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Blackpool, England

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Blackpool "Brush Railcoach" no. 623 at Promenade & Balmoral Road. Photo by Ian Folkard, August 1973.

Overview

The resort town of Blackpool, England, nestled along the Irish Sea, is home to one of the most interesting tramway systems in the world. It has special fondness among the traction faithful in the United Kingdom because it was the last of the traditional tramways--and their double-decker trolleys--to maintain service as other British cities quit their streetcar services up into the early 1960s. At the same time, it carries on the tradition even as brand-new light-rail systems are sprouting up all across England, marking the return of electric traction to surface transport with a vengeance.

The tramway system in Blackpool had its birth as a conduit line on the Promenade on Sept 29, 1885, from today's Talbot Square to near South Pier. Gradually, extensions to the Promenade line worked southward to Lytham St. Annes, and from Station Road to Squires Gate. Lytham Road and ultimately to Fleetwood, the terminal of today's route. In 1899 horsecars and conduit operations were replaced by the standard overhead wire trolley current collection system.

Meanwhile, the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company opened a standard-gauge, overhead-powered tramway from Blackpool North station to Fleetwood in 1888.

Further extensions were built from 1901; the Marton loop, connecting Talbot Square and Central Station (near the famous Blackpool Tower) along Church Street, Devonshire Square, Whitegate Drive, Waterloo Road and Central Drive into Marton. A line to Layton opened in 1902. The original Promenade route was double-tracked and moved onto paved PRW by 1905, reaching south to Pleasure Beach.

In 1920, Blackpool Corporation took over the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad Co. in 1920, adding 8 miles to the line. Depots were at Blundell Street, Bispham and two in Fleetwood, with the latter-day Rigby Road depot opening in 1935. The line's last extension came in 1926, with extension from Pleasure Beach to Starr Gate, connecting there to the Lytton St. Annes tramway.

Retrenchments began in 1936, when the Central Drive and Layton routes were abandoned. But it wasn't until 1961 before the next route shut down--Lytham Road, followed by Merton in 1962 and finally Dickson Road (the line to Blackpool North railway station) in 1963. In 1966 all remaining carbarns save Rigby Road closed down, including the ones at Bispham and Fleetwood.

Today only the Starr Gate to Fleetwood service remains. Blackpool Borough Council transferred the operation of the tramway and buses to Blackpool Transport Services Limited in 1986 but still owns and maintains the tramway tracks. The new company has not yet been privatized.

Basic operations on Blackpool Transport's Promenade line consist of eight or nine cars operating the entire route from Starr Gate to Fleetwood, every 15 minutes apart, from about 6:30am to 1:00am. In spring, summer and fall, on busy days (and especially on weekends), as many as 65 cars can be dispatched out of Pleasure Beach toward on-line switchbacks such as Tower, North Pier, Cabin, Bispham, Little Bispham, Cleveleys and even to Fleetwood. This results in service every 2-3 minutes along the busiest portion of the Promenade (Pleasure Beach-North Pier).

The most familiar Blackpool Transport trams are the "Balloons", 26 of which were built in 1934-35 by English Electric. Most of these retain the classic curved lines of the trambuilding era of the 1930s, but some have been thoroughly modernized inside and out. All but one remain active (two are undergoing a complete modernization), one (#700) has been restored to its 1934 appearance, and car 706 has been restored with an open top. Both of these cars retain trolley poles, while most of the rest of the fleet use pantographs. Also on the property are five of the remaining 8 "Boat Trams", also with trolley poles. These are built by English Electric, vintage 1934. (Car 226 is at Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Jct., CA, #228 operates on San Francisco MUNI, and 606, nee 235, is at Trolleyville USA in Olmstead Falls, OH. The other four have been scrapped.)

Other cars include 13 closed single-deck 2-man trams built by Brush in 1937, seven 2-car motor/trailer sets built by Blackpool Corporation Transport and Metro-Cammell in 1960/61, and Blackpool's newest, 8 "Centenary" single-deck, one-man trams built by East Lancashire Coachbuilders between 1984-88. Restoration is underway of a "Coronation" class car dating to 1952/53, #641, which uses VAMBAC electricals (similar in many ways to a PCC), When operational, this will be the only such car in service anywhere in England. Another remaining "Coronation", 660, using standard motors/controls, is also in service. A group of one-man cars reconstructed from older stock, #1-13, which were operating in 1974 during my first visit, are now scrapped.

In addition, there are several historic streetcars on loan to, or actually owned by, Blackpool Transport. There's car 147, a jewel of a classic double-deck design built for Blackpool in 1925; Bolton 66 and Stockport 5, two open-end masterpieces from nearby towns dating to 1901 , and Sheffield streamlined double-decker 513, built 1950. And then there are the special "Tour of Illuminations" trams which come out of Rigby Depot in October and brighten the Promenade. Although the "Rocket Ship" and "Train" trams are now decommissioned, the Illuminations includes streetcars remarkably disguised as the "Fisherman's Friend" and "HMS Blackpool".

The Rigby Road depot is only a few blocks from the Manchester Square stop, near the south end of the Promenade.

Blackpool is easy to get to by frequent train service connecting to Manchester, Preston (on the London Euston-Glasgow main line) and other Midlands cities. It's a short walk from Blackpool North railway station to the Promenade at North Pier. Although the weather is frequently nasty (especially in summertime). tramway enthusiasts should make Blackpool a "must" visit.

Photo Gallery


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Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.









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