Steve Palmer waiting for the rest of his tour party - on Box Car 40.
A memorable tram tour today brought together the enthusiast group from Steve Palmer's Box 40 event at the beginning of January - which itself was noteworthy inasmuch as the writer stood in as Guest Speaker for Blackpool Transport MD, Jane Cole. This last minute substitution fortunately went off without any cries of 'rubbish' from the assembled guests.
Due to a mistake in diaries and a hitch at Rigby Road in the availability of Box 40 for its pre-scheduled tour departure for 'Friends of Forty' BTS decided to offer all concerned a replacement tour, this time with Jane Cole and colleagues on hand - and especially interesting, escorted tours of both tram depots. Jane's talk was given on Box 40 as it trundled between North Pier and Starr Gate - with some very useful hints at what is being worked on by BTS management in the coming years. Below :
Jane addresses most of the Party before the inspection of trams in Rigby Road.
The phased renewal of the entire bus fleet being high on commitments starting already in 2015 with the ten Citaros (in new grey and lemon livery), a further ten this year together with ten new double deck buses from ADL. Subsequent tranches of new buses will ensure that the entire bus fleet will consist of vehicles no older than five years in or by 2020. A move of the bus operation from Rigby Road is planned - possibly in 2018/19 and the North Station tram extension to be completed in 2019.
The layout and arrangements for the terminus at North Station are being worked on with some interesting options on the table. Below : The Party enthralled at the sight of Balloon 704 at the rear of the depot - looking somewhat the worse for wear but a surviving double deck car nonetheless. A potpourri of heritage trams in profile with a Centenary, OMO car, two Brush Cars, Jubilee 761 and the front and rear (just) of two withdrawn Excel BTS buses stored on the eastern most tracks. PS : I think that's the rear platform of the Western Train carraige just in shot - so we have a former Pantograph car as well.
As far as the trams go - two new Flexities are likely to be ordered to augment the existing fleet by 2018/19 - but the trams will retain the same Council colour scheme.
The heritage operation has produced a sizeable revenue and is highly valued by the Council. Examination of the creation of tram and transport attraction to be sited at Rigby Road are under review at several levels - and the strengthening of the heritage offer is very much part of Council policy.
The tours inside both depots were especially interesting of course,, with care being taken to observe safety requirements. All of the trams (and some withdrawn buses) were viewed and naturally photographed but the visit inside the Engineering Shop and Body Shop were cancelled due to lack of time. It was fascinating to contrast the traditional aspects inside Rigby Road Depot (a 1930s build set up) with the squeaky clean venue inside Starr Gate and its engineering workshop. Box 40 was taken around the Starr Gate loop, passing through the tram wash equipment to park on the depot access track while we made our inspection. A senior 'Inspector' from BTS made himself available to answer questions and make sure we followed the special
tour arrangement which included a peek into the operations office at the very end.
The latter was a surprise given its compact size, but every aspect of all of the trams on line are monitoredin real time electronically and recorded.
A very neat Depot Tram Assignment Board - at Starr Gate. Somewhat different from the multi entry version at Rigby Road up to 2011.
The tour ended with a grandstand run up to Bispham loop where, without stopover, Box 40 reversed its journey for an equally exhilarating return along the promenade back to Manchester Square and the depot. All in all it was an extremely worthwhile event and made especially enjoyable by the presence of the MD (with her son as Guard) plus the friendly BHT driver of course. Steve Palmer voiced thanks on behalf of the tour participants who could not have anticipated such a valuable event following on the January tour (misstep). All thanks to Steve, and most particularly to Jane Cole and colleagues at Rigby Road and Starr Gate for this memorable afternoon. Below : A great veteran from the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company - 1914 built 'Fleetwood Box 40' formerly BCT 114 and Engineering Car 5. Still providing marvellous rides on Blackpool's seafront tramway. Here seen waiting for the tour group to board after the visit inside Starr Gate Depot - and a quick ride up to Bispham its original home for many years. All Images : John Woodman