This week saw transfer of ownership of Jubilee Car 761 from the FHLT to the Blackpool Heritage Tours Trust following on friendly consultations between both groups over recent months. This unique tram represents an important achievement by the engineering and workshop staff at Rigby Road during a period when Blackpool alone retained tram operation in Britain - against prevailing trends which saw every other UK tram system give way to diesel buses in the postwar period from 1945 up until the opening of Manchester's Metrolink first line with on street operation.
Facing the need for economies in its overall operations and especially on the tramway Blackpool's Transport Department embarked on a policy of introducing 'one man' pay as you enter services from 1969. This started with the bus fleet in a radical changeover from crew staffing of its open rear platform double deckers being purchased up to 1968, to front entrance driver operated single deck buses for most services thereafter. The tram fleet understandably posed especial difficulties in rebuilding given the exclusive centre entrance cars then maintaining the year round service.
Following initial trials with two sample cars it was decided to embark on reconstruction of thirteen of the 1930s English Electric built rail coaches still 'on the books'. These appeared from 1972 over subsequent years to provide a more economic method of maintaining the winter season service between Starr Gate and Fleetwood by elim- inating roving conductors and having the driver responsible for fare collection and overall safety of the tram and passengers.
Having completed this critical objective the Transport Department turned attention to the possibility of similarly redesigning some of the centre entrance 'balloon' cars to allow higher capacity one man operated services at peak times. A withdrawn tram was selected to test out this more ambitious objective in 1971. The Workshops undertook comprehensive rebuilding of Balloon Car 262 gathering dust in Blundell Street depot. This involved extending the frame (at both ends), removing the centre entrance and two stairs, and totally redesigning the top and lower deck 'saloons' with fixed seating that followed the OMO car design with half and half rear and forward facing sections.
Instead of the customary central entrance the rebuilt tram was fitted with new end platforms which allowed driver handling of fares and tickets, and neat offside stairs that were rearward facing - at each end. The end design of the newly configured bodywork was left to Metal Sections Ltd., - a Midlands firm which had previously supplied Bangkok, Lisbon and Hong Kong with simple easily assembled bodywork kits for trams in those cities. Echoing bus bodywork trends the flat fronted style was completely different from Blackpool's 1930s' streamline features originating in Strand Road, Preston. The resulting layout accomplished a highly creditable 92 passengers albeit on fixed bus type seating. In practise this quite revolutionary tram was found to be slow loading resulting in backup of following cars - even with a roving conductor on the newly renumbered 761.
A consequence of dependence on a single front entrance exit layout resulted in the follow-on design being adjusted to retain a centre platform and exit doors as well as the front entrance at each end. Faster passenger flow at stops was achieved but with a lowering of seating capacity. Unfortunately the length of time spent in the Bodyshop meant a slowing down of work on other trams needing attention - and the two 'Jubilee' models were destined to be a unique duo. Number 762 was launched in 1982 by which time it was necessary for the Transport Department to consider a more radical approach to fleet renewal. The OMO cars were already showing wear and tear especially the prevalence of drooping end platforms on their extended bodyframes. So tenders were invited for a completely new tram capable of one man/person operation. This arrived in 1984 setting the model for a subsequent small series of cars (641 - 648) which would hold down the basic service up to the end of traditional tram operation in 2011. Number 641 then ended up being 'saved' by the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust, joining prototype Jubilee car 761 acquired by the FHLT through a private sponsor following its withdrawal on the final night of traditional service. The FHLT were determined to ensure the tram would remain on the Fylde coast as a reminder of the enormous accomplishments of the Transport Department's engineering workshops over many years. We are pleased to have now placed this invaluable car in the hands of Blackpool's Heritage Tours team who are creating a recognised collection of the town's tramway development for future generations to acclaim.
The small core team of the FHLT are proud to have played this transitory but essential role by ensuring both classic Blackpool prototypes (761 and 641) have survived into preservation.
That Final Night of Service for 761and its final crew on their stopover at Bispham :
The driver takes a break while John Woodman poses at the controls - only kidding !
Great tram - great memories