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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

1933 - Rail Coach Prototype

English Electric's design team were kept abreast of internal changes in Blackpool which were evident when the Council placed adverts for a new Transport General Manager in October 1932 - splitting up the Electricity and Transport Departments hitherto commonly managed since 1911 by Charles Furness. Initially the position was offered to Charles Hopkins, then Manager of Sunderland's system (and previously in charge of the unique Wigan Corporation Tramways with its two different gauges and a preference for upgrading bogie single deck trams) - the offer was turned down at the last possible moment. The second in line of Blackpool's choice for its new Transport General Manager was Walter Luff, about whom much has been written over many years. He accepted promptly and took up his new role on January 1, 1933. It is noteworthy that the West Riding company in which Luff had worked for several years as Commercial Manager, had just completed replacement of its last tram operation (between Wakefield and Leeds - coincidentally serving an amusement park created along the line) with a fleet of new centre entrance double deck buses with Leyland chassis and Roe bodywork.

The Bradford experimental car and the 'Feltham' class for London's private sector tramway companies (see previous blogs), plus English Electric's 1931 delivery of stylish double deck trams for Huddersfield's then progressive system, gave impetus to the company designing a revolutionary experimental car (or rather a family of cars) in a market then on the lookout for 'something completely different'. English Electric were also engaged in supplying both of India's principal tram operators (both British owned companies) - each having very different approaches to tram operation. Bombay's operator (BEST) was wedded to double deck trams (for the most part), as well as buses; whilst the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) favoured single deck trams. The latter would go on to embrace articulated trams (but with two conjoined seperate units). Initially however it commissioned EE to supply some single deck centre entrance cars, but with seperate front compartments and entrance, to meet strict Indian concerns over female passengers being seperated. The small 'J'Class design was but an interim step before English Electric built the initial articulated units ('K' Class) which would set the seal on Calcutta's tramway fleet up to the present day. By contrast English Electric would also design and supply a high specification protoype double deck tram for Bombay during the same period. This would be followed by locally built double deck trams through the 1930s including a sizeable number with centre entrances. The English Electric centre entrance design for Calcutta (below) - with seperate front entrance (and section) for females only.

By January the following year that 'something' was welcomed by Blackpool's new Manager - and promptly put on display (in model form) to a probably stunned Transport Committee. A green light to go ahead with a commissioned prototype followed in February, and by June the 'Rail Coach' was launched in a timeframe to meet an important transport operators conference at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool. What would become car 200 went on to 'launch' a further forty- four similar cars over the ensuing two years (plus several variant designs).

The centre door 'Rail Coach' was very much in tune with an era of speed and

streamlining - breaking away from the upright and angular styles preceding the 1930s. English Electric started with a clean sheet as it were, conscious that the most prosperous and forward looking seaside resort in the country was now headed by an ambitious, and one might say visionary, new transport chief. Equally importantly the town's transport policies were very much under the wing of Alderman Tom Lumb who had played a role in the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad Company's line (and accompanying property development along its route). With the success of this solitary speculative prototype in 1933 English Electric stood a chance of attracting significant follow on orders. One of which arose almost immediately through the prototype double deck 'balloon' car ordered by Sunderland's transport manager - becoming 99 in that fleet.

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