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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Electric Buses - in the 1940s and beyond

John Woodman

The push to 'go electric' by Blackpool's publicly owned transport operator - Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. has interesting ancestry outside of course of the electric tram service which has origins from 1885 (and 1898 in the case of the original Fleetwood - Blackpool service). Interest in bringing trolleybuses to Blackpool has surfaced from time to time most notably whenever the debate over relaying the street running Marton tram service 'surfaced' in Council in the 1920s and 1940s. Rumours of a test run by an early trolleybus on Lytham Road using a trailing 'skate' on the tram rail have so far been without photographic evidence - this was in the 1920s.

A far more serious push to bring about trolleybus operation on the Marton service did gain ground in the aftermath of World War Two. The atrocious state of the tramtracks and continuing service by now vintage open balcony double deck trams - compared to the rest of the tramway being assigned the 1930s streamline centre entrance fleet obliged the Transport Department to come up with a costed plan for trolleybus operation (and motor bus alternative). A budget was prepared by Walter Luff which envisaged Marton Tram Depot being used (partially) for a trolleybus fleet. Plans to route trolleybuses in the town centre would have seen them operate a loop from Abingdon Street on to Talbot Road and Clifton Street.

While these plans were being prepared parallel tests were underway which resulted in two single deck trams being fitted with new designs of bogies, and in one case with advanced (for the time) control equipment. English Electric railcoach 208 was one of the testbed cars, along with Brush built car 303 based at Bispham. In service it was found that the airpowered sliding doors of the Brush car slowed 'dwell time' in comparison to the manual folding doors on 208 - both being controlled by a conductor. The Marton tram service was noted for its frequent stops making this factor all the more important on a street running line - unique in Blackpool.

A midnight (almost) test run in 1952 of a new 'Coronation' tram on the Marton tramway to demonstrate the superior comfort and quietness of Blackpool's modern trams. This was very much a one-off run.

Interest in the experimental cars included potential testing by Leeds City Transport as well as an offer to make 208 available to London Transport, then in the final phase of converting its last tram services to buses. In the event neither of these interesting possibilities became a reality, However in Blackpool the improved 'silent trams' worked towards endorsement of relaying the Marton tramway in its entirety from 1949 and consequent discarding the trolleybus option.

Below : the prototype Marton 'Vambac' test car 208 seen here awaiting dismantling inside Marton Tram Depot in 1962 - a sad end for a remarkable innovation.

Quite seperately a decade or so later Blackpool was the site of an transport industry conference which included the demonstration of a dual use trolleybus imported from France for the occasion. A stretch of trolleybus overhead was erected running from the Engineering Works on Hopton Road across Rigby Road and along the entire length of Blundell Street as far as Princess Street. This used the tramway overhead installation with added wiring. The trolleybus utilised its battery power to travel along the promenade as far as the conference hotel (Pembroke) and was photographed parked outside the hotel. This was the closest Blackpool has come to actual trolleybus operation.

Moving forward to 2020 Blackpool Transport tested out an electric bus courtesy of Alexander Dennis Ltd. This would become the harbinger of a brave strategic decision to renew the entire bus fleet (or most of it) with all electric buses on a phased basis during the decade. A consequence of this decision has meant the reorganisation of the existing bus garage and servicing facilities at Rigby Road - after initial consideration of a newbuild bus depot for electric vehicles to be sited at the Squires Gate Enterprise Zone. Detailed work is now underway to implement this strategy and expectation that the first of the new all electric buses may appear in the town in 2022/2023. The sight of electric powered vehicles both bus and tram (again) passing in front of Blackpool's Town Hall is well worth looking forward to as part of this town's move towards a 'green' economy.

Images : John Woodman Archive


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