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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Fylde Coast's Breezy Tramrides

John Woodman

The temperatures now being recorded are grabbing headlines, not just in Britain but across most of Europe. Blackpool and the Fylde coast are no strangers to sunshine and very high temperatures which is why three operating tram systems in the early years of the last century, all without exception, included substantial numbers of open and semi open cars to encourage summer travel.

Whereas today the remaining Blackpool to Fleetwood line operates entirely enclosed vehicles all singularly unsuited to bright sunlight and high temperatures on a coastal line facing west - the same tramway once boasted an eclectic fleet of trams, many of which were designed precisely for warm to hot seasonal weather. The original Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad's total of forty one cars included just fourteen saloon cars, while the rest were open sided, or with composite designs allowing free flowing breezes for passengers. The Lytham St Annes system operated a large summer fleet of double deck open sided crossbench cars, including several which had been converted to open cross bench condition from their original lower saloon bodywork.

Blackpool Corporation boasted the largest fleet of completely open 'toastrack cars' in the UK as well as a sizeable number of open balcony double deck trams - the latter appearing up to the mid 1950s. The 'toastracks' were withdrawn at the onset of World War Two, already superseded by modern replacements in the form of open 'boat cars' a handful of which remain as heritage cars, with others exported to San Francisco and museums. Blackpool went so far as to take delivery of thirteen streamline completely open top double deck cars in 1934 as part of the upgrading programmed introduced by Manager Walter Luff. A further twelve semi open streamline single deck trams arrived just in time to enter service at the outbreak of World War Two. These would undergo something of a metamorphis to emerge as fully enclosed year round 'silent running' cars for the improved Marton tram service from 1949, up to the 1962 conversion to bus operation.

Fortunately we have examples of the 'open balcony' Standard trams still extant; with number 143 being resurrected from its later Engineering Car role to original condition as built in the 1920s. Two further examples are retained at the National Tramway Museum (40) and in the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine (144). An open 'toastrack' (Number 166) was fortunately acquired by the National Tramway Museum and returned to resplendent 1920s appearance, while a Fleetwood Tramroad 'Rack' Number 2 in the original 1898 fleet is also preserved at the NTM in Crich, Derbyshire. One of the streamline open top cars from 1934 has been returned to a close rendition of its original condition by Blackpool Transport and retained as part of the system's heritage collection; whilst a 1940 semi open car (11) now operates at the East Anglia Transport Museum near Lowestoft as a 'Marton Vambac' car - the sole survivor from that popular class.

As today's travellers swelter inside high capacity low floor cars bereft of wide opening windows or sliding roof panels and making do with ineffective air condition thought should urgently be given to modifying the three remaining twin car sets to create summer season semi open units capable of operating regular services alongside the Flexity fleet. High temperatures such as those being experienced this week are not one-off events and now likely to become all too frequent in the years ahead. Blackpool's once renowned trams need to adjust to this new norm and again provide those 'breezy rides' for the resort's millions of visitors. Standing room only in packed 'sardine like' conditions on what is now an infrequent service of unglamorous 'people movers' with only narrow hopper' windows to let in (and let out) airflow at the height of summer is not the way to go in today's world let alone that of tomorrow. ' Something must be done'.

Looking along Blundell Street in 1934 with the tram depot immediately on the lefthand side. This is a press photo on the top deck of the prototype open top car 237, notable for its protective front glazing (soon removed). Below demonstrating Blackpool's new 'Circular Tour' on toastrack 69 in 1911 or 12 seen here posed on Whitegate Drive facing the wrong direction (presumably to capture the morning sun). A less well loaded open top car in the background with 'Circular Tour' roundel fixed on the dash and this time facing the right way on the right track ! The 'Tour' would prove to be a money spinner for the Tramways Department with subsequent repeat orders for these basic open cars in the years up to 1914.



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