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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Electric Buses

John Woodman

The scenes from continental Europe with communities devastated by flash floods and overflowing rivers are a sobering sight - together with the rising death toll and huge economic cost. Climate change knows no boundaries nor observes class distinctions. Living on the low lying Fylde coastline now has a wakeup call for government box tickers and ever avaricious developers keen to build homes and commercial premises irrespective it seems of medium term risk.

The move away from carbon fuel to 'clean energy' already well underway is likely to accelerate even faster as the lessons from this week's devastation in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg begin to take root in their capitals and legislatures. In the UK London's planners will thank their lucky stars that the rainfall deluge did not leave a similar impact on the Home Counties.

Once upon a time London had the UK's largest trolleybus network, much of which replaced the earlier tramway system. Of course London's trolleybuses were consigned to the scrapheap in the 1960s and 70s - replaced by the omnipresent Routemaster bus. A handful of the latter even made it north to Blackpool becoming an exotic feature on the Promenade for several years.

With the pending move away from carbon fuel powered buses to all-electric models on Blackpool Transport's agenda for the not too distant future, it is worth recalling that the resort's coachbuilding business, HV Burlingham, was responsible for producing electric trolleybuses for four UK municipal systems : Portsmouth, Manchester, Glasgow and Reading. trolleybuses built in Blackpool. Glasgow's versions were single deck models to newly approved 35 feet long specification - and in fact replaced a former tram route. Portsmouth's fifteen double deckers were produced at the same time (1951) as Burlingham's delivery of fifty further centre entrance models for Blackpool Corporation (251 - 300). Both would share similar roof profile styling with deep curved frontal domes. Portsmouth went on to discard its trolleybus system by 1963. One of the Burlingham trolleybuses forms part of the East Anglia Transport Museum collection.

The Glasgow contract for ten single deck trolleybuses required to replace a tram service (12) were of exceptional length (for that time) providing 50 seated passengers. One example (13) is on display at the excellent Transport Museum in Clydebank.

Manchester's City Transport undertaking also selected Burlingham to build a sizeable fleet of double deck trolleybuses for its network in 1955 with a total of sixty two double deck versions being built (1301 - 1362). Reading's municipal system came back to Burlingham for a smart batch of front entrance double decker in a final order for twelve front entrance double deck models in 1961. These would become the very last design of trolleybus for a UK operator. before the town opted to convert over to all bus operation. Five Reading Burlingham built examples went on to a second and short working life on Teeside in 1969 before that system too succumbed to diesel bus supremacy just a few years later.

Blackpool's own transport department almost came close to being a trolleybus operator in the aftermath of World War Two when the perennial issue of relaying the Marton street running tramway again forced decisions on the local Council. Plans for the tramway replacement were already being discussed in the late 1930s following sharply after conversion of the Layton and Central Drive tram services to buses in 1936; and closure of the Lytham St Annes tram service into Blackpool the following year. Wartime material controls prevented further tramway closures (except by electric vehicles) and the Marton tram route staggered on with worn out track and operation of 1920s' Standard cars. By 1946 presented with a costed comparison of the Marton route being replaced by buses, trolleybuses or upgraded - the Council in the end voted reluctantly to go with the Manager's recommendations of track renewal linked with a replacement fleet of 'silent running' new trams - heralded by test car 208 with resilient wheels and smoother controls.

However this is not the end of the story since a trolleybus did actually get to run under wires along Blundell Street in the early 1980s. This was a demonstrator brought over from Lyon as part of a transport conference being held in the resort. The Transport Department erected overhead wiring along an almost straight line from alongside the Fitting Shop across Rigby Road and along Blundell Street (which retained track and powered wiring for tram access).

Tram replacement trolleybus of 1958 built in Blackpool. Glasgow TBS 13 seen here in the Glasgow Museum storage facility with the writer posing for the camera.


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