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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Its Time for Rebranding Our Trams

John Woodman

Almost alone among the small cadre of UK light rail operators Blackpool's tram system has stuck to its originating light rail colours from 2011. At the time this was a groundbreaking change away from the long familiar green and 'ivory' introduced by Walter Luff when he took over the town's transport fleet from Charles Furness in January 1933. Luff inherited a conservative red, white and teak livery which originated from before the Great War, although some tweaking of the style brought in a lighter shade of red during the 1920s.

More often than not a change of Transport Manager brought in a rejigging of vehicle livery where the incoming department head saw reason to break with his predecessor's branding in order to visibly define a new approach or strategy. Perhaps this was no more evident in 1933 than the dramatic changeover from red and white to green and pale cream favoured by Walter Luff. Luff's tenure at the West Riding tramway operation involved green liveried trams (of a traditional style) but with a distinctive 'White Rose' emblem as part of the company title on vehicle sides. Tram replacement new buses arrived in the early Thirties painted in red and pale cream with centre entrance bodywork from the Leeds based Charles Roe company.

Blackpool continued with cream and green through to the 1980s with successive Managers, Joe Franklin (from Rochdale), and then Derek Hyde who joined the Department from Coventry's transport system which was being subsumed into then new West Midland's conglomeration. Both of these Managers kept to Luff's green and cream branding, although for reasons of paint shop economy Franklin reduced the use of green on the bus fleet to a nominal element. This brought about a distinctly bland approach lacking any style whatsoever.

A whimsical rebranding of several London Routemasters at Rigby Road saw these exceptionally well painted versions transformed into Blackpool Transport buses. Here is former RM 1583 freshly turned out standing outside the Paint Shop.

Following Derek Hyde's own retirement as part of transport reorganisation nationally, Tony Depledge who had begun his career as a member of the Transport Department's platform staff, emerged as the appointed first Managing Director of the new arms length 'Blackpool Transport Services Ltd' company wholly owned by Blackpool Council in 1986. Again, cream and green was further retained as the principal fleet colours, although some changes had already occurred on the tram fleet where remodelled 'One Man Trams' thirteen in all, had initially been given a bright sunshine and deep maroon livery on introduction in 1972. This subsequently was changed to red and cream but did not affect other tram types in the fleet.

By the turn of the century BTS had acknowledged changing times with replacement of the MD by a newcomer to Blackpool, Steve Burd. Almost immediately and influenced by external advisors, a radical rebranding of the BTS bus services took place under the logo 'Metro Coastlines'. Services became 'Lines' each with their own distinctive colour. The entire bus fleet was renewed in this way with a plethora of colours being applied to the diverse bus services - whilst the BTS brand was replaced by Metro Coastlines. Individual pocket timetables reflecting appropriate line colours were a feature of the rebranding, whilst several trams underwent similar restyling but in an ad hoc approach. Given the tendency for buses to be utilised on different 'Lines' depending on availability it was found necessary to have a 'pool' livery available. This initially used pale grey and yellow but later changing to overall black with yellow relief - and further to orange and yellow. The Paint Shop had never been kept so busy or its budget augmented during the years up to 2009.

A further management changeover saw Trevor Roberts arrive from Newport Transport in 2009 (another of the diminishing number of still municipally owned operators). An abrupt about face in branding took place with the 'Lines' approach completely discarded with the return to Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. but this time with a dramatic yellow and black styling complete with large silver 'swoop' across the vehicle sides. This certainly brightened up the town's roads and central area - being applied similarly to both double and single deck vehicles. Sadly the design was not trialled on the tram fleet which kept on its relatively staid colour schemes, but with increasing numbers of all over advertising designs being applied to individual cars.

The new manager's tenure was relatively brief (by Blackpool standards) and he left abruptly with his operations manager taking over in an interim role whilst the Council (Owners) set about looking for a replacement. Interestingly this short window saw BTS take delivery of a new fleet of single deck buses built in Germany as Mercedes 'Citaro' models. Their appearance bringing more capacity on services to Victoria Hospital whilst also introducing yet a further branding for BTS - this time in what was to be formally known as 'Palladium' a grey, black and silver styling with very pale cream relief; completely different from all that had gone before. Jane Cole was eventually engaged to take on the role of Transport Company Managing Director and endorsing the Palladium branding with further new vehicle orders from Alexander Dennis Ltd. (ADL). These arrived in quick succession both in double deck and single deck formats - and all with common livery application. Over three to five years the yellow and black styling from Trevor Roberts was replaced by the new ADL fleet arrivals and judicious repainting of two classes of single deckers into the 'Palladium' brand. To complete the fleet renewal - two of the 'Trident' type double deckers were similarly repainted for Driver Training use in the new Palladium colours common throughout the fleet.

During the latter part of this saga - the tramway was itself subjected to radical makeover, with the long lasting centre entrance fleet being almost completely replaced by a new low floor modular class built in Germany and appearing in a rendition of Blackpool Council's then new corporate livery of dark purple, black and white. Several double deck trams were retained and modified with extended centre platforms - some being repainted in the new Council colours but not necessarily bringing aesthetic benefits. Whilst exciting at the time of their delivery the light rail fleet has been disfigured by external advertising and weathering of white side panels, A greater benefit would involve extending the BTS 'Palladium' look onto the Bombardier fleet - at least as one option. A glance at the rebranding recently of the West Midlands light rail fleet provides an inspiration for renewing Blackpool's inherently tired tram livery now past its sell by date. South Yorkshire, Croydon Tramlink, Manchester's Metrolink system, and I believe Lothian Region's Edinburgh tram fleet have all successfully improved on early fleet colours and branding; whilst even Stagecoach's buses serving the Fylde have undergone a pleasant transformation in recent months with a lighter touch on palette and styling. It can't be long before Blackpool's creative minds get to work to renew the town's trams in similar fashion.

An early branding format of BTS - the HandyBus style however had a short longevity although the principal colours were reworked in subsequent styling changes. Image : John Woodman Archive.

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