupled in the early 1970’s with control equipment being situated on the outside ends of the motor coaches and trailers, the remaining 3 trailers (688 – 690)were withdrawn and following only 12 years of service, were scrapped, whilst the 3 motor coaches (678 – 680)continued to run as ordinary railcoaches.

2 Twin car sets still in use as part of the heritage fleet (672+682 and 675+685) whilst 679 is being restorted as a series 2 railcoach and 680 is restored to 1990’s condition and in use with the heritage fleet.

1958 also saw double deckers running to Fleetwood and to North Station for the first time, following the laying of check rail between Cleveleys and Fleetwood.Celebration and abandonment

Around this time, plans were afoot for the celebrations of the tramways 75th birthday. They looked at some of their old works trams and decided to convert them back to their original form, this included the restoration Conduit Car 4 (which was disguised as no1, the first ever car), Blackpool and Fleetwood 2, Fleetwood box 40 and Dreadnought 59.

That same year it was also announced that the Squires Gate route (Lytham Road) which was in dire need of track relaying at the time would close in October 1961 with buses replacing trams between Squires Gate and Manchester Square.

The North Station Route was cut back to outside the Odeon Cinema on Dickson Road and a Trolley Reverser was fitted at the terminus. 1961 also saw the end for the Pantograph Cars on the North Station Route when displaced railcoaches from the Squires Gate route took over from them. The closure of the Squires Gate route also meant that the circular tours, which had only been reintroduced in 1957, and the service from Marton which travelled along Station Road came to an end. The balloon cars lost their timetabled duties to Squires Gate and were now confined to promenade, Fleetwood market and also took over school specials on the Marton Route. This move saw the drastic reduction in the number of Standard Cars used on Specials as the Balloons took over many of their duties, leaving only 6 standards (40, 48, 147, 158, 159 and 160) remaining during 1962.

The Marton Route had now became fragmented with the closure of Lytham Road’s track and were cut back to Royal Oak, the writing was on the wall for this route and it closed in October 1962 with the final journeys operated by Standards 40 from Talbot Square and 48 from Royal Oak. (Vambacs 11 and 13 provided the last VAMBAC operated journeys on the route)

The closure of this route meant that a number of trams became surplus to requirements, all but one of the Marton VAMBACs and a number of series 1 Railcoaches were scrapped.

However not all trams that were withdrawn were scrapped, some went to museums for restoration, some found use as works trams and some were rebuilt into illuminated trams. The elderly fleet of illuminated trams were all reaching the end of their useful lives and were practically live when it rained. The new fleet built between 1960 and 1965 consisted of a paddle steamer – The Blackpool Belle, The Rocket, the Western Train, the Hovertram and the Warship. All these trams made their debut in the early 60’s and with the exception of the Blackpool Belle which was withdrawn and sold to America in the 70’s, gave 30 years service until the late 90’s early 2000’s.

The depot at Marton remained in use for a time until 1963 however when Blundell Street reopened to trams and all cars remaining at Marton that were to be kept were either transfered to Rigby Road, Blundell Street or Bispham Depot. The track and overhead wires remained in place as far as Marton Depot for a few months after the Depot was closed, this cause alot of intrigue at the time, however it was later revealed that this was to allow the Western train to travel up the line carrying officials and guests for the opening of the ABC Cinema in Church Street in 1963.

In October 1963 it was realised that 2 routes to Fleetwood werent needed anymore as passenger numbers had fallen and the North Station Route was closed as far as Gynn Square along with Bispham Depot leaving the Promenade route by its self.

With these routes gone there was not the same need for as many trams so a number of older trams were scrapped this included most of the pantograph cars, which last ran at Easter 1961, standard cars, the remaining first series railcoaches with the exception of numbers 220, 221 and 224 of them and all but 1 Marton Vambac. as well a few non standard trams, such as Brush Car 303 which was fitted with VAMBAC equipment.

Some sources have contained a remarkable story from 1963, the Marton and Lytham Road Routes had been closed in the 2 previous years and the North station route was doomed to follow. One day in September, Railcoach 201 was on the Fleetwood – North Station route, approaching Bispham the tram was stopped and the crew and passengers were transferred over to Brush Car 300. 300 continued on to North Station whilst 201 crossed over to the northbound track and was driven to Thornton Gate where it was subsequently scrapped the same day!!!!!!

After the closure of the North Station Route in October 1963, most of the tramway closed for the winter and was replaced by buses. The only section of the Tramway that remained open was the Cleveleys to Fleetwood section.