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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Silent Running Trams - 1949

John Woodman

The aftermath of World War Two saw the Corporation Transport Department plunge ahead with its planned renewal of both the tram and bus fleets. The deferred replacement of ageing and worn out buses from the early 1930s had already been dealt with by executed orders for two tranches of new vehicles from the long familiar suppliers; Leyland Motors and HV Burlingham. Both companies were inundated with orders from operators large and small similarly needing to renew tired bus and coach fleets. In Blackpool's case this involved renewed fixation on centre entrance models to the same format as the deliveries of the previous decade. However relaxed regulations meant that vehicle width of eight feet was permitted, while the Manager's favoured full frontal treatment continued the green 'vee' styling and ornate side sweeps complete with metal trim.

Below : demonstrator English Rail Coach 208 at the Abingdon Street outbound stop.

Tram fleet renewal was somewhat more constrained given the withdrawal of English Electric from tram manufacture in 1940 and the absence of Brush Engineering from the same market. Of immediate concern to the Department (and the Council) was the badly deteriorated state of track on the busy all street running Marton tram service. Combined with the continued operation of 1920s double deck 'standard' trams the service had become the 'Cinderella' of Blackpool's tramway. The need for improved trams and track renewal was causing angst in Town Hall Council meetings - with consequent demands for remedial action. While the track renewal was a relatively simple task with suppliers to hand, the solution to improved trams on the service was somewhat more complex.

As the war was nearing its inevitable conclusion by the end of 1944 orders had been approved to test out the new tram bogie design of Maley & Taunton which drew on the American 'PCC' car resilient wheel features, while a UK version of the same American electric control technology had been developed by Crompton Parkinson under license agreements with the US patent holder. Two of the Transport Department's numerous fleet of single deck trams were selected to test out the new equipment. Brush built 303 and English Electric car 208 were duly modified in a series of trials with both cars operating on the Promenade service. At the same time agreements were prepared to order a large tranche of new trams to the eight feet width specifications for delivery in the early 1950s. Initially the order was approved by the Council with understanding that the new trams could be used on the relaid Marton line as 'silent running trams' thus allaying the complaints from riders and residents fed up with having to hear the rumbling and clanking of Marton's 1920s trams - in contrast to later streamline models elsewhere on the town services.

In a deft move the Management additionally opted to re-equip the newest trams delivered in 1939 with the new traction equipment, both bogies and controllers. The 10-21 class had internal improvements to their summer season as delivered condition - with upholstered seating, full height side windows, new lighting and drivers cab partitions. Additionally their new status justified application of the livery styling applied to the Brush cars with green side flares and neat green 'vee' at each end. The opening centre roof folding strips were also replaced with fixed roof panels to provide year round enclosed all weather protection. While both 303 and 208 continued in their modified test state it was decided that the fast high frequency service on the Marton line ( a tram every three or four minutes) and numerous stops along the entire line - merited conductor operated jacknife centre doors as opposed to the slower air powered door panels on the Brush fleet. Thus the re-equipped class became what at the time were viewed as 'stop gap' replacements for the Marton service 'standard' cars pending arrival of the new trams then being ordered from Charles Roberts Company in Horbury, West Yorkshire.

Marton Vambac trial car on test at Bispham in 1949 (plus herring gulls). John Woodman Archive

Preparatory to the introduction of the interim replacement 10-21 class on the Marton service, further testing was carried out on an upgraded example. In this case with track replacement still ongoing along the Marton line, the testing was undertaken on the Promenade and we see the trial car taking a crew break at Bispham top. Note that the base of the trolley gantry which houses the 'Vambac' rotary drum is without ventilator slits -a feature quickly corrected in the series upgrade.


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