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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Double deck trams

Blackpool's tramway began with double deck cars - ten in all - configured to conduit current collection and with open tops on two axle trucks (or trunnions). Thereafter the fleet grew in number exponentially. After takeover by Blackpool Corporation from the Blackpool Electric Tramways Company and conversion of the existing service to overhead wire collection - the system expanded further to cover inland parts of the borough. Services to Layton Cemetery along the 'New Road' directly east from the town centre; around the eastern edge of the town in a semi circular curving route along what became Whitegate Drive and Waterloo Road as far as St Annes Road - thence turning north bound to the Revoe Library and Gymnasium and along Central Drive into the town centre with a terminus directly outside Central Station. Lytham Road was a further street service connecting with the Lytham trams at Station Road where a short westward branch ran to the Promenade at Victoria Pier.

The resort's growth and success of its trams in dealing with surges in crowds on a daily basis called for larger capacity cars. These came in the form of bogie double deck trams and a class featuring twin staircases at both ends allowing boarding from the track on to the tram's open top deck as well as its interior lower deck. The new line traversing inland residential districts brought further double deck trams this time on two axles and with constrained entrances featuring reverse stairs to open top decks. Larger four axle open top trams from Motherwell came to supplement the twin staircase models and deal with ever larger numbers of passengers seeking 'fresh air and fun' by the seaside.

In 1911 a wholly new type of double deck design arrived from Preston in the form of top covered . A four axle type and two axle version - both with new covered top decks. The motion of the two axle design was deemed to cause discomfort whilst the bogie four axle trams offered satisfactory conditions throughout becoming the basis of an evolving class of 'standard' type - using the Motherwell cars on conclusion of the 'Great War' in 1919. Copies of this acceptable design then were constructed by the Tramways Department at their extensive new workshops built along Rigby Road on the present Blackpool Transport site.

The town's ever growing need for top covered trams in the 'roaring Twenties' saw successive deliveries of 'Standard' trams built in Blackpool up to 1929. Demand for these reliable all weather types even extended to seven being bought in complete from the Scottish builder, Hurst Nelson. Only the interurban service to Fleetwood running northward from the 'Cabin' called for single deck models of which ten new examples built at Preston arrived in 1928 specifically for this purpose - complete with pantograph current collectors on top of large metal gantrys. This class together with the now extended 'Standard' class became the mainstay of tram services to 1934.

A new Transport Manager arrived in 1933 with a sweeping mandate to improve on the by now traditional tramway operation, and growing political pressure to improve the town's bus services. Changes were not long in coming. New buses arrived in a change of colour scheme to green and ivory relief whilst a revolutionary single deck tram appeared on show as harbinger of a completely new chapter in the town's system. Both models displayed a new passenger flow style involving centre platform design - to be perpetuated for the next two decades. English Electric Company envisaged a 'family' design of both double deck and single deck versions of the new 'rail coach' design - one far removed from the accepted practise of upright and spartan finish common to most tram systems in the early 1930s. Now an era in which speed and streamlined style epitomised modern vehicle design.

Thus a series of annual tranches of both versions transformed Blackpool's transport system and image through the decade. Out went the by now outdated open top double staircase trams while the 'Standards' were transformed with the new corporation green and cream fleet colours and fully enclosed versions which did away with open end balconies deemed to be out of favour by most systems. Twenty seven double deck examples of the new streamline trams arrived in total (of which thirteen arrived with open tops for summer mont service) - making Blackpool's older cars even more dated. Even more so when they glided past the obsolete blue and white trams of the sister operation to Lytham and St Annes. A total of one hundred and fifteen streamline trams would arrive in Blackpool by the outbreak yet a further world war in 1939. The open top double deck streamliners were hurriedly rebuilt with enclosed top decks to the same appearance as the fourteen covered versions.

The bus system similarly benefitted from this transformation with nearly one hundred new streamline centre entrance double deck vehicles arriving during the same period. Eighteen single deck versions along with three new open single deck classes did away with the 1920s inelegant cross bench models that served Stanley Park.

As things turned out the 1930s deliveries of twenty seven streamline double deck trams would be the last new double deck examples delivered to Blackpool with most surviving to the present day, Many have undergone successive transformations through the decades with two undergoing major surgery to become capable of front entrance passenger flow and others upgraded in a manner of speaking to operate along side the light rail fleet from 2011.

Fortunately two of the 1920s 'Standards' also survive representing the 'norm' of that era.

However Blackpool's tram system is notable for its single deck fleet in varied forms - standing out among Britain's first generation tramways in this respect. The surviving 'Balloon Cars' in their various shades and guises representing a brave attempt by a British builder to stem the decline in perception of trams as mainstay of urban transport in this country. Alas to no avail. However across the Channel other professional and forward thinking minds held sway - to the point today when trams wearing a new label 'light rail' have reemerged as clean efficient flag bearers of street running urban transport. The growth of light rail operation across much of Europe, North America and even North Africa are testimony to those forward thinking professionals in Preston, Blackpool, Glasgow and Liverpool (among other UK operators) placing their faith on electric powered steel on steel transit into the new millenium. We are blessed in those early generations who stuck with the thesis that urban corridors of public travel merited superior service which can only be delivered through modern trams.

Istanbul - heritage abounds with optimal public transport connectivity served by trams

Dublin - Ireland's capital has embraced light rail among its classic city centre landscape.

Blackpool's progressive transport system kept to the forefront of propulsion technology with superlative streamline trams and the latest design in controls and quiet running trucks. Here is testbed car 303 built in 1937 at Fleetwood Ferry in the 1940s.

Double deck finale. A duo of 1930s English Electric built trams stand by the Tower on a damp day - with 700 in its metamorphis as a light rail compatible 'Balloon' and sister car in an earlier rebuilt style and pre 1933 Blackpool Tramways fleet colours application.

All Images : John Woodman

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