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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Commemorating Rigby Road Works Accomplishments - 1

John Woodman

There is understandable fixation on Blackpool's unique trams with an ever constant scrutiny of the changes and rebuilding carried out on individual cars over successive decades. In recent years this is much diminished following onset of light rail operation and a much diminished fleet; the mainstay of which are foreign built modular units lacking the individuality of the traditional 'home grown' models which generate most attention from both the public and enthusiasts.

The town's transport operations from early years were focussed exclusively on the integrated workshops and depots sited off Rigby Road. Initially the trams occupied a lengthy storage depot accessed from Princess Street and Blundell Street, with a connecting single track leading on to the Promenade. Blundell Street Depot, as it was known, has long gone under a housing development still awaiting completion. Its small confined maintenance and repair area became overwhelmed with a backlog of overhaul and rebuilding tasks in the immediate aftermath of World War One. This was further exacerbated by a much enlarged tram fleet upon takeover of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad's forty-one units from 1920 and steeply rising ridership numbers year on year.

A consequence was the decision to create a new works facility with individual specialised 'shops' each with its own skill set and resources. Using Corporation owned land accessed from Rigby Road which benefitted from a railway connection (much like the Tramroad's depot on Copse Road in Fleetwood) an 'avenue' of buildings was created with surplus War Department structures. Linked by a moving traverser along the length of the 'avenue' trams partial or whole could be transferred out of and into the different 'Shops' for the attention of specialist skills and craftsmen employed by the Tramways Department.

The immediate impact was felt with emergence of the first prototypes of the Department's new enclosed top deck design as forerunners of a class of over forty similar 'Standards' during the 1920s. Initially with open driver platforms and open upper deck balconies the class subsequently gained enclosed driver platforms : whilst a total of seventeen were also upgraded by further enclosing the top deck balconies. All except seven Standards were built by Rigby Road's staff from 1921 to 1929. Seven were bought new from Hurst Nelson Company in Kilmarnock. Blackpool's heritage fleet proudly holds an 'as built' example. Number 143 has been saved through its later service as an 'Engineering Car' from 1958 and latterly the efforts and funding of the Fylde Transport Trust in conjunction with Blackpool Transport. An all enclosed example (147) also remarkably returned to Rigby Road from a US 'trolley museum' as an iconic working example of this class in its final condition through initiatives of Blackpool Transport's management.

Workshops Drawing of the 'new' open balcony 'Standard' car. Number 143 is now in this original condition (more or less). Launched in 2020 but quickly withdrawn to allow repairs to its motors and related equipment - now underway.

Longevity of the 'Standards' in service into the mid 1960s did at least allow museums to acquire examples from a diminishing number of survivors. In addition to 147's interim time in the US, open balcony 144 was acquired by the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine where it is displayed in its 1940 cream and green colours; whilst all enclosed Standard number 48 resides in Portland, Oregon. Still in the UK, 159 became a regular performer in the East Anglia Transport Museum, while enthusiasts favourite, open balcony 40 is at the National Tramway Museum at Crich, along with sister Standard car 49.

Also among further projects during the first decade of Rigby Road Workshops from 1921 - was the construction of six open 'toastrack' cars to the same style as those purchased in the immediate years preceding World War One. Naturally simple to build, toastracks 161 to 166 were a speedy solution to adding summer seasonal capacity on the seafront services, as well as the busy 'Circular Tour' which operated from Talbot Square. Here too a Rigby Road built example has fortuitously survived in the form of 166 which became one of the 'Television Cars' from 1949. Its longevity into the 1970s again allowed eventual preservation and restoration to original working condition at the National Tramway Museum.

Nor was this all. The new Tramway Workshops undertook far more reconstruction and rebuilding tasks during the 1920s, including of course the famous illuminated duo - the Gondola and Lifeboat. More to follow.


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