Number 618 unloading in Lord Street, Fleetwood. Its driver's windscreen being off a scrapped Coronation. All Images : Copyright John Woodman
The 1960s were full of interest for those following the decline (and developments) of Blackpool's trams. Not only was closure of Blackpool's three street running services and consequent scrapping of redundant trams, but in the same decade
restorations and even arrival of new trams (albeit trailers). After the furore brought about through the elimination of street running services affecting the tram side of the Transport Department, minds began to focus on ever more greater operating efficiencies across the entire system.
On the bus side - this was made easy through an about turn away from rear loading double deck crew buses (of which the Department had built up a sizeable fleet) to utilitarian (ie cheap) single deck vehicles which were one man operated. These had the immediate impact of major staffing reductions. The trams however posed somewhat more difficult challenges in pursuing a similar path. New trams were out of the question. Nobody was building them (at least at that time in the UK) and the costs would have been prohibitive anyway. Reseating the double deck 'Balloon' cars from the late 1950s had been possible by tightening the seat spacing and adding bench seats across the ends of the top decks. Single deck trams were an altogether different matter as far as increasing capacity was concerned. The introduction of trailer sets made a small imprint in efficiencies with a three man crew with higher passenger ratio (in theory at least). But the investment in the new trailers (10) and rebuilding ten railcoaches to become towing units didn't work as intended - except in considerably extending the working lives of these trams.
In a further effort to determine solutions in increasing seating capacity on single deck trams; and with a view to achieving the ultimate goal of one man operation - an English Electric rail coach (618 nee 271 in the great 1960s fleet renumbering) was selected for experimental lengthening of its frame and bodywork. The bogies would remain in the same position, while the two ends were reconfigured to allow a further eight seats in total to be added. The resulting length required a trimming of the cab profile which brought about a somewhat 'continental' look not dissimilar to the Leeds rail coach 'hybrids' 600 - 602. The radically different 618 showed off its new lines (and additional seating) in 1968 - but the main drawback of needing a two person crew did little to change the economic case in real terms. But it was a step towards the intended objective.
In its new form 618 afforded practical experience for the Works Managers at Rigby Road and would lead to the adoption of a similar lengthened design for the eventual One Man Operated (OMO) fleet. Number 618 would become the final member of that class (13) when it next went through the Works in 1976 - merging its hybrid state into a notable in-house achievement of the Transport Department.
Ironically the new number 13 would have a short working life in its final state being one of the first OMO car withdrawals. Fortunately there are two survivors of the OMO class Number 5 and 8 which have a deserved place in the pantheon of the town's long tramway history.
This time in bright morning sunshine - with two contrasting tram designs and a common fleet livery (less of course the garish orange trolley gantry) seen here at Bispham. Image : John Woodman