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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool Hybrid

Since there is so much fascination currently with the still sizeable number of rail coaches built by the Brush Engineering company way back in 1937 - for Blackpool it prompts a revisit to 1969 and the attempt by Blackpool's engineering workshop to adopt one example for potential one man operation.

The Works had previously made efforts to adopt a double deck bus to seated conductor Entry at the rear and front entrance. This entailed dual staircases and enclosing the open rear platform. A sizeable reduction on seating capacity was the result and a less than satisfactory trial on two routes for the benefit of bemused passengers. Number 305 did not last long in this state and quickly reverted to its original condition with open rear platform and one staircase. Earlier conversions of three pre-war single deck buses to front entrance one man operation on lightly loaded routes were more successful.

By 1969 the Transport Department was forced into acknowledging that its fixation on acquiring successive tranches of large capacity open platform double deck buses of the traditional kind was inviting ever increasing operating losses. An about turn resulted in quick orders for the inevitable single deck front entrance one man operated design which significantly reduced staffing costs for a start. Attention was then being given to the equally vexing problem of needing two person tramcars out of season and out of peak hours. The search for a tram equivalent of the bus solution meant that an in house redesign of one or more of the existing fleet was the only option - (New tram purchase being out of the Department's finances).

Accordingly one of the extant Brush cars was rushed through the Body Shop and fitted with somewhat narrow front entrances immediately next to the Driver's cab bulkhead (which was removed at both ends of course). The centre entrances remained as is with air operated folding doors on both sides - these were to become the exit doors for passengers. Large mirrors were fitted to afford the driver a view of the interior saloon and exit doors. Resistances were mounted under the tower gantry and the tram given a quick all over cream paint job - the same as the new one man operated buses. Number 638 retained its fleet number and in this condition was then presented to the local media as the first one man tram. Unfortunately all was not well as this logical trial was undertaken without meaningful consultation with the Union representatives who pointed out two immediate problems (among others). The first was that a dewirement of the trolleypole in service (or any malfunction or incident) would require the driver/conductor to vacate his position leaving the cash box unsecured. The second was that with standing passengers in the saloon it would be impossible for the driver to see through his mirror the state of the centre entrance doors and passengers exiting or needing to exit. The bottom line was that 638 was not approved 'as is' by staff and it never ran as a one man car - in service.

However the tram did make one or more trial trips on the promenade for the benefit of the engineering staff and management. It is seen here on one such run but not with paying passengers (or enthusiasts). This is one hybrid that didn't make the grade however well intentioned. A further visit to the Body Shop saw the front entrance doors removed and panelled over and corrections made to the seating arrangements and driver's layout. Thereafter it pursued a relatively uneventful life until withdrawal in scrapping in the 1980s. Top : 638 wending its way north on the promenade in service following its reversion to centre entrance (and exit only) state. Below : the test run on the promenade with staff showing off its proposed modus operandi.

Images : Copyright John Woodman

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