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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Railcoach Reprise

The 45 rail coaches built by English Electric were once the workhorses of Blackpool's tram fleet operating year round on all of the tram services extant up to the early 1960s. Large bites had been taken out of their number through the conversion of ten examples into remodelled Motor Units to pull newly built trailers - together with culls to the first series (221 - 224) following conversion of Squires Gate and Marton tram services in 1961 and 1962. This included prototype unit (200) of 1933 and the Vambac prototype 208 which served alongside the sister Vambac cars 10 - 21 on the Marton service until closure in 1962.

Varied revision to the remaining units during body overhaul saw detail adjustments both internal and external. Two more radical examples involved 264 (latterly 611) which was the testbed experiment for ICI's 'Darvic' panelling complete with new cab front treatment similar to the Twin Car Motor Units. A further experiment on (618) involved lengthening of its frame to add more seating capacity. This involved a narrowed driver's cab at both ends - the forerunner of the OMO design to follow from 1972.

The OMO class drew on the remaining English Electric railcoaches not otherwise remodelled for trailer car operation. Both 611 and 618 being included in the final tally of thirteen rebuilt trams to One Man Operation - an action which 'saved' the tram service into a new transforming era. Two further members of the once predominant class were taken out of service to provide the basis for new illuminated cars during the early 1960s. Number 209 found itself becoming the 'tender' of the new Western Train with the rear saloon providing seating in the 'Locomotive' whilst its front saloon was transformed into the engine proper.

Number 222 was given even more radical treatment in the bodyshop - emerging as a double deck 'Hovertram' complete with side passageway on the upper deck. A rebuilding of the Western Train locomotive in the previous decade saw the remnants of 209 being replaced by yet a further English Electric railcoach - albeit modified for trailer power car which was latterly used as a single motor unit following the scrapping of its paired trailer (with two others). The downsizing of the twin-car fleet from ten units to seven fortuitously allowed the three motorcars involved to then operate independently as double ended trams - one of which has been reclaimed by the Fylde Transport Trust. This fortunate example is being returned to its original styling and appearance through the initiatives of the Trust and support of the Heritage Tour team and Blackpool Transport. Offsite work is nearing completion in 2020 with expectation the 'retro' rail coach will become a valuable heritage 'relic' of an important class of tram in Blackpool's tramway history - thus far missing entirely since the 1970s. A further example of the trio of motor units (678) is still extant in Fleetwood as part of the initiatives of the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust. By now weatherworn the tram retains its original 1960s interior format following remodelling at Rigby Road Body Shop. Sponsorship for this work is now being sought.

The FHLT are investigating the optimal way of seeing 678 similarly given a new lease of life in its 1960s condition - as part of the announced strategy to renew Fleetwood's central district; one in which the historic role of electric tram operation is fully recognised.

An English Electric rail coach once familiar sights on Blackpool tram services - this example being assigned to Marton Depot on Whitegate Drive for the Marton service with its high frequency turnout (3 or 4 minutes during daytime hours)

The remodelled interior of 678 stored at Fleetwood - with varnished panelling and ceiling roof lights.

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