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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

One Small Step For Man

John Woodman

A current update on the tram tours now being arranged for visitors to 'Tram Town' aka Rigby Road Tram Depot - reveals strong interest by visitors wanting to be shown around the former running depot and its eclectic gathering of trams; as well as the adjacent works and paint shops destined for redevelopment. The unsanitised collection of tramcars provides a revealing mix of units which once provided the base year round service on the seafront line and as far removed from present day blandness as could be imagined.

Twin car sets in their latter day 'Metro Coastline' styling mix with Balloon cars both green and cream and one off liveries, while remaining Centenary cars stand alongside the survivors from 1937 and the once twenty strong 'Brush railcar' fleet delivered that year. Later double deck rebuilds come in many versions; from the 'Millenium' so called former Balloon fleet now able to provide regular service alongside Bombardier's Flexity types, to heritage examples - notably of course 717 with its classic 1930s features, and a repainted wartime livery 237 aka 700 thankfully freed of its frightful purple and white colours regrettably introduced as part of the light rail upgrade.

A sample prototype unit from Trampower, intended as a demonstrator for the planned Preston light rail line contrasts with a double ended Tatra unit in red and cream from the Halle Merseburg interurban: the latter stored here for the Tramway Museum Society whose own collection has outgrown its facilities at the Crich Museum. Elsewhere a somewhat woebegone remnant of Glasgow's tram system purporting to be the saloon body of a single deck tram shares the limelight with a somewhat more prepossessing lower saloon of the last Lytham St Annes tram which somehow escaped burning after that tramway finally closed in 1936. Bravely retained and worked on privately near Hesketh Bank on the south side of the Ribble estuary, this lingering survival is destined to become an example of that Corporation's sole purchase of new trams in the 1920s.

Two Coronation cars are also survivors from that ill-fated class, prematurely retired from service as a result of ever continuing faults. Number 304 (in old fleet numbers) retains its Vambac controls and equipment thanks for the efforts of the Lancastrian Transport Trust and its team in the 1970s and 1980s whilst its sister car became a 'souvenir' of Blackpool Transport at the demise of the class much like Dreadnought 59 was squirreled away in far off Copse Road Depot in Fleetwood just prior to its demise (along the rest of the class) in the mid 1930s.

Another unique survivor is a solitary 'OMO Car' complete with its sunshine yellow and plum livery from the 1970s. Again this was an initiative of the Lancastrian Transport Trust which managed to save quite a number of unwanted Blackpool trams when they became surplus to operating needs. A second example of this class also remains stored out of sight in the Tramway Museum Society's depot at Clay Cross, never to see the light of day in our lifetime, one suspects.

Two Standard cars in contrasting colours and condition fortunately soldier on at Rigby Road. Number 147 having been brilliantly restored following its return from exile in Ohio at a private museum, and Number 143 now returned to original open balcony condition in pre 1933 red and white fleet colours. Blackpool's illuminated fleet also vye for attention within the silent ranks of trams inside the depot. These include both 'Tramnik One' and the 'Hovertram' thankfully retained in their final operating state. An especial display of all these remarkable creations is merited once the Rigby Road Tram Museum (Tram Town) is finally established. Amazing examples of the skills and crafts of the former Body Shop workforce over several decades.

Below : A once familiar sight along the promenade. A marvellous rebuild to One Man Operated (OMO) condition and renumbering in sunshine orange and plum colours. Saved by the Lancastrian Transport Trust and restored for eventual display. Photo : John Woodman

Having at least the chance to show off this remarkable transport collection to an interested public is a big step in establishing a fulsome heritage destination for visitors, not to mention the ever frequent pilgrimage of countless transport enthusiasts to the Fylde coastline. Raising revenue from this initiative would seem to work better than sole reliance on 'tours' - although the sight and sounds of nearly one hundred year old trams rumbling along the promenade has become an integral part of the 'Visit Blackpool' experience. Much like the venerable horse drawn trams on Douglas Promenade and equally elderly electric cars along the coastline of the Isle of Man - Blackpool fills a unique place in the international pantheon of vintage transport.

Below : Dreadnought 59 seen here in 1960 standing on the traverser outside the tramcar Body Shop on Rigby Road having had attention to its upper deck panels and much more. This was in preparation for the 1960 75th Anniversary of the Electric Tramway that year. Photo by John Woodman during his lunchtime break at school.


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