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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Is it a tram is it a bus is it a trolleybus?

Blackpool's final new trams (the pre-light rail kind) appeared in 1984 with a sample car - number 641 now in ownership of the FHLT. On arrival from East Lancashire Coachbuilders in Blackburn it was unkindly reviewed as looking far too like a bus.

Certainly it differed in visual terms from its predecessors starting with the 1952 Coronation class, the twin set design (remodelled 1930s railcoaches and brand new matching trailers), and One Man Operated remodelled 1930s railcoaches of 1972.

Experiments with the radically restyled Balloon Cars 761 and 762 had already drawn comparison with versions of the 'Atlantean' double deck buses of the 1960s. In particular the bought in end sections bolted on to their extended body frames added a whiff of Liverpool's buses to the finished product. However the nearest a tram came to looking like a bus was the unusual single ended double deck trams built in the mid 1930s for Rotherham Corporation.

Eleven of these truly (trolley)bus like trams were purchased by Rotherham to operate their interrunning service to Sheffield, jointly with that city's transport department. More or less following trolleybus bodywork design of the time with fixed forward facing seating - the Rotherham trams could easily be mistaken for a trolleybus. In fact Rotherham also operated a distinctive trolleybus system with equally unusual single deck vehicles complete with centre entrances. There was even shared service with the Mexborough and Swinton trolleybus system - it too favouring single deck vehicles, complete with centre entrances.

One of Rotherham Corporation's unusual single ended trams complete with fenders of the type used by Blackpool. No surprise here as the eleven examples were all built by English Electric in Preston. Photo : John Woodman Archive At the same time Sheffield's Transport Department were building a fleet of what became known as the 'Dome Roof' cars - an appealing design with none of the sharp edges of the Rotherham trams. These were probably the most attractive two axle trams of this period and many examples lasted up to the final year of that system in 1960. Number 258 is seen alongside a postwar 'Jubilee' car 502 - Photo : John Woodman Archive. One example, number 264, is on display at Crich.

A further example of trams reflecting bus body styling was the prototype trambuilt by London General Omnibus Company reflecting then modern 'NS' models with open driving cabs (at both ends of the tram). Nicknamed 'Poppy' the car had a short service life but played a supporting role in the eventual design of the famous 'Feltham' class which followed on from 1929. Apart from the two driving ends and tramlike sounds one could have imagined one was riding in a typical London bus of the time. Needless to say it was the only tram built by this company.

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