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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Single Deck Rules

John Woodman

From the 1950s on double deck tram operation has been viewed as a mainly summer season feature. Blackpool's tram fleet was predominantly made up of single deck types starting with the 1928 Pantograph cars on the North Station service. In 1933 the groundbreaking rail coach design of English Electric broke through the UK's fixation with double deck tram design. Out of 140 trams delivered from 1933 to 1953 to Blackpool Corporation Transport just twenty seven were double deckers. The once numerous 'Standard' class were whittled down to a half dozen by 1966 when the last survivors were finally withdrawn from over forty examples built in the 1920s.

Blackpool however was not alone in favouring single deck trams in first generation systems across the country. Falkirk replaced its initial open top double deck cars with new single deck trams to operate a more or less completely circular route - one example being preserved. The short lived Dearne and District line was entirely operated by utilitarian single deck trams until its premature closure. A handful of survivors gravitated to both Falkirk and Lytham St Annes systems for a brief second life in those towns. Grimsby & Immingham relied entirely on large single deck bogie cars for its entire life whilst the Rothesay tramway similarly kept to an all single deck operation. London trialled a handful of single deck one man operated cars for a lightly loaded route in a brief experiment whilst the isolated Alexander Palace line was restricted to single deck cars reflecting the inclines of this low patronised route. Another coastal line, this time in Wales at Llandudno favoured single deck trams entirely apart from an ill-judged experiment with two second hand streamline double deckers bought following closure of Darwen's small system after World War Two.

Some systems experimented with single deck cars such as Glasgow's 1089 now fortunately preserved in the excellent Riverside Museum in that city. Some of that city's standard double deck cars were cut down to operate a hilly shuttle line with the body of one being stored inside Rigby Road Depot. Bradford similarly experimented with a radical centre entrance single deck car in the late 1920s. Unfortunately its coupled wheels couldn't handle frequent use at high speeds and emitted loud clanking sounds in operation - with the single car being discarded after a short working life. Neighbouring Leeds City Transport boldly went ahead with two new postwar single deck trams to test their application more or less towards the end of that once great system. A third car to similar centre entrance bodywork styling was created from a former Sunderland single deck tram following extended redesign in the Leeds workshops - emerging almost at the end of the system - but fortunately surviving into preservation along with one of the newbuild examples from 1952. Glasgow also attempted to introduce single deck models in the final postwar order for 100 new trams and these would have had centre entrance styling - but this was not sanctioned.

Blackpool's 'Pantograph' car design of 1928 gained recognition in Liverpool when English Electric delivered a similar solitary test example (757) intended to operate through the Mersey Tunnel. As the only single deck tram in an otherwise all double deck fleet, it was soon discarded and scrapped. Preston Corporation toyed with the idea of acquiring a further example from English Electric but decided not to pursue the order at a time when conversion to bus operation was imminent. However the Preston works of English Electric was busy with new single deck designs for foreign systems in Warsaw and Sosnowicz, Poland (see earlier Blog) and Calcutta. The former Polish system taking delivery of successive orders from this British controlled operation - still running today with derivatives from the 1930s Preston design.

Upgrades to 1939 Sun Saloon cars for Blackpool and their Vambac prototype 208 of 1946 was offered to London Transport for testing but adamantly turned down by that operator dead set on replacing its final network in favour of buses (and trolleybuses) in postwar years. Ironically only the open version of Blackpool rail coaches - the famous 'boat cars' gained recognition by another coastal system - in the USA. San Francisco's amazing urban network of light rail and trolleybus services has integrated two exported examples from Blackpool on its popular heritage tourist line to Fisherman's Wharf. The duo join an immaculate fleet of US PCC cars and Milan 1920s vintage. A third 'boat' remains stored in a California museum potentially adding to this mini fleet.


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