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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Cooperation With Manufacturers - 1

John Woodman

Blackpool's transport system has a history of working closely with tram and bus bodywork builders ever since the 1930s when the English Electric Company prevailed on the new Transport Manager to showcase its new 'rail coach' design at a professional conference held in the town in June 1933. This led in turn to a succession of contracts for the supply of similarly styled trams, both single and double deck, through that decade. Builders drawings and concept designs regularly appeared on Walter Luff's desk for his personal review with many surviving to the present day, held at the Transport Offices on Rigby Road. Even previous to 1933 the English Electric company tested out multiple unit control equipment on Blackpool's tramway using two former Tramroad Company cars modified and coupled together. The testing was done for anticipated equipment orders from an interurban operator in British Columbia of all places - as far distant from England as it was possible to be. Articulated designs were also submitted to Blackpool in the late 1920s which were not acted on but would become useful in English Electric's delivery of similar rolling stock to the Calcutta tram system, then under British ownership and control.

Revenue flow and annual profits from the town's tram services during prewar years allowed the Transport Department to indulge its idiosyncratic designs to the full, as well as provide for smart new offices, bus station and large tram depot, among other capital investments. The Department's firm relationship with English Electric, Leyland Motors and Blackpool coachbuilder HV Burlingham presented a 'firewall' against competing suppliers. Only one Blackpool tram contract slipped from English Electric's grasp in 1937 when Brush Engineering succeeded in prying away a twenty strong order for single deck trams. This was in part due to their engagement of a former EE designer and engineer. Similarly one bus bodywork contract (actually rebodying) was secured by an outside supplier (Roe) in 1936, when twelve Leyland PLSC3 chassis buses (55 - 66) were given new streamline open single deck bodies replacing by then dated enclosed bodywork design.

As the Second World War drew to a close, preparations to introduce new tramcar technology deriving from the very successful American 'PCC' design proven in service in North America - were put in hand by two UK licensees, Crompton Parkinson and Maley & Taunton. Both Glasgow and Blackpool transport managers were keen to adopt the modern equipment and sanctioning its testing in service. Blackpool placed two trams in service to compare application on the English Electric design (208) and the Brush Engineering model of 1937 (303). These 'silent running' trams were necessary to gain Council approval for relaying the all-street running Marton tram service, as precursor to a new fleet of similarly equipped cars specifically for operating the Marton route. The trials were successful resulting in an order from both companies for bogies and control equipment used to fit on the 1939 delivered semi open trams (10 - 21) built of course by English Electric. Brush car 303 remained as a 'one-off' experiment up until its scrapping in 1963 alongside the upgraded 'Marton Vambacs' 10 to 21 as they had become known. One example (11) was fortunately preserved and is now on display in running order at the Carlton Colville museum near Lowestoft.

Above : the 1946 English Electric rail coach test unit with modified 'VAMBAC' controls and new resilient wheel bogies - seen here in Abingdon Street on its frequent journey between Talbot Square and Royal Oak. Below : Marton Vambac car 11 (now preserved) on an enthusiast tour traversing Dickson Road towards North Station. Both photos : John Woodman and Colin MacLeod

Perhaps unfortunately the parallel contract for 25 new trams to operate on the coastal service to Fleetwood, were not presaged through testing of a prototype by Blackpool. Instead the contract was let without clear instructions on design in a rush to see this tranche of postwar trams delivered before retirement of the Transport Manager in 1954. The 'Coronation' cars whilst impressive to ride on and in overall appearance, were in reality to prove to be expensive 'lemons' for the Department, with multiple faults requiring attention throughout their foreshortened operating lives. They provided salutory lessons for future management decisions regarding the tram fleet.

On the bus fleet side of the transport operation both Leyland Motors and Burlingham pursued close attention to the variables of Blackpool's transport management, and in particular the General Manager, Walter Luff who maintained a personal watching brief over emerging new vehicle contracts. In particular this fixated entirely on full front bodywork with centre entrance passenger flow requirement. Two generations of deliveries in the 1930s and postwar era saw a total of eighty-eight and one hundred new double deck buses with streamline features delivered to Rigby Road. A further thirty five new single deck versions plus twelve rebodied examples with similar styling - again all centre entrance models arriving between 1937 and 1940, and all bodied locally by the HV Burlingham company at its factory on Preston New Road - saving the rebodied vehicles.

To be continued /


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