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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Pigeon Weekend in Blackpool !

The busiest weekend out of season brought thousands of visitors into Blackpool's centre and the Winter Gardens for the annual pigeon show. Queues outside the Winter Gardens together with long lines of taxis lining up for trade contrasted with the handfuls of tram enthusiasts persuaded to travel to Blackpool for the first 'Gold' weekend of heritage tram service. I am told that the pigeon exhibitions brings breeders with buyers from all over the UK and Ireland, as well as our European neighbours especially in the 'Low Countries' where pigeon racing has a large following.

Pigeon lofts used to be a familiar sight especially in the north of England. A leading Coronation character in the original show was firmly wedded to his 'birds' - no pun here.

Trams too have their followers although their numbers are fast dwindling as older generations who grew up with trams rumbling past their homes and in city centres - are now passing on. New generations have to make do with a light rail scene dominated by modular cars, imported from foreign builders and wholly lacking character, other than fanciful paint schemes seemingly the product of wannabe graphic designers.

Remnants of the last traditional tram service in the UK (outside of the Isle of Man) still grace our seafront - more as curiosities attracting only passing glances from the public. Ridership out of seasonal months being confined to the small number of 'enthusiasts' braving weather and cost to sample an ersatz tram ride which has little resemblance to decades past of busy scenes on Blackpool's coastline. Whilst the dull months of winter are infrequently enlivened by the passage of reminders of our colourful heritage - the ridership this generates from observation would very quickly put any commercial leisure operator out of business.

Unseen are the hidden costs of running venerable old railed vehicles year round with only minimal engineering and repair backup in hand. Whereas Blackpool's tramway relied on a fully staffed Body Shop, Electricians Section, Engineering Shop, Paint Shop and even a Blacksmith with small smithy in the corner of the Engineering works; the numerous active surviving cars have to rely on a literally handful of staff whose practical experience through the past decades is called on to 'keep the show on the road'. Whereas most heritage tram services elsewhere turn out one or two trams for quiet seasons outside of the summer months - Blackpool persists in fielding a diverse fleet of ever changing cars from its depot. Cleaning, maintenance and repair, not to mention safety checks, have to be undertaken for each and every tram placed on the seafront, ignoring the miniscule number of visitors and riders attracted to such winter month's excursion.

The recent consolidation of the current BHT set up with the longstanding team responsible for ongoing restoration projects as Fylde Transport Trust, complete with charitable status, may lead to a rational and more economic use of the combined assets. Of course what is really lacking is a visitor centre where the diverse collection of cars and material should be displayed in a cohesive setting that highlight's Blackpool's lead UK role in application of electric power towards the end of the 19th century. The huge amount of consultancy costs or charges expended on the compact Blackpool Museum being dovetailed into the newbuild hotel next to the classic Woolworth's building - intimates an amazing historic display is in the offing. Sadly this will do nothing for Blackpool's transport heritage story - starting with 1885. What minds engaged in promoting heritage tram rides (year round) should be giving attention to is the creation of a world class exhibition of electric powered trams through the formative years of Siemens, Westinghouse, Thomas Alva Edison (of course), a Mr Teslar, and dare I say - Holroyd-Smith of Halifax. The latter gentleman being encouraged to demonstrate his use of electricity to power full size electric trams (built in Lancaster) along the roadway - with a prototype line from Cocker Street to Blackpool's south shore.

In this century with electric power overtaking fossil fuel powered vehicles in urban transport Blackpool is set to be the first in Britain to operate electric buses alongside electric trams. The town's showcase of electric power application justifies the relevance of a fulsome focus on how the wheel has turned a full circle from 1885 to 2025 - using our tram heritage for the benefit of generations living their lives through much of the 21st Century. Time for that transport historical exhibition to be worked up by Council planners (but without expensive consulting types wanting a piece of the local action). Better to draw on the budding know-how and talent of Fylde coast colleges and students.

Marking the 1985 Centenary of Electric Street Tram Operation in Blackpool (and the UK).

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