Finally this year the modified Balloon cars in Blackpool Council's forbidding colours are getting an airing in Promenade service. Quite what visitors make of the appearance of these double deck 'hybrids' is another matter - neither fish nor fowel - not traditional or heritage cars, nor low floor accessible light rail.
Limitations on accessibility mean the Balloons are inaccessible for the plethora of
mobility scooter or wheelchair disability visitors (and residents). Neither are the
instructions to fold up what have become gargantuan baby buggies - especially welcome before being allowed (it at all) on a 'Balloon' car. Upright bus type seating and all the accoutrements of light rail operation: electronic interior signage, audio station stop announcements, and driver controlled doors - negate any heritage aspects which might otherwise be anticipated.
Nonetheless the double deck trams do provide an infinitely superior viewing platform for visitors making a tour of the 'Lights' when compared to the cramped standing capacity and lowslung bodywork on the Bombardier cars - which were never designed with the Illuminations in mind.
And at the end of the day, having had significant capital expended on upgrading (if one can use that term without embarassment) the cadre of double deck cars which came within the light rail upgrade budget, it is at least preferable to see them used whatever their limitations - as opposed to quiet storage pending
reversal of their fortunes. As I understand it, the total quota of upgraded Balloons, was never fulfilled and some examples linger on without being subjected to the
attention of the Workshop. Perhaps they are the fortunate ones at the end of the day. Only time will tell.
Images : John Woodman