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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

2020 Heritage Service

The ambitions of those responsible for arranging the operation of old trams on Blackpool's light rail line are perhaps just pushing their envelope a little too far with the recent announcement of operating days during the forthcoming twelve months. Blackpool Promenade's other heritage transport operators - the Landaus of an even earlier vintage deem it unseasonable, uneconomic, and overly tiresome for their motive power to traverse the seafront through cold winter months.

Given the lack of footfall on Blackpool seafront during this period it is questionable at best to flog 'Gold Service' weekends in a quarter when the waiting queues likely be non existent except perhaps for fixated followers of traditional tramcars. The incessant year round demand on workshop and the limited engineering staff required to ensure elderly trams are both safe and operable on a sustainable service - when pressing jobs on already withdrawn trams pending repair or maintenance pile up - suggests that an off season period with its dour and sometimes challenging weather conditions, should be kept fully free of demands on the fleet. Where special hires are called for these can of course be provided subject to availability of car(s) and staffing - and where revenue justifies the output.

Breakdowns and failures of heritage trams would seem to be on the increase although I do not keep tally or running count of mishaps. However the more recent news blips online elsewhere suggest that there is a somewhat cavalier style towards Blackpool's heritage tram stewardship. One which seemingly discounts cummulative wear and tear on elderly vehicles placed in frequent service - when actual ridership by paying passengers is at a minimum, if in fact it exists at all. Excepting the hard core perennial enthusiasts needing their tramriding 'fix' - and finding Blackpool's off season turn out to be irresistible. In fact it would be interesting to see or indeed hear of daily or weekly ridership numbers on Heritage Tours through a twelve month period; not to mention actual revenue generated on the overall operation. To my knowledge no such data is available or has been made public.

Below : Standard Car 143 on its inaugural run standing at the Pleasure Beach loop and providing an atmospheric flavour not seen since the mid 1920s!

Sadly this solitary outing on the promenade was truncated due to various faults only revealed after 143 was recovered and returned to the Engineering Workshop. Remarkably the tram had not been previously tested on the promenade before its launch as a result of delays in the completion of restoration tasks and possible mismatch in expectations by the various parties involved. Something which should not be allowed to happen in future.

Comments elsewhere also raise questions over the modus operandi of Blackpool's Heritage Tour set up. Parallel but seperate endeavours of Fylde Transport Trust in pursuing not one, not two, but three credible restoration projects locally & funded through their own efforts raises need for re-assessment of the merits, or otherwise, of the current set up at Rigby Road, What strategies exist for a permanent exhibition highlighting Blackpool's unique role in the 1880s in bringing electric power to a British tramway. The expectations of the 'Blackpool Museum' being shoehorned within the newbuild hotel and commercial structure under development on the seafront - do not stretch to a tram exhibition as far as I am aware, although from time to time reference to the town's pioneering role in this regard have been aired. So much to ponder as we lurch towards another General Election.

Possibly the powers that be might care to revisit the quite logical need for an all year enclosed exhibition taking in Blackpool's embrace of electric power as it emerged in the last decades of the 19th Century - overtaking and transforming entire economies and industries. Ironically Blackpool's transport policies emerging in this century point towards all electric vehicles both rail and road - wheels turning full circles indeed.

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