An Ideal Solution
Following quickly on the trials with Brush Car 638 in an aborted conversion to One Man Operation; and redesign of a former English Electric rail coach (618) - Rigby Road Workshops determined the latter prototype offered the best solution for a cadre of year round One Man Operated trams.
A check on available examples of unmodified English Electric rail coaches revealed twelve with potential for conversion work which involved lengthening the car frame to allow insertion of a forward entrance at both ends. Taking on board the criticism from crews and their Union - it was evident that the driver's position would need to be similar to those on the new single deck bus fleet entering service from 1969.
With extended length the rebuilt trams would need tapered ends to allow entry into Rigby Road Depot and workshops, as well as minimising intrusion on to road space in the tight curves at Fleetwood. The resulting design brought forth a commendable restyled 1930s tram upgraded to economies required four decades later and an entirely different set of operating criteria.
The experience of other operators in introducing wholly new (and novel) boarding had not been a happy one in the UK. Glasgow, Leeds, London and Liverpool spring to mind where solitary examples were trialled without finding favour. This time Blackpool needed to get it right and opted for an entire class of trams which allowed complete conversion of the winter season service to One Man Operation. As a further distinction the new 'OMO Cars' were given a totally different colour scheme to reinforce public perception that these trams were not the 'usual suspects' and needed front entrance boarding and centre exit.
We see the first prototype - Fleet Number 1 on its trial run and official inspection before being passed for public service in 1972. After the twelve rail coaches were rebuilt to become 1 - 12 number 618 was taken back into the Works to undergo further modification and renumbering as 13, thus completing the OMO Class.
All of this work was carried out whilst regular maintenance and repair was undertaken on the rest of the fleet - and is a testimony to the versatile labour and industry of the transport department's staff during this period. If it had not been for the resulting staffing economies achieved during the winter season - it is quite possible that the entire line could have closed due to heavy operating costs and losses accruing on the tramway. Fortunately two examples of this era have been preserved to attest to an achievement Blackpool can be proud of looking back.
And now for something completely different. The first of the OMO Cars on its test run in 1972. Both Images Copyright : John Woodman Archive