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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Brush Cars Galore

One of the remarkable aspects of Blackpool's former fleet is the longevity of a large number of survivors from the 1937 class of rail cars built in Loughborough by the Brush Engineering Company. A total of twenty examples were built for Blackpool representing the very last tram order of this famous British company. A handful of modern cars (for the time) from Sunderland and South Shields saw the company endeavouring to keep its place in tram design and construction but the Blackpool contract proved the final order after which the plug was pulled on further tramcar development in Loughborough. Left : the terminus at North Station in winter with a tram awaiting its return to Fleetwood. Photo : John Woodman

Its principal competitor, English Electric in Preston, was of course far more dextrous in securing contracts from Blackpool Corporation during the 1930s (and previously). In fact a total of 45 similar single deck centre entrance streamline 'rail coaches' were built for Blackpool between 1933 and 1935, whilst a further 12 single deck 'Sun Saloons' delivered in 1939 added to the overall fleet of streamline trams serving the town. Whilst not one of the 'rail coaches' has survived in original form as built, the longevity of the Brush version meant a number of their trams were still 'in stock' at the end of traditional tram service in 2011. Additionally several examples had already been acquired for preservation - and others followed in the aftermath of the light rail upgrade.

Below : When will this survivor ever come back to its passenger carrying days ?

The Brush cars featured on all of Blackpool's former tram services with the exception of the Marton line. After brief testing with Number 303 (Vambac equipped) it was found that the air powered centre doors delayed the amount of time spent loading and unloading at the frequent stops; whereas the English Electric cars (and later Marton Vambacs) had conductor manually operated doors which could be opened or close in a split second (and usually were by regular conductors).

Classic scene on Lytham Road - unloading at Station Road junction from this Brush car Photo : John Woodman

Several of the class fell by the wayside so to speak over the years. Number 303 being one of the first to be scrapped (at Marton Depot) due to its Vambac control equipment. Number 638 was rebuilt as a test bed one man operated car but fell foul of Union objections and had to be hastily remodified to original format and finally being scrapped. An illuminated version 'The Trawler' utilised an example whilst the former Transport Department created a rail carrier with extended frame towed by another Brush car as Permanent Way car - both of which remain at Rigby Road Depot. Other examples have been fortunate inasmuch as they found benefactors. Crich Museum has number 298 in more or less original state now awaiting its turn to go through the Workshops for a complete restoration following on decades of patient work by a small dedicated group led by the late Keith Terry. The Museum also has by contrast the last upgraded example heavily modified in the final years of the traditional tram operation. The Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust retains ownership of 290 which was the last regular service car from North Station to Fleetwood in 1963, as well as hosting a privately owned example (300) at its Wyre Dock 'depot'. Peel Holdings retain a solitary example from the collection assembled for an on again off again on again scheme 'Wirral Waters' which anticipates an extended heritage or themed tramway along the waterfront connecting with the existing Birkenhead tramway. Another privately owned tram from that collection has been 'saved' for preservation privately (288) and now in Rigby Road Depot alongside many other 'sisters' built with tlc at Loughborough in 1937.

This all contrasts with the single English Electric rail coach presently being restored to its earlier as built styling under the aegis of Fylde Transport Trust. However it must be acknowledged that quite a number of the 45 strong examples have been rebuilt into Twin Set Motor Units, OMO Cars, and not to mention the Hovertram now in double deck form. Whilst their origins are obscured in their later format, they still retain their English Electric bogies, controllers and elements of bodywork (in many cases). But thirteen Brush rail cars from twenty remains a pretty good tally.

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