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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Single Deck Trams

Blackpool's continuance with operating single deck trams is now the norm in today's light rail world where modular designs with fanciful frontal styling and even more garish external colour schemes are accepted practise. In truth some of the light rail branding styles are most becoming - the new West Midlands colour scheme and application being an apt example. Manchester Metrolink's all over yellow doesn't quite work for an entire metropolitan area particularly given the size of the tram fleet all to a standard design.

Double deck trams today are very much the exception globally with only Hong Kong and Alexandria in Egypt running this once prevalent approach in public service. Blackpool of course makes do with token operation of examples on 'heritage' service - some of which are retained in former green and cream livery whilst others are unfortunately decked out in a weird but not wonderful purple and white Local Authority branding that does nothing to inspire ridership. The rest of the single deck light rail fleet - imported from Germany - come in the same mandatory dark purple and white colours ordained by the Local Authority determined to depress the spirits of both residents and visitors alike.

The resort's preference for single deck trams is nothing new. Running trams along a coastline exposed to strong gale force winds and inclement weather (outside of summer months) has influenced the Council owned tramway as well as the preceding private company line to Fleetwood. Influences imported from the Isle of Man which similarly still operates a lengthy coastal tramway showing its historic origins of the late 19th century (and maintaining traditional fleet colours) - were a major factor in the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company's own tram purchase policies way back. Entirely single deck trams were purchased with distinctions between types for year round use, and those catering to the swollen numbers of passengers profiting the operation during warm seasons.

On acquisition of the Tramroad Company by the Corporation and its absorption within the Corporation Tramways fleet - several of the Company open cars were rebuilt to an enclosed style in the new Workshops established on Rigby Road. However the archaic design of the Company's enclosed fleet (corner end loading and bare wood interiors) obliged the Tramways Department in 1928 to purchase wholly new enclosed trams dedicated to year round service to Fleetwood (from Blackpool's North Station). These came as single deckers with comfortable padded seating, large picture windows, wide entrance platforms and notable a metal gantry on top of which pantograph current collectors were fitted. The latter to minimise loss of power caused by high winds impacting on trolleypoles along parts of the line between the Cabin and Fleetwood's urban centre. Whilst these were the first single deck trams (other than open toastracks) purchased for Blackpool - they certainly were not the last and indeed set a precedent followed faithfully thereafter other than twenty seven streamline double deck 'balloons' in the 1930s. The latter being limited to services only as far north as Cleveleys during summer months up until 1958.

Thus Blackpool was unusual in favouring single deck trams in Britain but not alone. Several other operators for one reason or another similarly opted to keep things simple. The most notable being the short lived Dearne and District system in south Yorkshire which made do with utilitarian two axle boxline single deck cars to a standard design. They meandered along single track lines with myriad passing loops connecting small communities of mining villages. However the late appearance of this operation in the 1920s - ran foul of the upsurge of new bus services able to travel quicker and flexibly (and less noisily). The new tramway being quickly replaced by its rubber tyre competition. A handful of the trams found new homes on the Fylde coast where they were given a light blue and white paintjob but nothing else - to run into Blackpool as part of the Lytham St Annes tram fleet. Others went north of the border to begin brief working lives on Falkirk's circular route traversing the entire Scottish borough alongside brand new single deck bogie cars built by Brush.

Another Scottish industrial town - Wemyss similarly stuck to single deck tram operation on its lengthy single track line also connecting small villages serving the mining district along the Firth of Forth in the Kingdom of Fife. A different industrial usage found single deck trams exclusively operating the Grimsby & Immingham mostly reserved track route also mainly for workers in chemical and fishing sectors needing access to plants and operations by the North Sea coast. More bucolic and relaxed travel was found at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute on the west coast of Scotland. Here a mixed bag of open, closed and semi closed single deck trams satisfied the needs of year round residents on a lengthy line which ended at Ettrick Bay. Across the Irish Sea the Giants Causeway tramway from Portrush meandering along Northern Ireland's coastline similarly provided visitors with enjoyable views and rides up until 1949. A quaint fleet of single truck single trams - all single deck and some used as trailers - providing the motive power. Fortunately several found retirement homes in museums north and south of the border (in Ireland).

A large tramway system in and around the Potteries had to deal with numerous low bridges along many if not all of its tram routes and accordingly had a large fleet of high capacity single deck bogie cars to maintain its services. Sadly none have survived.

One distinctive coastal line which definitely threw caution to the winds by operating an all double deck tram fleet was of course the Swansea and Mumbles tramroad - here too using pantographs on the new electric cars built by the Brush Company during the 1920s. The line survived up to 1960. In Wales the similarly famous Llandudno & Colwyn Bay tramway, a company owned operation, managed to get by with open top double deck trams (from Bournemouth) supplemented by single deck bogie cars second hand also - from Accrington.

Whilst Manchester today is exclusively single deck - there was for many years in the first generation system a unique semi circular service 53 which traversed several low bridge locations needing only single deck trams. A large fleet of 'California' type single deck trams was maintained solely for this line until the service was replaced by low height Leyland Titan buses during the 1930s. Fortunately one example (of the trams) survives and has even run in Blackpool during previous years. A dedicated group of enthusiasts rescued the body from a farm and restored 765 to running order outsourcing parts from South Africa, Ireland and diverse places to recreate the original design. It is of course now the centre piece of the Heaton Park Museum line. (Title Image : John Woodman)

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