Mick Perrett - Sustaining Restoration at Rigby Road
Within a few days Standard Car 143 will again take to the Promenade for testing after further work on the tram's electrics, motors and general operability. Meanwhile within the Engineering Shop the new frame for Balloon Car 704 awaits matching fit with the tram's bodywork while open top Balloon 706 patiently stands in line for work to allow its return to service. The twin-set placed in cold storage ever since its electrical fire some years ago is also in the ' to do' list of trams requiring expert attention before joining the ranks of the working heritage fleet.
All this detailed work falls on the shoulders of a dwindling cadre of paid staff retained by Blackpool Transport to support continued operation of the 'traditional' trams ever popular with visitors and a worldwide retinue of enthusiasts. Possibly foremost among the Engineering Shop team holding the fort at Rigby Road are the dextrous skills of Mick Perrett. Alongside colleagues dealing with metal work, electrical and motors Mick has been a stalwart at the depot works for many years and capable of instantly sizing up the problems of Balloon cars, Boats, Twin Sets and the rest.
Budget constraints on staffing level, materials and outside sourcing are very much dependent on revenue coming from the 'heritage' side of the company's business; one which is increasingly focussed on getting the street running extension to North Station sorted out (with contractors), and the switch-over of the large bus fleet from diesel to electric power, along with radical reorganisaion of Rigby Road's operating infrastructure to cope with the latter mode. One which entails wholesale replacement of many of the present bus fleet with the new generation of all electric models. Jane Cole and her colleagues have their hands full with these demanding changes. Allied to this is varying passenger takeup, electronic fare collection, and the questionable traffic flow patterns for bus services negotiating their way in and around Talbot Gateway redevelopment - with its evident problems even before the tram extension opens for business next year.
The side issue of restoring individual trams for 'heritage tours' and display is small beer by comparison to demands on the company's delivery of year round services on the Fylde coast. Back to Mick Perrett and colleagues. Time marches on and this handful of knowledge laden professionals, essential for the heritage side of Blackpool Transport will all be of a certain age when the sun and warm air of retiring climes beckons in the not too distant future. Reliance on 'volunteers' in workshop capacities where health and safety regimes overshadow all else - is probably a step too far in ensuring cars for public use are kept free of attendant risks. Acquiring the skills and mindset of Mick and the present workshop cadre - comes only through years of application and practise. Thus the training of a new professional generation looms large, even though the qualifying number is small, Putting in place worthwhile apprenticeships now for a skillbase needed to repair and maintain trams built almost a century ago (and certainly well over sixty) will be a judicious move - obviating need to contract or outsource work through third parties.
There may well be a case made for cooperative approaches with the Manx Electric Railway, itself no stranger to dealing with trams of a certain vintage for sustained seasonal services. Whilst the MER has kept itself to running century old vehicles - commonality of running gear, controls and power sources, not to mention wood framed bodywork is shared to some degree with Blackpool's own examples brought in during the 1930s. Furthermore it will be satisfying (and practical) for Mick with his colleagues to pass on their long acquired skills at Rigby Road to a younger generation before handing in their keys and enjoying well earned retirement. The demands of Blackpool's year on year leisure influx ensures a long passage of time still ahead for the resort's traditional trams. Having the means to sustain safe continued operation is part and parcel of Rigby Road's evolving structure. Over to you Blackpool Council.
Transport Workshops : What every self respective tram (and bus) engineering workshop looked like in the 1950s : This is Sheffield Corporation buses and trams receiving attention. Blackpool also dealt with buses and trams in shared space of the Engineering & Body Shops - Plenty of scope for apprenticeships.
Photos : John Woodman Archive