INNOVATION AT RIGBY ROAD - 4
Following on the heels, as it were, of the relative success in lengthening and reconfiguering the bodywork on a English Electric rail coach (618), Rigby Road Works were instructed to design and modify one of the Brush versions in 1969. In this case the logical progression incorporated a front entrance to allow the driver to take fares as a key requirement. At least that was the theory.
Brush Car 638 was selected as the 'guinea pig' for this further trial. In parallel the Transport Department was introducing a new fleet of single deck one man operated buses. These arrived in an economic all cream livery - doing nothing aesthetically for the image of the Department - but pressure to reduce operating costs at all levels (nothing new) called for the lowest possible paint shop time spent on materials and time.
Number 638 duly appeared for its official photographs outside Rigby Road Depot in a similar all cream style and a narrow front entrance inserted immediately behind what would have been the driver's cab bulkhead. It retained its centre doors - but for the purposes of passenger exit. The immediate problem was need for the driver to turn to his left to deal with fare transactions - swivelling in what would be a physically stressful manner if repeated with high frequency. Untended cash boxes in the event of a problem in service were equally unresolved issues. It would only be a few days before the local Union representatives advised Rigby Road management that the design was fundamentally flawed and their Members barred from operating the tram. It is worth mentioning that Blackpool's early One Man Operated bus service to Midgeland Road utilised two modified single deck vehicles which also foundered on the same need for the driver to take fares to his
left hand side. However the route served very sparsely populated districts (at that time) and was hourly - in comparison to the busy tram service running eleven miles with frequent stops among other challenges.
A consequence was that 638 never ran in service as a prototype OMO car. Instead the front entrances (both sides) were hastily panelled over and internal adjustments to the revised layout allowed the tram to rejoin its sisters with normal centre entrance and conductor operation. It was distinctive in its all cream livery - later repainted to the half green and half cream style of the rest of the single deck tram fleet; before finally becoming redundant and put out on to the scrap line at Rigby Road bus park from where it eventually was removed.
Quite evidently this abortive effort to achieve a more economic tram service meant that the Engineering team had to go back to their drawing board. (There was literally such an item inside the Workshops).
The more practical experience with the previous English Electric rebuild (618) - see previous Blog - would become the basis for the remaining trams of this class becoming the subject of the OMO design. It was an echo of the comparison trials in the late 1940s between Brush Car 303 and English Electric Rail Coach 208 - which saw 208 being the more successful in operation.
Almost two decades previously the English Electric models had already proven their reliability and flexibility as Twin Car motor units with credible restyling and internal refits.
The obvious changes to the driver's cab are clearly evident in this before and after meet of 638 with sister car 630 at Bispham in 1972. Above : 638 departs from the Tower stop, probably with a full load - both photos John Woodman